Also known as HAWC Signals (High Intensity Activated Crosswalk signals), PHBs are traffic devices used to assist pedestrians crossing busy streets where other crosswalks are unavailable. When a pedestrian activates the system by pressing a button, flashing yellow lights above the road alerts drivers that someone has activated the signal. The yellow light then turns solid, signaling that an impending full stop.
When the light turns red, pedestrians receive a white walk signal and may safely cross the road. The lights then flash signaling to pedestrians to hurry through the intersection, as the light is about to change. When the pedestrian countdown has expired, the beacon goes dark and traffic resumes. Even if there are no immediately present pedestrians, drivers must still stop if the beacon is flashing a red light. Once they have come to a full stop they may continue through the intersection.
Approved in 2009 by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) PHBs were intended to provide a safer alternative to crossing the street and stop less traffic than crosswalks. A 2010 FHWA before-and-after study found that pedestrian hybrid beacons led to a 29% reduction in total crashes, a 69% reduction in pedestrian crashes, and a 15% reduction in severe crashes. According to this study, drivers, in general, are more likely to stop at crosswalks equipped with this beacon.
PHBs are meant to align with the concept of "complete streets," a transportation policy and design approach that calls for roadways to be consistently designed and operated with all users in mind: bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders, private motor vehicles, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
The city of Austin operates, owns, and maintains 39 PHBs. They each cost about $60,000 for equipment and installation. Most of the previous PHBs were installed using mobility bond funding, and that funding has almost expired. The Department of Transportation has studied around a dozen potential locations for new PHBs, but funding for these has not been identified yet. The map below marks the locations of the PHBs in the Austin area.