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Posted on Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 2:51 p.m.

Downtown Ann Arbor's new pedestrian HAWK signal up and running

By Heather Lockwood

Ann Arbor's new pedestrian High-intensity Activated crossWalK signal — the first in Michigan on a state trunkline — is now up and running.

The HAWK signal is meant to make crossing at the intersection of Huron Street and Third/Chapin Street in downtown Ann Arbor safer for pedestrians. A short ceremony was held there this afternoon to mark the signal becoming operational.

Michigan Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kari Arend said the signal became operational today. She said it's important pedestrians and motorists alike familiarize themselves with how it works.

"This will take a little bit of an educational campaign to get pedestrians and motorists used to the signal," Arend said. 

MDOT planner Kari Martin said the intersection, with its high pedestrian volume, made for a "really good spot" to install the pilot signal.

She pointed out the Ann Arbor YMCA, senior center, bus stop and residential areas near the intersection are all demonstrative of the need for the HAWK signal.

Ceremony attendees — including representatives from MDOT, the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw Area Transportation Study — donned orange safety vests that read "HAWK Walk 2010" and tried out the new signal.

111710_NEWSHAWK Light_01.jpg

A pedestrian crosses Huron Street this afternoon using the new HAWK signal.

Melanie Maxwell |

"We think this a perfect location to test it because of the (Ann Arbor) Y (being nearby), and I think at least one senior center," Terri Blackmore, WATS executive director, said in August. "Seniors use the bus, and they have to be able to cross safely."

A HAWK signal can be activated by pedestrians with the push of a button. A flashing yellow light alerts drivers to the pedestrian preparing to cross, followed by a solid yellow light alerting drivers to prepare to stop, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation website.

The signal then changes to a solid red, allowing pedestrians to cross. The solid red signal begins to flash after a predetermined amount of time, allowing drivers to continue through the intersection once it's clear. When the HAWK signal isn't activated, it will remain dark, and drivers can continue through the intersection without stopping.

"We can already see that it works," said Eli Cooper, city transportation program manager.

Cooper said it's possible the city will get more HAWK signals in the future.

"The question of how many and where becomes an issue of resources," he added.

Heather Lockwood is a reporter for Reach her at or follow her on Twitter.



Sun, Nov 21, 2010 : 4:31 p.m.

I bet there will be more injury accidents at this intersection than there were before. Many will be confused by it, especially out-of-towners. I live near by, and it is a difficult crossing for peds, but a better, and simpler solution would be to make the intersection a 4-way stop. It would also slow traffic down a little, which would help as it tends to really fly - downgrade approaches on Huron from both directions. Not unusual to see traffic pushing 45mph through there.

Tex Treeder

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 8:05 a.m.

I agree, Frank. Thank you, Oh Great and Wonderful Nanny-State.

Frank D

Thu, Nov 18, 2010 : 9:53 p.m.

Thank you for protecting me from myself.


Thu, Nov 18, 2010 : 7:05 a.m.

"Ok so if the sign is supposed to help think for us if, for any reason, they walk without the use of the light I see this as an extreme danger (relying on the signal instead of right of way to do our thinking)." Huh? The pedestrians already have right of way. It's a crosswalk. The signal is just another way to make it clear to motorists that there's a pedestrian crossing and the motorist has to stop. I think you *could* say that they put the HAWK signal in because too many motorists *weren't* thinking for themselves already.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 11:58 p.m.

