Greater City Providence

RIDOT to install “HAWK Signal” pedestrian crossing in South Providence

RIDOT annoounced today that they will be installing the state’s first “HAWK Signal” pedestrian crossing on Elmwood Avenue.

The HAWK signal, or beacon (High-Intensity Activated crossWalK beacon) was developed by traffic engineers in Tuscon, Arizon in 2009. The video below shows a HAWK Signal in action in Tuson:


Studies have shown that more than 90 percent of motorists properly yield to pedestrians in crosswalks using HAWK signal. The HAWK signal at Elmwood Avenue and Daboll Street is replacing a conventional traffic signal for vehicles and pedestrians. It will be more effective at increasing motorist awareness of pedestrians in the crosswalk.

When not in use, the HAWK traffic signal is dark to motorists, and a solid orange raised hand indicating “Don’t Walk” is displayed for pedestrians. When a pedestrian pushes the crosswalk button, motorists see a flashing yellow signal for several seconds. After the flashing yellow interval, the traffic signal displays a solid yellow – much like a conventional traffic signal – alerting motorists to get ready to stop.

Much like traditional traffic signals, the walking person symbol soon changes to a flashing orange hand with a countdown display showing the number of seconds left to cross the street. As with all pedestrian crossing signals, pedestrians should not start crossing the street if the flashing orange hand and countdown timer is showing. During this time, drivers see alternating flashing red signals, like at a railroad crossing signal. When the flashing red is displayed, drivers may proceed after stopping if there are no pedestrians in the crosswalk.

The cycle ends with the flashing red signals going dark and the solid orange raised hand shown to pedestrians until the next pedestrian pushes the button.

This video shows a HAWK Signal in Ann Arbor, Michigan. An urban environment that is more like ours than Tuscon.

So, what do we think about the HAWK Signal?

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Very curious to see this in action on Elmwood- I’m cautiously optimistic as it is relatively a simple system although it is no secret that many RI drivers have no idea what a blinking yellow or red light means.

  • One word, NIGHTMARE.

    Peds and motorists in Rhode Island first need to learn how to walk and drive. Lets get the basics down.

    Second, another confusing obstacle for both peds and motorists in Providence. Lets stop the gimmicks and actually fix the problems. Can we go back to the idea to simplify within functional and practical manners for urban centers? Enough over planning and over design.

  • PS. Anyone remember the obnoxious strobe light at Angell and Benefit going down the hill?

    Speaking of, why can’t we seem to get the lights on Benefit between Waterman and Angell coordinated anyhow? Does there really need to be a crosswalk in the MIDDLE of the intersection and do we really need two sets of lights here? Why can’t it be designed to function as a single intersection with Benefit traffic stopping only at the outer lines of said intersection? We wouldn’t need a vehicle stopped in the middle if the lights were timed properly.

    Should we add a HAWK here to make it more confusing?
    I don’t like it. HUMPH!

  • I used to walk through the Benefit/Waterman/Angell light numerous times a day and every time I would cry out, “WHY IS THIS LIKE THIS!?”

  • Six figure pricetag – one single crosswalk.
    “More than 90% properly yield” Oh goody. The other 9% still make crossing the street plenty dangerous.
    I am constantly amused by the prevailing faith in gadgetry.
    “Clutter” is what it is.
    Elmwood Ave needs to be rebuilt as a complete street.

  • There’s a similar over on Silver Spring Street near the Wal-Mart. Drivers don’t know what the hell to do with it.

    So I don’t see this as improving pedestrian safety. I think the best option is what they do in Europe. Solid metal posts pop up out of the road. Much better, learning by Darwinism for the drivers.

  • What is the big deal about this? It’s just a typical pedestrian crosswalk. Let me make a prediction here. This device will be rendered completely useless within a year, Why? Because:

    1. Kids from the neighborhood will soon find this is a new toy. “Let’s make traffic, stop. Watch this!” So after so many “false crossings” and complaints from suburban commuters travelling into downtown from Cranston, Warwick, and other points south, the DOT will be forced to deactivate it and have it flash yellow all the time.

    2. Due to the above mentioned kids, local resident motorists will eventually ignore the red pedestrian crossing light due to so many false crossing and kid pranks. So eventually the crosswalk will be more dangerous than useful, forcing the DOT to disable it.

    And is DOT ever going to finish Elmwood Ave? They basically started repaving it from the Cranston line and basically stopped at the beginning of South Providence. The road is in horrible condition, ugly, and a travesty. The traffic signals are all on old timers.

    I remember seeing photos of the original tree-lined Elmwood Ave. The DOT should have lined trees right down the center medium to act as a traffic calming device and returned the street to it’s former glory.

  • Are 4 (!!) different light signals (flashing yellow, yellow, flashing red [which then has two different sets of rules], red) really necessary for this set-up? On-demand crosswalks are a lovely idea, but there’s no need to invent a Rube Goldberg set-up to get there. Enough with self-congratulatory overdesign.

  • Terrible. Traffic lights are standardized for a reason – So you know wtf to do. I’m a car nerd, and a fan of urban issues, but if I came up to this I would have no idea what to do or expect. I would associate the toggling red to mean STOP like at a railroad crossing – I wouldn’t interpret it as a standard flashing red like a stop sign. What is the purpose of this over just having a standard traffic light that is green all the time unless someone presses the button?

  • Would be extremely effective where West Bay Bike Path crosses Park Ave. No signals on a longish straight. Also on No. Main, where marked crossings are blocks apart.

  • I’m with Liam. There’s no reason they can’t just put in a standard traffic light. When I was a student at UConn, one of the dorms I lived in was across Rt 195 from the rest of campus. We had a crosswalk in front of our dorm on 195 (this is a state route, not a highway). When we pushed the cross button, the light immediate changed to yellow, then red, and then we could cross safely. It was green any other time and was not at an intersection.

    This is over-engineering a simple problem. Heck, up here by PC’s campus, there is a crosswalk by the entrance to campus on Huxley Ave. They put up a signal that when the student pushes a button, yellow lights flash next to the standard yellow crosswalk sign. It’s really dumb, IMO. There’s no walk/don’t walk light and no traffic light. It’s really just saying “caution”. I have seen many students cross there, but never use it because it doesn’t do anything useful.

  • The point of things like this is that with traditional pedestrian crossing lights, drivers tend to see green lights the majority of the time and therefore never expect them to turn red and just ignore them completely, creating a dangerous situation if and when a pedestrian actually uses them correctly. So engineers keep coming up with things like this that will catch drivers’ attention. This example, though, I agree is very confusing to all users!

  • I’ve driven past a few times and stopped twice- it does stop traffic better than a crossing guard, but once one person drives through it, everyone else bolts- blinking red or not. Now that I’ve seen it in action, it easily could have been a normal red light, the extra complexity is completely pointless. The big issue is Elmwood is designed as a 4 lane highway, not a city street. If it wasn’t for the horrible condition of the roads, more cars would be traveling at 40-50 than already do.

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