ALEXANDRIA, Va. — In 2008, this HAWK signal debuted at the intersection of N. Van Dorn Street and Maris Avenue, yet motorists still seem puzzled by it.
Recently, while waiting for the bus, the HAWK signal (High intensity Activated crossWalK) was activating about every minute without intervention. That gave me a chance to see about 5 cycles and how motorists responded. Some simply blew through it, despite four reds in each direction. Others stopped and remained so until the entire red cycle, including flashing, was completed. Few knew that if the crosswalks were clear, the flashing reds function as a stop sign and it was permissible to proceed after a full stop. That was the norm and only on one occasion did it lead to horns honking.
Given the length of time the HAWK signal has been in service, it’s clear that they are not universally understood. HAWK signals aren’t unique to this Alexandria intersection either — there are some on Eisenhower Ave. as well as installations in Arlington and The District. Is more education needed? Even then, how often are drivers in a position to be educated when licenses only come up for renewal every four years in the commonwealth. The other possibility is to convert HAWKs to standard red-yellow-green signals.
Either way, I believe that having traffic control at this particular intersection is warranted. The busy 8W/8Z Metro bus route as well as a DASH bus route travels along Van Dorn St. daily. The layout of the corridor, residential on the east side and a buffer between Van Dorn & Interstate 395 on the west side limits the HAWK usage to primarily in the evening so that bus riders can cross Van Dorn to get to condos and apartments. I have seen some motorists from Maris Ave. get out of their cars and activate the HAWK so that they can turn left in the morning as well.