The Montgomery County state senator shepherding a bill that would allow a new type of pedestrian traffic signal in the state said he’s submitting an amendment Friday to ensure the proposed legislation conforms to federal law.
Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) officials wrote in a Feb. 7 letter to state legislators that the installation of High Intensity Activated Crosswalk, or HAWK, signals—which are dark most of the time, but then blink yellow and turn red to allow a pedestrian to cross a road—could risk federal funds. SHA took no position on the pending legislation in the letter, but said the bill sponsored by Sen. Roger Manno (D-Silver Spring) “would place Maryland out of compliance” with the federal government’s traffic control device manual.
Manno said Friday his amendment includes technical language that would ask the state to make the signals comply with federal traffic standards.
“We’re getting it ready for prime time,” Manno said as the General Assembly prepares to begin the second half of its 90-day session. “I think we have a narrow window here to get this done and save lives. That is not lost on me.”
The proposed amendment comes after Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner sent a letter Wednesday to the state’s transportation secretary that says he doesn’t believe installing the pedestrian signals would risk federal funds. Berliner has been pushing for use of the HAWK signals as a tool to help the county with its Vision Zero policy, which aims to eliminate traffic-related fatalities by redesigning roadways and intersections.
Berliner said SHA Administrator Gregory Johnson agreed with county officials in November that the signals could be used. Berliner also pointed out the federal traffic control device manual has a section that states local jurisdictions can use pedestrian hybrid signals to help facilitate pedestrian crossings at locations that don’t warrant a standard traffic signal.
Berliner has asked state transportation officials to clear up the discrepancy between the federal manual’s apparent support for the pedestrian signals and the state’s position that passing the proposed legislation could risk federal funds.
It appears the amendment being submitted by Manno could help solve the problem. On Thursday afternoon, SHA tweeted to Berliner that “proposed amendments for HAWK signal bill keeps fed. funding & adds another safety tool for SHA.”
@RogerBerliner Proposed amendments for HAWK signal bill keeps fed. funding possible & adds another safety tool for SHA
— MD State Highway Adm (@MDSHA) February 23, 2017
In an email Friday, SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar said the highway department “supports HAWK in our overall safety toolbox.” He said SHA is working with legislators to make sure the bill is consistent with federal guidelines.
HAWK signals are already used in other locations in the U.S., including Washington, D.C., Arizona and Connecticut. A 2010 Federal Highway Administration study found the use of the signals reduced vehicle collisions with pedestrians by 69 percent.
Berliner believes the signals could be deployed at treacherous non-signalized pedestrian crossings on busy roads such as Old Georgetown Road, Wisconsin Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue.