Another Look at Lomas/Alvarado HAWK: Time for a Version 2.0

A BB reader recently asked a question about the Lomas/Alvarado HAWK signal I couldn’t answer, not being a daily rider in that area. This made for an excellent excuse for a bike ride, and I went out yesterday to the point where I got a bit of a sunburn.

It was a great day of riding. The visit to the HAWK wasn’t quite as great.

As outlined last week, there are some installation/logistical problems with this very first HAWK signal in the city limits of Albuquerque. Yesterday’s visit revealed some more, while also answering the aforementioned reader question. That inquiry pertained to how long the bike/ped user has to wait after hitting the “beg button.” The answer to that, I found, is 15 seconds. At the end of that 15 seconds, and the signal is red and crossing is permitted, the user has 45 seconds to cross. So from first flash of yellow alerting motorists that the HAWK will eventually go red, to end of red, is 60 seconds. Keep in mind there’s also a median beg button for those needing more time to cross (buttons crudely circled in red due to poor photography):


While understood that it’s meant to be used by users capable of widely divergent speed in crossing this street, the design of the Lomas/Alvarado HAWK is, well I would say “overkill,” but that is just not the right term to use when on a subject concerning cyclists/pedestrians just trying to stay alive. Let’s just say that 45 seconds (or up to 90 seconds, if one also employs the median beg button as well) to cross Lomas is simply not designed with bicycles in mind. At all.

Okay, fine. What about pedestrians and the Lomas/Alvarado HAWK? The 45-second crossing time, a typical setting these days, conforms nicely to accepted crossing speed calculations that take into account slower pedestrians. San Francisco, for example, uses 2.8 feet per second in its timing calculations, a slower/lower figure that many municipalities. Lomas is 80 feet wide at Alvarado, and at 2.8 FPS we get a crossing time of 28.57 seconds. Tack on some buffer on both sides of that 28 seconds and 45 seconds total would seem plenty.

So why is the median beg button there? It’s certainly not there for the cyclists, and it doesn’t seem needed for pedestrians either.

But that’s not all from a pedestrian perspective. While conducting “scientific research” in hitting the beg button and crossing a few times, seeing driver behavior that included honking of horns, widespread uncertainty and a few arguable cases of “cheating” (e.g., motorists starting back up through the intersection with HAWK flashing red and crossing signal still showing time left for bikes/peds to cross), I also saw the following:


That’s the sidewalk on Lomas immediately west of the Alvarado intersection. The fixture taking up much of the space is, of course, the HAWK signal light pole itself. Um…that’s not ADA 60-inch required width, is it? Apologies for not measuring here, but on-site it seemed pretty obvious to be out of ADA compliance. Which it is.

Oh well, you’ve probably already noticed there’s another light pole up the road a few feet in the photo above, one that also makes getting a wheelchair, for example, down Lomas difficult-to-impossible. Lomas has never been designed for pedestrians, and the HAWK signal just serves to provide another obstacle to walking down this unfriendly road.

To make a long rant as only slightly longer as possible, the HAWK signal at Lomas & Alvarado seems designed to be used only by pedestrians who want to cross Lomas, very, very slowly, to keep walking down Alvarado. And there are certainly a few of these people. For all other users, cyclists included, the HAWK seems a very good idea designed/installed quite poorly.  After “researching” two instances of crossing using the beg button, I ended up just crossing sans button/HAWK, using the very pretty green painted median refuge to wait out a car or two on the far-side lanes.


Enough ranting. How about some solutions? As a newish technology, HAWK is just one of a family of bird-named innovations (e.g., TOUCAN, PELICAN) aimed at making mid-block bike/ped crossings safer. My favorite of these is the PUFFIN, which combines HAWK signalization with sensors to detect how fast pedestrians are crossing. Tucson, king of HAWK, et. al., has a PUFFIN as part of its over 150 HAWKs around town. It’s designed to give extra time to pedestrians who need it, and is showing to be a safety-raising success.

