A Resident's Guide for Creating Safe and Walkable Communities

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Resource Materials

Resource Sheet 7: Engineering Solutions to Improve Pedestrian Safety

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

  • Provides safe places to walk, run, skate, and play.

Agency Considerations

  • May be difficult or expensive to provide sidewalks because of topography, structures, limited right-of-way, etc.
  • Some community groups may oppose the construction of sidewalks.

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

  • Makes walking along the roadway more comfortable.
  • Provides space for utilities, trees, grass, benches, piled snow, or leaves.
  • Bike lanes and on-street parking may also act as buffers.

Agency Considerations

  • May be difficult or expensive to provide buffer space because of topography, limited right-of-way space, the need to move existing curbs, etc.
  • Maintenance for landscaped buffers may be costly.

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

  • Warns motorists of the potential presence of pedestrians or/ bicyclists.

Agency Considerations

  • High-visibility pavement markings may help drivers anticipate pedestrians better than textured pavement, but they can be used together.
  • Marking a crosswalk alone may not create a safer crossing for pedestrians due to motor vehicle speeds, visibility, or number of travel lanes.

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

  • Makes facilities more accessible to all pedestrians, including people using wheelchairs or other assistive devices, strollers, or bicycles.

Agency Considerations

  • Agencies may want to follow a transition plan to bring facilities up to current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

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

  • Simplifies street crossings by allowing pedestrians to cross one direction of traffic at a time.

Agency Considerations

  • May be difficult or expensive due to construction costs, limited right-of-way, etc.
  • Landscaped medians may limit the ability of drivers to see pedestrians trying to cross.
  • Maintenance concerns, especially in areas with snowfall.

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

  • Improves ability of pedestrians and motorists to see each other.
  • Helps slow turning vehicles at intersection corners.

Agency Considerations

  • May reduce bike lane width.
  • Can be designed with mountable curbs for emergency vehicle access.
  • Appropriate for intersections or midblock crossings.

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:

  • Regulatory signs: direct motor vehicles and pedestrians; are typically white. Examples include: stop, no turn on red, etc.
  • Warning signs: warn drivers to yield for pedestrians; are typically fluorescent yellow. Includes devices such as pedestrian warning signs, yield here to pedestrian signs, in-street pedestrian crossing signs, school advance warning signs, etc.

Agency Considerations

  • Local laws and ordinances must be followed.
  • Right-turn-on-red restrictions can help pedestrians avoid conflicts with turning vehicles. Agencies must consider the impacts on vehicular traffic.
  • An engineering study must often be conducted before installing signs. Posting too many signs can sometimes desensitize motorists to the signs.

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

  • Includes devices such as traffic signals, pedestrian signals, and countdown signals.

Agency Considerations

  • Effect on traffic operations of changing signal timing.
  • Amount of time pedestrians need to cross the street (and what types of pedestrians are crossing, such as children or older pedestrians).
  • Necessity of push buttons and accessible location.

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

  • Improves safety for pedestrians as well as drivers.

Agency Considerations

  • Street type—usually applied only to minor streets.
  • Potential effect on nearby streets—installing traffic-calming on one street may divert more traffic to other residential streets.
  • Some traffic-calming devices may limit emergency vehicle access.

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:

  • Noise level
  • Emergency vehicle, school bus, and transit service access
  • Bicycle access

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

  • Reduces motor vehicle speed.
  • Provides more space for pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

Agency Considerations

  • The road must adequately accommodate traffic flow.
  • Extra lanes can be converted to bike lanes, on-street parking, a raised median, or buffers.
  • A road diet may divert traffic to a nearby street or neighborhood.

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

  • Provides a safer street crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists when an on-street crossing is not possible.

Agency Considerations

  • Both overpasses and underpasses are typically very costly.
  • Most effective in areas where topography enables more direct pedestrian paths.
  • Crossing level area may have right-of-way issues because of ADA requirements for gradual ramps.
  • Must consider security and lighting of separate pedestrian route.

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

  • Makes streets more secure and inviting for pedestrians at night.

Agency Considerations

  • Challenges and costs to install and maintain lighting. Potential right-of-way constraints or environmental factors.
  • Lighting should be consistent and free of dark spots.

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

  • Provide appropriate signs and facilities (such as stable curb ramps or sheltered pathways) during construction to maintain pedestrian access.

Agency Considerations

  • Agencies may favor a shorter construction schedule over providing more convenient paths to minimize costs and impacts on the community.
  • Available (or lack of) right-of-way may affect location of alternate paths.
  • Paths may change frequently because of construction activities.

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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Tamara Redmon

202-366-4077

Gabriel Rousseau

202-366-8044

What's New

The FHWA Safety Office is continually developing new materials to assist states, localities and citizens in improving pedestrian and bicycle safety. The materials listed on this page were completed recently.

New Understanding Pedestrian Crashes in Louisville, KY 2006-2010

New Bicycle Safer Journey (Revised 2014)

New Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon Guide

New Pedestrian Forum – Spring 2014

new A Guide for Maintaining Pedestrian Facilities for Enhanced Safety

new Guide for Maintaining Pedestrian Facilities for Enhanced Safety Research Report

REVISED Pedsafe 2013: Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System

New Pedestrian Safer Journey 2013 (Revised)  

Proven Countermeasures for Pedestrian Safety

Spotlight on Pedestrian Safety

Promoting the Implementation of Proven Pedestrian Countermeasures

State Best Practice Policy for Medians

State Best Practice Policy for Shoulders and Walkways

Pedestrian Countermeasure Policy Best Practice Report

The State of Florida is developing a statewide Pedestrian Safety Action Plan. They have set up a project website that includes information about the project, workshop presentations and resources relating to pedestrian safety.

Evaluating Pedestrian Safety Countermeasures

Safety Benefits of Raised Medians and Pedestrian Refuge Areas: Brochure, Booklet

Safety Benefits of Walkways, Sidewalks, and Paved Shoulders: Brochure, Booklet

Pedestrian Safety Strategic Plan