Drivers Run Sloat Ped Beacon: Bad Design, Inept Driving, or Teething Period?

A new button-activated pedestrian beacon was installed on Sloat Boulevard and Forest View Drive this week as a part of a package of safety improvements, along with three bulb-outs and a more visible crosswalk. It’s the spot where 17-year-old Hanren Chang was killed on her birthday in March by a drunk driver as she was crossing the street.

As KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts showed in his latest “People Behaving Badly” segment, drivers haven’t yet caught on to how they should behave when the new signal turns red. Roberts notes that stopping at a red light should be natural, and that these drivers’ failure to comply has led him to “a reasonable conclusion that the state of California is giving away driver’s licenses.” Caltrans has also placed a digital sign warning approaching drivers, “Ped Beacon Ahead.”

Or we might just be witnessing an adjustment period. The signal phasing is somewhat unique around here — this particular type of signal, called a “High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk (HAWK) beacon system,” is the second one to be installed in California, the first being in Sacramento. The light remains off until a pedestrian pushes a button to activate the beacon, at which point the signal flashes yellow, turns to solid yellow, then a solid red while the new pedestrian countdown signal is on. Traffic engineers say it can often take weeks for users to adjust to street changes. According to an eight-month study conducted by the City of Tucson, the HAWK signals increased driver compliance at marked crosswalks from 30 percent to 93 percent.

A lively debate on the issue is already underway in the comments section of today’s headlines. Do drivers just need some time to get it, is this a failed pedestrian safety device, or is it a sign of the ineptitude of modern drivers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

  • HAWKS are completely idiotic.

    There is NO benefit to introducing a new form of signal, when a standard traffic signal, that everyone knows, does the exact same job.

    In fact, all it does it confuse people.

    Drivers are taught that a dead signal = stop sign
    HAWK teaches that a dead signal = green!

    Drivers are taught that two flashing red lights = train = DONT PASS
    HSWK teaches that two flashing ed lights = stop and proceed.

    They need to scrap HAWK and install a standard signal….which yes, can be programmed to go to flashing red after the necessary period.

  • …”a reasonable conclusion that the state of California is giving away driver’s licenses.”

    I can count all the people I know who’ve been denied a driver’s license in CA on one hand — and that hand doesn’t need to have any fingers.

  • Mario Tanev

    Flashing red = stop sign. Flashing yellow = proceed with caution.

    If so, shouldn’t the phases be:
    – No button press: flashing yellow, proceed with caution (it’s a crosswalk after all, whether the button was pressed or not).
    – Button press: red to allow the pedestrian to cross without being pressured.
    – Some time after button press: flashing red to make sure drivers let the pedestrian finish crossing if slow, while being able to proceed.
    – Then back to flashing yellow.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, it’s confusing. This has Caltrans written all over it – a token gesture to accommodate pedestrians while maintaining maximum throughput of cars on Hwy 35. Should have been a standard set of traffic lights, with the following sequence:

    Cars have green signal, peds have don’t walk signal.
    Pedestrian pushes button.
    Cars get yellow signal for a few seconds, followed by red.
    Peds get walk signal.
    Peds get flashing countdown signal.
    Peds get don’t walk signal.
    Cars get green signal.

    In other words, exactly the same as standard intersection, with the difference that the stop phase for cars on Sloat is triggered by a button rather than being on a timed sequence. Not rocket science.

  • Mike

    To answer your question, it’s d) All of the above.

  • Mark Dreger

    Honestly, I was skeptical of the HAWK at first, especially the final “blinking red” stage. But when I actually used the crosswalk the first night it went up (I didn’t just stand to the side filming an empty crosswalk as Stanley did), everyone obeyed and I had no trouble getting across the street. Isn’t that all that matters? It works. I too thought maybe they should have just put up a standard signal, but that would have probably lead to increased traffic on Forest View. Guess you could still STOP-control Forest View, but THAT would be confusing.

    Give it time. These could be great for some of those wide stoads out in Contra Costa.

  • Jim

    A standard light probably did not meet Caltrans MUTCD criteria. The light would have needed to control both Sloat and Forest View, with a stop sign controlling Vale. Caltrans probably did not want to obstruct traffic flow too much with a standard light. This couldn’t have been a standard light with ped-actuation like one on Kezar southwest of JFK.

