Credit: Dan Schere

County officials dedicated a new high-intensity traffic signal at a crosswalk between shopping centers on Aspen Hill Road near Wheaton Friday in an ongoing campaign to reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries.

Montgomery County Department of Transportation Deputy Director Chris Conklin said the addition of the signal, known as a High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk, or HAWK, is part of the county’s Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate all pedestrian fatalities by 2035 through pedestrian infrastructure improvements and other “traffic calming” measures.

The signal operates when pedestrians push a button and receive a walk sign, triggering a traffic light that warns cars of pedestrians by first displaying a flashing yellow light, then a solid yellow light and finally a solid red light that signals cars to stop.

Conklin said in the past year, nine intersections in the county have received pedestrian signal upgrades and 32 miles of sidewalk have been built or repaired. The Aspen Hill corridor, he said, has been a priority in the county due to the number of fatal collisions in the area.

“This location has been a concern for a long time,” he said.

Conklin added the State Highway Administration previously had limited the areas where HAWK signals could be built, but Administrator Greg Slater recently gave counties more authority to install the beacons.


County Executive Marc Elrich praised Slater for “changing the culture and attitude of the state” when it comes to pedestrian safety. More HAWK signals, he said, are “badly needed.”

“It’s not enough to have a flashing light. Drivers have shown us repeatedly that they go right through a flashing light,” he said.

Council member Evan Glass, a member of the council’s Transportation and Environment Committee, said there have been 70 “vehicular pedestrian incidents” since the beginning of the year, and that overall pedestrian collisions are up one-quarter across the state.


“This is a really important first step,” Glass said the Aspen Hill signal installation.

Another HAWK beacon will be installed at the intersection of Willard Avenue and Hills Plaza in Friendship Heights, and another signal installed on Gude Drive in Rockville in 2010 will soon be converted into a regular traffic signal, according to a news release.

HAWK beacons are typically installed on roads where the speed limit is below 35 miles per hour.


Dan Schere can be reached at