I think this is a good idea but in a risky location to test. I do have several questions that this article does not address. What about enforcement? Is this ahead of the city or state codes? Can AAPD issue violations for running this light? Flashing red, flashing yellow, or solid yellow? Can you turn left or right or not at all from the side streets when the signal is activated? Do you have to stop when its flashing red if you are in a line of cars after the pedestrian has crossed or is each car required to come to a complete stop? I see a huge problem here and the potential to generate some moola from tickets if every car is supposed to stop. Even if the wait is only 10-30 seconds. How long between activations? Meaning, pedestrian 1 activates light and crosses. Light cycles and goes out, traffic flows. Can pedestrian 2 then activate light again before a specified time? I can see it coming, light starts flashing and everybody speeds up knowing they need to beat that solid yellow from going to red, except that one car near the front that suddenly decides they should stop. You know what happens next. I'm betting speeds are going to increase in both directions when this signal is activated because of the downgrade, especially during the rush hours. I predict many rear enders during this test. I hope I'm wrong but too many people run lights in AA during the rush and the scenario above is going to happen especially when the roadway is wet or slippery. Ms. Lockwood, any insight on these traffic questions?


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 11:43 p.m.

@YpsiLivin are you really confused over a flashing red? Maybe you need to go back to drivers ed. That's kinda basic stuff! It's always a good idea to stop if there is anything flashing and red even if you don'e reconize it as a stop signal.Just a good rule of thumb.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 11:32 p.m.

Ok so if the sign is supposed to help think for us if, for any reason, they walk without the use of the light I see this as an extreme danger (relying on the signal instead of right of way to do our thinking). As Cubicle mentions always, always, always a non working signal = stop sign in all directions. With the proportion of elderly (yeah I saw some going down the wrong direction on the 94 exit ramps from the new Geddes roundabouts), young drivers, the amount of fresh international "transplant" drivers we get in Ann Arbor each year and winter fast approaching I don't have a good feeling about this. Crossing fingers but probably will think twice about relying on drivers to obey this sign before stepping out on the street. Am not interested in personally testing the theory that people get it and it will just "work".


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 10:20 p.m.

I was almost hit while crossing there tonight. The driver was going to blow right through the red light but slammed the brakes and came to a halt at the middle of the intersection--I jumped away to avoid it. Then, before the red light went off, someone honked and a couple of cars drove through the light. Keep on your toes when crossing there because some people who have been driving on Huron for years might not notice the new light.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 8:51 p.m.

Let me get this straight. First it takes us 2 years to figure out the round about and now you want me to figure this out too? Wow. Life does get complicated when you get older. Thanks for the heads up. I will make sure to stay out of that area.

Nicholas C. de Paul

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 8:45 p.m.

Well, I just used the HAWK twice today. And I REALLY appreciate it being there. At 61, I live a car-free existence and that intersection, only 2 blocks from me and used often, has always felt dangerous or very time consuming to cross. Now I can get to the Y and back safely. Thanks to all who made it possible - I love Ann Arbor.

Tex Treeder

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 8:17 p.m.

@Arboriginal Great, just what we need on Plymouth Road, yet another disruption to traffic flow. Wasn't it bad enough having the Traverwood Drive intersection changed to a traffic light-controlled intersection a couple of years ago? I love having to stop at 6 am to let all the non-existent traffic from Traverwood turn onto Plymouth.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 7:51 p.m.

Oh okay. Flashing red is used in a lot of states, not just Michigan. Everyone should know what they mean, it is a part of the drviers test.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 7:41 p.m.

trs80, No, I don't mean flashing yellow. I mean flashing red.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 6:16 p.m.

The National Center for Safe Routes to School has a page on HAWK signals and gives some background on their origin and development: "... To increase pedestrian safety at school crossing locations, the City of Tucson [AZ] developed a traffic signal called the HAWK (High-intensity Activated crossWalk).... "In 2004, the Tucson Department of Transportation installed five HAWK signals around the city and there are currently over 40 in operation. The special signals were placed at intersections where there were frequent crashes with pedestrians including streets near a university, a shopping center and a high school. "HAWK pedestrian crossing signals have greatly improved pedestrian safety in Tucson. The device substantially improves motorist stopping behavior, as compared to the use of flashing overhead school signs. "The technology has been so successful that the Federal Highway Administration [FHWA] visited Tucson to look at the crossings and see how well they might work in other cities. Tucson has asked the FHWA for approval to include the HAWK for optional in the MUTCD [Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices]." Source page: A Federal Highway Administration page related to pedestrian safety has a brief section on the now-approved HAWK signal about halfway down. See:


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 6:14 p.m.