Naturally, cost is the PUFFIN advocates enemy. The cost, Tucson notes, “ranged from $80,000 to $150,000 depending on location.” Still, in an age of increasingly “self-driving” cars with sensors popping up everywhere, one would hope costs would decrease and public support for saving lives increase via use of such sensor technology at intersections. Having sensors that detect crossing speed of both cyclists and pedestrians, along with shorter than a 15-second delay before red, would make the Lomas/Alvarado HAWK signal much more relevant. Barring expenditure of PUFFIN scale, having two beg buttons, one for cyclists and another for pedestrians, would also address the delay/length dilemma.

Online research doesn’t indicate much use of split beg buttons and/or crossing times, nor, for that matter, is PUFFIN usage widespread. Meanwhile, we continue to mash these innovations into the transportation grid as cheaply as possible, almost always in avoidance of the dreaded purchase/fight over expanded right-of-way. Lomas & Alvarado currently reflect all of the obstacles above, and this “showcase” project for HAWKs in Burque needs some tinkering and improvement before we can successfully use it to argue for more HAWKs around town.


10 thoughts on “Another Look at Lomas/Alvarado HAWK: Time for a Version 2.0

  1. A flashing red light means stop, then go if all is clear, doesn’t it? (Basically the same as a stop sign.) What is it intended to mean in this situation, if something other than its typical use?


  2. Erin: As the COA tri-fold explains, it’s a bit more complicated than a stop sign (or even our understanding of a common red light).

    With the Lomas/Alvarado HAWK, the bike/ped user hits the beg button and the light flashes yellow for 15 seconds (The Isleta Blvd. light is only yellow for under five seconds, something I’ll get into in an upcoming post). Then the light is red and the crosswalk white (go) for 45 seconds. After the 45 seconds, the HAWK light goes from solid red to flashing while the crosswalk flashes “don’t walk.” The instructions/tri-fold tell us drivers we can “proceed with caution if clear” during the flashing red light.

    Sorry I didn’t explain it better…the tri-fold linked is better. All in all, it’s quite a different kettle of fish, as the British would say.

    Thanks for reading and your comment!


  3. “After the 45 seconds, the HAWK light goes from solid red to flashing while the crosswalk flashes “don’t walk.” The instructions/tri-fold tell us drivers we can “proceed with caution if clear” during the flashing red light.” — so in what way are drivers “cheating” if they proceed (assuming they have been waiting) on a flashing red at the HAWK signal? It’s exactly as I thought, basically equivalent to a stop sign.


  4. Erin: I put “arguably” in the line about cheating only because the crosswalk still has quite a bit of time left on it when the red light starts flashing. Plenty of time to come up to the intersection on a bike and still cross, for example. I have to say it seems a bit more complicated than a stop sign. I’ll be comparing it to the Isleta HAWK in an upcoming post; your comment reminds me to do that.

    Thanks again for reading, commenting and questioning. Especially the questioning.


  5. Certainly more complicated than a stop sign, but how are drivers to know that? We only know the traffic laws we’ve been taught and I don’t recall any public education about this light before it was rolled out.

    The reason I asked was more than once I have stopped at the HAWK, then gone on the flashing red after the crossing was clear, while other drivers continued to wait — though I genuinely want to be compliant with the crossing, I was unclear on how to do so. Your “arguably” comment had me worried I had proceeded incorrectly. These things won’t work without driver education, if even a concerned motorist is unable to parse the situation.

    Thanks for all you do! I enjoy your blog and am concerned about the issues you discuss.


  6. Erin: Thanks for reading and taking time to respond. This severs as another reminder to myself to write a few words on the difference between the Isleta/McEwen HAWK and Lomas/Alvarado soon.

    As for confusion, the trailing/flashing red seems the most confusing to me. Red means stops, flashing means what exactly???? That gives me an excuse to ride out to Isleta/McEwen again and confirm that it’s cycle is different not only in signal time length, but in terms of the whole flashing red thing.

    News at Eleven, as they say. Or, more likely, Friday.


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