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FHWA Home / Safety / Pedestrian & Bicycle / Pedestrian Safety in Communities

Resource Sheet 7: Engineering Solutions to Improve Pedestrian Safety

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The following provides a sample of engineering solutions that can be used to improve conditions for pedestrians walking along the street and for pedestrians crossing the street.

Sidewalk: A paved walkway that allows pedestrians to walk along the roadway without interference from traffic.

Man walking on sidewalk

Purpose/Benefits

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: Will sidewalks increase crime?

A: More pedestrian activity usually reduces street crime by providing more "eyes on the street."

Q: Will sidewalks decrease property values?

A: "Walkable" neighborhoods often have higher property values because homes in locations where residents can safely walk to schools and other nearby destinations are desirable.

Q: Do we have to cut down trees to create space for sidewalks?

A: Sidewalks can often be constructed without damaging trees by building around significant trees or narrowing/removing traffic lanes to provide space for sidewalks.

Buffer or planting strip: A zone separating pedestrians on sidewalks from moving vehicles on the road.

Buffer

Purpose/Benefits

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: Will adding buffer space mean the sidewalk will be located closer to houses or businesses?

A: Buffer space can be added by removing or narrowing roadway travel lanes in established neighborhoods, or by moving the sidewalk further from the roadway.

Marked crosswalk: Areas on the street (delineated by paint, brick, etc.) indicating to pedestrians where they should cross the road.

Wide marked crosswalk

Purpose/Benefits

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: Will adding a marked crosswalk to an intersection make it safer?

A: A marked crosswalk does not ensure a safe crossing. Signs, signals, lighting improvements, or traffic calming devices may also be needed, in combination with marked crosswalks, to improve pedestrian safety.

Curb ramp or curb cut: A ramp providing a smooth transition between sidewalk and street.

Curb ramps

Purpose/Benefits

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: I see many types of curb ramps in my neighborhood. What type is the most effective?

A: The ADA Accessibility Guidelines describe required design elements for curb ramps such as landing space, specific width and slope, and tactile warning strips (bumps). Consult your local transportation or public works department for more information.

Q: Where are curb ramps required?

A: Curb ramps are required wherever there is a pedestrian crossing.

Raised medians and crossing islands: These provide pedestrians with a safe place to wait while crossing a street.

Raised median

Purpose/Benefits

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: Do raised medians make it more difficult for cars to use driveways or access buildings?

A: A raised median will not affect right turns in and out of driveways or side streets. Left turns would be redirected to a major crossing, which reduces potential conflicts and increases safety for drivers and pedestrians.

Q: What would warn motorists of a person wanting to cross?

A: Signs, pavement markings, and sometimes flashing beacons alert motorists of a pedestrian waiting to cross.

Curb extension: An extension of the sidewalk into the street that reduces the distance pedestrians must cross.

Curb extension

Purpose/Benefits

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: Won't curb extensions eliminate on-street parking?

A: Curb extensions do not typically affect on-street parking, as parking is not permitted at corners.

Q: Why aren't these installed at every crossing?

A: Curb extensions are most effective on streets with on-street parking. They are not an alternative for streets with high-speed traffic or without on-street parking because drivers would not expect sudden changes in the roadway width.

Traffic sign: An official device that gives a specific message, either by words or symbols, to the public. Examples are "Stop," "Yield," etc.

Regulatory sign
Warning sign
In-street pedestrian crossing sign

Purpose/Benefits

The two types of signs affecting pedestrian safety are:

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: Motorists don't obey signs in my neighborhood. How are placing these signs going to help?

A: In some cases, simply installing a sign is not enough to change driver behavior or improve pedestrian safety. Signs should be used in conjunction with enforcement and other improvements that physically change the roadway environment.

Q: I don't see why a sign in my neighborhood is needed. What should I do?

A: Talk to your local transportation agency or department of public works to find out if the sign is needed. Sometimes a sign may not have been moved as conditions change. Typical examples of this are school warning signs and bus stop warning signs. School zones and school bus stops are determined by the school district and may change without immediate knowledge of the local transportation agency.