The next one( should have been the first) needs to go on Plymouth near the Islamic center. A person lost their life there.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 5:59 p.m.

@YpsiLivin. I think you mean flashing yellow. Flashing red is the same a stop sign. The flashing yellow have no purpose.

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 4:59 p.m.

At least this light makes more sense than just requiring drivers to stop whenever someone steps into a crosswalk. On a low speed road that might work, but when the speeds are higher it's just a recipe for disaster. Had this happen on Plymouth, someone stepped into the crosswalk and everyone had to slam on their brakes. No collision in that case, but it was close. The light gives drivers a warning that something is going to happen, much like a school bus. I'm not sure about the light being dark instead of green, and I agree when you combine this crosswalk with the stop signs there might still be confusion at that location, but I think these things are a good idea for crosswalks on busy roads.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 4:46 p.m.

Not only is the HAWK signal up, the city has finally put up "Bike Lane" signage on the bike lanes on Plymouth Rd. Maybe people will finally stop driving cars, trucks and buses in the bike lanes soon.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 4:25 p.m.

I am so confused, I thought the law in Ann Arbor already gave pedestrians at a "marked" crosswalk, the right of way. What is the law within city limits? Although I do hope Ann Arborites will obey this signal much more than they do regular intersection traffic signals. In our downtown, a yellow traffic light means go faster and cruise through the red light....


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 4:15 p.m.

I thought the feds told Michigan to get rid of flashing reds because no one else uses them or knows what they mean...

Silly Sally

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 4:03 p.m.

I hope that the mayor does as much to make the railroad crossings in Ann Arbor safer for higher speed trains as he advocates for the WALLY commuter train from Howell to Ann Arbor. These commuter trains will travel much faster than the present 15 MPH train that is rarely seen in Ann Arbor. Commuter trains will be much faster, needing enhanced safety devices. An Arbor also needs to do something for pedestrians who are trying to cross in a roundabout or traffic circle. It is very hard to see someone who is trying to cross. A flashing yellow light would tell traffic to look out for a pedestrian, since most of the time there are none. This is especially needed at night.

John Q

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 3:59 p.m.

Yet another stream of "no matter how well it works somewhere else, it can't work in Ann Arbor!" comments.

Silly Sally

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 3:58 p.m.

I have not seen it operate yet, but if it is like the video (linked to this article), then the solid red is much too long. A baby could crawl across in the length that it is red. The important thing is for cars to see the light, and then stop for a pedestrian. Then it is no longer needed, since traffic would be stopped, waiting for the pedestrian. Any car that would then interfere with the person already in the crosswalk would be breaking both state and local laws. The lights should turn red for only about 10 seconds, or less, and then be a flashing red signal.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 3:36 p.m.

I agree it doesn't look like a stop light. Plus Third/Chapin have stop signs. That crossing really needed to be improved.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 3:32 p.m.

Awesome - I'm kinda excited about this. I hope they start using them more around the city since there are lots of cross walks that could use this. Drivers just don't know to stop for pedestrians in designated crosswalks. @cubicle, this doesn't look like other traffic lights. It shouldn't be confusing at all.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 3:04 p.m.

>>>>>"[d]onned orange safety vests that read "HAWK Walk 2010" and tried out the new signal." Not wanting to be one of the first guinea pigs for the crosswalk experiment, if the folks whose idea it was in the first place figured it would be wise to put on NATO helmets before entering the fray. Just sayin'.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 3 p.m.

So just to make certain I'm on the right page here...this goes against everything we've ever been taught about a dark stoplight turning into a 4-way stop? That's going to work well.