Finishing up a busy four-day work week yesterday, I had my first chance to see the new HAWK signal in action at Louisiana and Natalie as Cleveland Middle School got out. The HAWK and other improvements were installed in reaction to the death of 6th Grader Eliza “Justine” Almuina, killed trying to walk across Louisiana after school hours earlier this year.
Above we see students making their way through the just-as-important raised median preventing left-turns. A few minutes watching the HAWK in steady action reflected the somewhat controlled chaos that is “release time” at all middle schools. Having taught middle school for over a decade myself, the atmosphere was that mixture of largely feigned rebellion and dull routine any teacher or parent of middle school kids knows all too well.
Also routine is the omnipresent semi-chaos of drivers picking up their kids. The HAWK and blocking median have been up since school began this year, so the alteration in routine made necessary has now been incorporated into the milieu. In terms of drivers on Natalie (the minor street we see continue east from Louisiana Blvd. in the photo above), what was most noticeable and impressive was how slowly and relatively patient everyone seemed to be.
The same could not be said for those on Louisiana Boulevard. I watched a few HAWK cycles and “hit the button” myself a time or two.
Even with school getting out and the 20 mph school zone lights flashing (not to mention frequent use of the HAWK), several drivers did a poor job of slowing down to 20 mph and stopping at the HAWK. This included a yahoo in a pick-up truck who blatantly ran the HAWK while I was waiting to cross. Yahoo.
That said, most drivers complied in terms of speed and waiting at the HAWK signal. Two quick observations about the signal timing of that HAWK:
- When one hits the “beg button” there’s a slight delay and then 7-8 rounds of flashing yellow before a solid red (stop) light. It’s about 10-12 seconds of waiting. Having tried the HAWKs at Lomas/Alvarado and those along Central that have been activated, there’s a lack of consistency with this that needs to be addressed.
- If one tries the beg button immediately after the end of the previous HAWK cycle, one waits quite a long time. So, with school getting out, the kids who get there first have a short time to wait, while the stragglers wait a long time. Long enough time to say “screw it” and dash across, at least to the median, instead. This gap between cycles is, of course, to give drivers on Louisiana a stretch of time sans HAWK slowdown. I mean, of course, when push comes to shove, it’s all about the drivers.
In conclusion, and noting this is a tiny sample size of observation, the most important improvement at Louisiana and Natalie appears to be the raised median (fenced for added protection from straying walkers and testosterone-laden drivers). The HAWK itself is nice, I guess, but there remain issues to work out. Which is understandable, given that the HAWK lights/concept are still rather new, particularly in Albuquerque.
In a perfect world, instead of a HAWK we’d just close Louisiana Blvd. to traffic between Montgomery and Comanche for two hours every school day morning and afternoon. Or maybe we’d just blow Louisiana Boulevard up in the first place. What a nasty stroad.
In lieu of true transportation revolution, the HAWK signal and median blockage at Louisiana and Natalie will have to do. And it does seem to help. It’s also true that such a treatment would be of help at plenty of other dangerous crossings adjacent to schools around town, especially middle schools. A task force study called to look at these other dangers was scheduled to report findings this Fall, but I’m not aware of any report yet. Let me know if I missed it.
Stay safe out there, everybody, including the kids at Cleveland Middle School who will spill out from school to start their weekends in a few hours. Look for them, won’t you?