The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

New signal makes a lot of noise

Posted by on October 11th, 2006 at 7:11 am

New signal at 41st and Burnside

[Curbside service]

You’ve just gotta’ love Portland. Where else would the installation of a new bicycle and pedestrian traffic signal stir up so much media interest?

Just activated on Monday morning, the new experimental HAWK (High Intensity Activated Walk) signal on 41st and Burnside has already been featured in the Oregonian, on OPB radio and KGW television.

I went out there yesterday morning to snap some photos and check it out for myself.

New signal at 41st and Burnside

[What the cars see]

The first thing I noticed was the conveniently placed curbside activation button (photo above). When I pressed it, the bike light turned red. This told me the signal had been activated. Then, the main signal on Burnside (that the motorists see) went from being dark to flashing yellow. A few seconds later and dual red lights came on and I got the green bike signal.

New signal at 41st and Burnside

I crossed, and that was that. Once the process was complete all the signals went dark. It was simple, effective and safe; everything you could ask for in a crossing signal.

As I packed up my camera, two ladies on road bikes rolled up, eager to try it. They crossed with a yelp and their fists raised in a grateful and triumphant salute.

So far it seems like the experiment is going well and I hope there are more HAWKs in Portland’s future.

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  • Aaron B. Hockley October 11, 2006 at 8:08 am

    What I have yet to see explained, is why is this any better than a conventional red-yellow-green light that’s activated by a crosswalk signal? Is the idea of confusing drivers with yet another signal configuration supposed to help?

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  • Jonathan Maus October 11, 2006 at 8:15 am

    According to PDOT’s Roger Geller, the traditional crosswalk signal that always stays green is no longer used in situations like this (when you have a busy arterial and a low-traffic cross street).

    The reason is that motorists always just see the green and become accustomed to it. Then, when it finally does become red they blow right through.

    That’s why this new signal stays dim until it is activated and the “Mickey Mouse” configuration gets their attention more than just another traffic signal.

    You can read more about this new signal at the Arizona Dept. of Transportation website.

    They even have video (10MB, WMV).

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  • John Boyd October 11, 2006 at 8:19 am

    Better in that there won’t be a green light burning 23+ hours a day. Better in that dual flashing yellows tells drivers that this signal is different, so don’t be surprised when the red is not followed by a green.
    just guessing.

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  • anonymous October 11, 2006 at 8:21 am


    Sounds like you missed the following comments in the previous posts about this thing:

    Jessica Roberts
    October 9th, 2006 14:44

    C3PNo, most jurisdictions won’t install “traffic control devices” (signs, signals, markings) unless they’re on this list of those that have been approved by the FHWA (Federal Highways Administration) and thus contained in the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices:

    The bike/ped half signals like at Taylor/39th used to be in the MUTCD but then were removed. The specific federal rationale for that was explained to me a long time ago, but I don’t remember the details.

    I believe you’re not allowed to install non-MUTCD traffic control devices if you’re receiving federal money, and in other cases the city/jurisdiction may choose to install them but by doing so they’re opening themselves up to possible tort legal suits if someone sues them for a crash or injury while using it. (If you comply with the MUTCD you have a lot more legal coverage.)

    FWIW, that’s why the bike boulevard signs are green; they were meant to be blue, but since federal money was used they had to be MUTCD compliant and blue was not permitted for that type of sign. I think maybe there was also supposed to be a bike route name on the sign too, but had to be removed due to the same issue?

    Roger Geller quote:
    “…This eliminates the threat of motor-vehicle cut-through traffic.”

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  • Aaron B. Hockley October 11, 2006 at 8:23 am

    Thanks for the quick responses. Does the Portland signal do the alternating flashing red like the Arizona signal?

    And if so, do I understand that this alternating flashing red means I can stop as a driver and then go when clear, whereas alternating flashing red signals at a railroad crossing mean I need to stop and wait for the signals to finish?

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  • Curt Dewees October 11, 2006 at 8:24 am

    Another advantage of this device is that it won’t stop or slow down traffic on Burnside — a very busy thru-way — any more than necessary. A regular, timed stoplight would stop Burnside traffic all the time, unnecessarily.

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  • Qwendolyn October 11, 2006 at 9:31 am

    Yes! I crossed there yesterday. Safe and easy.

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  • Paul October 11, 2006 at 11:22 am

    The red light is solid – it does not alternate.

    Its a nice fixture, I’ve changed my commute to give it a try this week and it is a nice touch. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past trying to cross Burnside. More than any other intersections I deal with.

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  • lianagan October 13, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    I crossed on Tuesday. I noticed that one car barely stopped in time and was inside the crosswalk when they finally did come to a stop, bad for peds., not as much of an issue for bikes. You can see which ones are the speeders when they can’t stop in time. Maybe a good spot for a cam.

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