The Montgomery County Department of Transportation unveiled a new crosswalk beacon on Monday at the intersection of Tuckerman Lane and Kings Riding Way in Bethesda.
The busy intersection — where the Bethesda Trolley bike and pedestrian trail intersects with Tuckerman Lane — was the site where North Bethesda resident Jennifer DiMauro was struck by a Chevrolet Spark in July.
She was struck around 10 a.m. while walking on the trail, according to Montgomery County police.
DiMauro, 31, died from her injuries three days later. MCDOT Director Chris Conklin said residents have continued to advocate for safety improvements at the intersection — a popular crossing for walkers and bikers.
MCDOT installed a high-intensity activated crosswalk (HAWK) beacon to replace the flashing signal formerly at the site.
Flashing signals typically display yellow lights to alert drivers to pedestrians in the crosswalk, Conklin said. But some studies have shown that they’re not as effective as HAWK beacons, which are more similar to a regular traffic light and show solid red lights that require drivers to come to a full stop.
“HAWKs are generally much more appropriate,” Conklin said in an interview on Thursday. “And we’re continuing to do analysis and look at installing them whenever it’s possible.”
Traffic safety has become a political issue over the past year as Montgomery County experiences growing rate of crashes in which pedestrians are struck.
During a Nov. 19 briefing with county and state transportation officials, Council Members Tom Hucker and Andrew Friedson asked MCDOT and the Maryland State Highway Administration why more HAWK signals weren’t installed at busy pedestrian intersections.
Conklin said Thursday that the SHA didn’t legalize HAWK beacons until two years ago, largely based on concerns that drivers would be confused by the signals. The beacons usually include two circular red lights arranged over a single yellow circular light. Pedestrians must push a button to activate the signal and wait to cross until the lights switch on.
The signals flash yellow after pedestrians push the button and eventually switch to solid red as they’re crossing the street. But when the signal is inactive, there are no lights at all, Conklin said, which experts believed could confuse drivers unfamiliar with the beacons.
“It looks similar to when a regular traffic light loses signal and goes dark,” he added. “So, there was concern that drivers wouldn’t understand what to do at the crosswalk.”
Transit advocates petitioned heavily for the signals, which eventually convinced transportation officials that the benefits outweighed the concerns, Conklin said.
The Tuckerman Lane signal is the fourth HAWK beacon in Montgomery County. The first — soon to be converted to a regular traffic light — was installed in 2010 on Gude Drive in Rockville,
MCDOT currently has “four or five” additional beacons “in the pipeline,” Conklin added.
One is planned on Bel Pre Road between Georgia Avenue and Layhill Road, the site of several pedestrian-related crashes in 2019. Another is scheduled to be installed in Chevy Chase at Willard Avenue and Hills Plaza.
It generally takes between a year and 18 months to install the signals, which require electrical connections and signage to explain them to drivers, Conklin said.
When asked by a reporter if the HAWK beacons would include traffic cameras to ensure driver compliance, Conklin said the department would consider it.
“It’s an interesting question,” he said. “It’s something we should look at. There’s no reason they wouldn’t be eligible for them.”