Possibility of Passage Dims for State Bill Calling for Pedestrian Traffic Beacons

Senate committee rejects proposal for traffic lights that advocates say would make pedestrian crossings safer


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An example of a HAWK pedestrian signal

FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION

A state Senate committee voted against a proposal that would have enabled transportation officials to add a new type of pedestrian signals to Maryland’s roads.

The 6-5 vote last week could doom the bill, although some advocates still hope a version sponsored by Del. Ben Kramer (D-Wheaton) moving through the House of Delegates could earn support from the State Highway Administration (SHA) and the state Senate before the General Assembly session ends next month.

Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner, who has promoted the installation of the “HAWK beacons” as a way to make pedestrian crossings safer, said he believes the House bill is a better version that has the potential to pass. He noted the Senate version seemed to have gotten its “wheels wrapped around the axle of another bill.”

The beacons are designed for pedestrian crossings at locations that do not have traditional traffic signals. They hang over the roadway and can be activated by a pedestrian or cyclist. Once activated, the signals flash yellow at first flash before turning red—at which point drivers are required to stop and allow pedestrians to cross. HAWK is short for high-intensity activated crosswalk beacon. They are used at locations around the country, including in Washington, D.C.

WAMU reported Monday that the HAWK bill received an unfavorable report in the Senate’s Judiciary Proceeding’s Committee along with other proposals that would have required drivers to yield to people riding bikes in crosswalks and forced motorists to stop when seeing a pedestrian or cyclist on a curb, sidewalk or median and about to cross a road.

SHA told legislators that requiring motorists to stop so abruptly “would create undeterminable delays and safety issues for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike,” according to a statement provided to the radio station.

Previously, SHA also sent a letter to legislators warning that approving the HAWK bill could risk federal transportation funds, but after sending the letter SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar told Bethesda Beat in an email that the highway department “supports HAWK in our overall safety toolbox.”

SHA did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday about the committee vote on the bill.

State Sen. Roger Manno (D-Silver Spring) had sponsored the HAWK legislation in response to the deaths of two bicyclists who were struck while crossing Veirs Mill Road at Turkey Branch Parkway in Aspen Hill in the past two years.

Manno expressed his disappointment in the bill’s probable demise during a March 8 cycling symposium in Annapolis on March 8.

“This is the time of the year when things get taken from you,” Manno said to a room full of cycling advocates. “This is a tough place to do business. Please stay organized.”

A member of Manno’s staff sent Bethesda Beat a video of his remarks from the symposium after a reporter requested an interview with him about the legislation.

Greg Billing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said the Veirs Mill Road and Turkey Branch intersection that’s also a crossing for the Matthew Henson Trail would be an ideal place to install a HAWK signal.

“For cyclists, crossing in crosswalks is dangerous, especially on multilane state roads,” Billing said.

He said SHA’s opposition to the bill amounted to putting “convenience and speed over safety.”

The state senators who voted against the HAWK bill were Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), Delores Kelley (D-Baltimore County), James Brochin (D-Baltimore County), Robert Cassilly (R-Harford County), Wayne Norman (R-Cecil, Harford counties) and Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s County).

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