City of Phoenix utilizing HAWKs as Vision Zero traffic program is in early stages

Jun 3, 2024, 4:35 AM

High Intensity Activated Crosswalks, or HAWKs, can potentially provide better safety for Phoenix tr...

High Intensity Activated Crosswalks, or HAWKs, can potentially provide better safety for Phoenix traffic. (City of Phoenix photo)

(City of Phoenix photo)

PHOENIX — City officials are working to make Phoenix’s roadways safer for pedestrians and drivers alike, after the city earned the title of sixth-least safe city for drivers, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

Joe Brown, the Director of Phoenix’s Street Transportation Department, is one of the changemakers, joining Phoenix’s department after previously working in New York, where he helped lead a Vision Zero program.

He joined KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona Morning News on Thursday to talk about Phoenix’s own Vision Zero program, which is in its early stages.

“Phoenix is a much bigger city than New York City geographically, so it’s a challenge. And we have about 270 fatalities on our streets every year,” Brown said. “We’re really looking to start driving those fatalities down.”

The Phoenix City Council first approved the Vision Zero Road Safety Action Plan in September 2022, allocating $10 million annually with the hopes of reducing traffic fatalities and serious injuries in Phoenix to zero by 2050.

When implemented in New York, the Vision Zero program reduced traffic injuries to low-income residents by 30% from 2014 through 2019, according to a study by New York University.

However, to Brown’s point, Phoenix presents challenges that are much different than New York.

“One of the things, which is a very positive program that’s been going on for a few years, is the HAWK signals,” Brown told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “We have one going in this morning that we’re activating at 13th Avenue and Osborn Road. That’ll be the 94th HAWK.”

According to the city of Phoenix’s website, the city “uses the High Intensity Activated CrossWalK (HAWK) beacon signal … to help make it easier and safer for people to cross busy streets without impending traffic.” The website also includes a visual explainer on how HAWKs work, as well as an interactive HAWK locator map.

“They’re really for pedestrians, cyclists sometimes. You’ll see them and they get activated only when the pedestrians are there, so it’s not a full-fledged signal. It’s usually at a crosswalk, often enar schools, like the one at 13th Avenue and Osborn. Those are important, and we’ll be doing a lot more of those in the future.”

Brown said the city is focusing on the “high-intensity” areas first, such as Indian School Road.

“We’ve got a $25 million project that we got a grant from the federal government to upgrade Indian School Road between 91st Avenue and 35th Avenue,” Brown explained. “That’s an example, there’s some roads like that where we just have higher than the average crashes and fatalities.”

In Phoenix’s Comprehensive Traffic Collision Summary for 2020, three of the 10 locations with the highest number of collisions were along the stretch of Indian School Brown noted. One of the seven remaining was just beyond the noted stretch at 27th Avenue.

“We really need to look at the roadways in totality and see what we can do … Everybody’s involved and everybody can have a role in driving down those fatalities, and if we can just reduce it by 5%, that’s 14 lives we save every year,” Brown added.

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City of Phoenix utilizing HAWKs as Vision Zero traffic program is in early stages