Traffic signal: A visual signal to control the flow of traffic. Pedestrian signals let pedestrians know when they have priority and warn drivers to stop/yield for pedestrians.

Pedestrian countdown signal

Purpose/Benefits

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: How can a traffic signal improve pedestrian safety?

A: Having more time to cross a street, giving pedestrians a head-start, or timing a signal so vehicles cannot turn while pedestrians are crossing the road can all improve pedestrian safety. Consult you local transportation or public works department to see if improvements at particular intersections are possible.

Q: Why do I have to press the push button: won't I get a walk signal anyway?

A: On some streets pedestrians may have to push the button to get a signal that gives them enough time to cross the street. Talk with your traffic engineer about the pros and cons of having a push button to activate the signal versus automatically including the walk signal.

Traffic calming: Physical changes to a street to encourage drivers to drive slowly or to discourage cut-through traffic.

Chicane
Speed hump
Traffic circle
Raised crosswalk

Purpose/Benefits

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: Why can't we just install stop signs at every intersection to slow traffic?

A: Residents often believe that stop signs are the best way to reduce traffic speeds. Using too many stop signs can breed disrespect for signs among drivers and lead to increased running of stop signs and higher speeds between stops. Certain conditions must be met before stop signs should be added as an effective solution for controlling traffic. For a summary of traffic studies conducted on this topic visit: http://www.ci.troy.mi.us/TrafficEngineering/Multiway.htm.

Q: Won't installing speed humps slow down traffic?

A: You may first think of a speed hump when thinking about slowing down traffic. Consideration must, however, be given to the impact on:

Road diet: Narrowing or eliminating travel lanes on a roadway to make more room for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Street before road diet
Street after road diet

Purpose/Benefits

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: Won't this cause more traffic congestion?

A: A road diet can't be applied to every street. Road diets are most effective where streets have been "overbuilt" to meet existing traffic volume. When applied appropriately, traffic will remain relatively unchanged.

Overpasses/underpasses: A street crossing separating pedestrians from motor vehicle traffic (i.e., bridge or tunnel).

Pedestrian overpass
Pedestrian underpass

Purpose/Benefits

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: Why aren't overpasses or underpasses always used for dangerous street crossings?

A: Overpasses and underpasses are not the right solution for every dangerous crossing. Sometimes it is better to make the pedestrian crossing safer at the roadway level. If overpasses/underpasses require pedestrians to walk out of their way, the crossing is often not used. To ensure pedestrians use an overpass or underpass, it must provide an easy and direct path to key destinations.

Q: Aren't underpasses unsafe?

A: Residents sometimes voice concerns about the security of an underpass. Design elements can be considered to make them more secure: 1) underpasses should be straight to eliminate hiding places and so pedestrians can see the "light at the end of the tunnel"; 2) they should be as short as possible and open so pedestrians don't feel trapped; 3) they should be well-lit.

Street lighting: This illuminates the roadway and intersections to help motorists see other motor vehicles and pedestrians crossing the roadway.

Overhead street lighting

Purpose/Benefits

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: Will lighting increase pedestrian activity?

A: Lighting may help pedestrians feel safer and more secure, which may mean more people will walk. More "eyes on the street" can help deter criminal activity.

Q: Will new lighting destroy the character of our neighborhood?

A: Some residents may be concerned about lighting and its impact on the nature of the neighborhood. There are many options for lighting design including height, direction, and luminosity that can be tailored to fit the community.

Temporary walkways: These provide pedestrians with designated routes along a construction site when sidewalks and other pedestrian travel ways have been closed.

A stable, temporary curb ramp
Temporary signage to direct pedestrians to proper crossings

Purpose/Benefits

Agency Considerations

Common Resident Questions and Answers

Q: I have to walk through a construction zone every day and it changes almost as frequently. How can I anticipate my walking route?

A: Construction firms are required to submit traffic control plans that specify how they will maintain pedestrian and motor vehicle access. These will be on file with your local transportation agency or department of public works.

Q: What do all these signs in construction zones mean?

A: Construction signs usually warn motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians of changes in the street environment. All signs must be prominently displayed in advance of the hazard.

 

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Page last modified on January 31, 2013.
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