D.C. Tries Out New Traffic Signal
It's been a long time coming, the neighbors said, as they watched the District Department of Transportation ready a new type of crosswalk signal on Georgia Avenue a few blocks north of Walter Reed Medical Center. The original crosswalk is bold enough, but you'd have to be a pretty bold person to step out into four lanes of fast-moving Georgia Avenue traffic.
Once the signal was activated, one person after another tested it out, hesitating as though Georgia were a river of cold water and they were dipping in toes to check the temperature. Finally, Council Member Muriel Bowser and George Branyan, the District's pedestrian safety program manager, pushed the button to engage the red light for traffic and the walk sign for pedestrians, then led a large group of the neighbors out into the stopped traffic.
And the signal activation became a mini-block party at Georgia Avenue and Hemlock Street for people hoping this just might work.
Kelly Shuy, who has owned the nearby Ledo's Pizza for three years, knows that her customers and employees feel like they've been taking their lives in their hands when they cross there.
"It's a scary place to cross anytime," she said.
The nearest traffic signals are about 400 feet to the north and south, an inconveniently long walk. Still, the Georgia/Hemlock intersection doesn't meet the standards all traffic departments apply in deciding where to place regular traffic lights.
The neighbors, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, Bowser and DDOT worked out this solution: A pilot project that will use a pedestrian-activated signal pioneered in Tuscon, Ariz. (Alexandria also installed one last year.)
It's known as a HAWK, which somehow is an abbreviation of High-intensity Activated cross-WalK. Don't try to figure it out from that. I'll just tell you how it works.
If there are no pedestrians waiting to cross, drivers see no lights. It's just business as usual for traffic. But once a pedestrian hits the the button to activate the signal, it goes through this sequence: A yellow light flashes, then it glows solid, then two red lights come on, and drivers -- who should have been slowing by now -- must stop. Later, after the pedestrians have gotten across, the red lights will begin to flash, then go dark, and traffic can move again.
D.C. police are on the scene today, but it most cases will just be issuing warnings and brochures to drivers who fail to stop for the red signal -- though they shouldn't push their luck on that. Eventually, tickets will be issued for red-light running.
I tried crossing before the new signal was operating, as well as after, and the "after" experience was very different -- in a good way.
The District got permission from the Federal Highway Administration for this pilot project, and will monitor it for a report to the feds. DDOT is hoping to be able to use the same style signal in other D.C. locations where pedestrians and vehicles meet in high volumes.
Here's a map showing the intersection.
August 14, 2009; 10:59 AM ET
Categories: Safety | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, George Branyan, Muriel Bowser, pedestrian safety, traffic signal
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