  • Anonymous

    This has nothing to do with the design of HAWK signals. As we saw with Masonic, drivers are just as easily confused by regular traffic signals.

    The next time a new signal is activated (HAWK or otherwise), the SFPD should do intensive traffic enforcement, as an “educational” measure. That is, if they aren’t too busy handing out tickets to cyclists on the wiggle…

  • Anonymous

    This has nothing to do with the design of HAWK signals. As we saw with Masonic, drivers are just as easily confused by regular traffic signals.

    The next time a new signal is activated (HAWK or otherwise), the SFPD should do intensive traffic enforcement, as an “educational” measure. That is, if they aren’t too busy handing out tickets to cyclists on the wiggle…

  • gb52

    I think a standard signal would probably get the highest immediate compliance, but as Jim noted, cars could not legitimately cross Forest View, left onto Sloat unless there was also a signal.

    Perhaps a compromise would be a constant flashing yellow in both directions, and an all red phase for pedestrians crossing Sloat.

  • gb52

    That’s an interesting argument. Flashing red after the crossing phase.. Does anyone know how much time is allotted for pedestrians to cross, and if there is a push-button at the median/ped refuge area? I also agree that a double flashing red is a confusing signal. Single flashing red or solid red however are no-brainers.

  • Anonymous

    No enforcement …. I think I could pretty much ignore red lights and never get a ticket in San Francisco by SFPD.

  • Upright Biker

    I couldn’t agree more. Adding an entirely new type of signal is one of the most over-engineered yet simply stupid ideas in the world.

    On the other hand, if they would just narrow the road, change the pavement surface to indicate the required change in speed and awareness, raise the crosswalk and give it a bold visual treatment, things would be just as good or perhaps even better.

  • Single flashing is fine, its double thats the problem. And I like your idea of it always being on flashing yellow

  • guest

    i’ve seen places (maybe not in california, but def. in washington state and british columbia) where there’s a traffic light crosswalk signal at an intersection. the cross street is otherwise controlled normally (stop sign or what not), the x-walk with a signal just happens to be adjacent.

  • Joel

    You’re referring to those flashing green lights they have in BC, right? I found those confusing at first, but they seemed to work well, especially in Vancouver where there are some commercial districts along wide, arterial roads.

  • Nathanael

    On a freeway in upstate NY not long ago, while driving at the speed
    limit, I was passed by 10 -12 cars… which wouldn’t be so bad except
    that *they all cut me off*, cutting dangerously close in front of me and
    forcing me to hit the brakes.

    Far too many people have drivers licenses, and most of them don’t know how to drive.

    We need to make the tests much harder; we need to retest people every 5 years; and we need to revoke licenses permanently for incidents of dangerous driving.

  • Anonymous

    Personally, I would designate the outlet of Forest View onto Sloat as right turn only, so that cars from Forest View cannot turn left over the cross walk. An unsignalized left turn on a six lane highway is pretty dangerous anyway. You could then leave Forest View as a stop sign or add standard lights which show the opposite of the lights controlling Sloat – either way works.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    As you can read on DPW’s site,

    This beacon is the first installed in SF and only the 2nd one in the state. Doesn’t the oddness of it dictate the SF should explain to people about something this new? Many folks still get confuzzled when they come across a simple roundabout. Since the purpose is ensure safety for pedestrians crossing, ie, not being killed, shouldnt the signal be an un-mistakable one?

  • DD

    I agree with Jass. My boyfriend lives a few blocks from the HAWK that was recently installed in Sac, and the first few times I saw it, I was *very* confused.

    There are multiple LRT grade-crossings within a mile of that intersection that each have regular RR-style treatments with double flashing red lights and swing-arm gates. Seeing double-red lights going off without the gates made my head spin. When is it okay to proceed? Do I have to wait for the lights to turn off like I do with trains? Or is it the same as single flashing red that is equivalent to a stop-sign? And if It’s the same as a single flashing red, why not just have the lights switch to having only one bulb flash once the solid red phase is over?

    I don’t know the MUTCD well enough to recommend what the design should be, but confusion is dangerous for everyone involved.

  • tongjun