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Innovative Intersection Safety Improvement Strategies and Management Practices: A Domestic Scan

Chapter 4. Traffic Control Devices and Other Devices for Pedestrians and Bicyclists

This chapter presents information on innovative traffic control devices and other devices for pedestrians and bicyclists, including signs directed at drivers that warn or provide regulatory information about pedestrians or bicyclists. While the topic of pedestrians and bicyclists is a different focus area of the FHWA when compared to the intersection safety area, these treatments have the potential to improve pedestrian safety by reducing pedestrian crashes at intersections. As such, some of these pedestrian treatments at intersections are highlighted and described in this report. It is noted that while the topic was intersections, facilities that “behave” like intersections, such as trail crossings and pedestrian crossings and bike lane crossings, were also considered since effective treatments at these junctions are generally applicable to intersections. Within this broad category, there is very limited documentation on the direct effects of these treatments on intersection crashes. Not withstanding that lack of knowledge, the treatments discussed in this chapter were deemed to be noteworthy by the scan team and, to a certain degree, innovative based on the experiences of the scan team.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Crosswalks

During the scanning study, a variety of crosswalk designs were observed. There are three included in the scan report that are clearly novel. The first are the so-called blue bike lanes that have been implemented in Portland. The blue color applied to the pavement is meant to increase the conspicuity of the area of conflict and therefore heighten both drivers and bicyclists’ awareness in the intersection areas. Figure 34 is an example of one that is not actually at a conventional intersection but rather crosses an exit from a roadway on a bridge structure. A greater challenge is faced when a “through” bike lane crosses a dedicated right turn lane. Figure 35 (page 30) depicts how Portland handles this challenge. A series of dashed markings indicate where vehicles can weave across the bike lane. Another even more challenging situation is where there is a dedicated right turn lane and an additional shared used right-and-through lane. Figure 36 depicts how the bike lane is located between the dedicated right turn lane and a shared use, right-and-through lane. In an attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of these crossings, a study of driver and bicyclist behavior was conducted in 1999 by the city of Portland. It was concluded that the percentage of drivers who yielded to bicyclists increased after implementation from 72 percent to 92 percent. More information can be found in Portland’s Blue Bike Lanes.(4)

Photograph of a bike lane painted blue.
Figure 34. Example of a blue bike lane in Portland.

Photograph of a bicyclist traveling in a dedicated blue bike lane between two buses.
Figure 35. A blue bike lane and dedicated right turn lane at an intersection in Portland.

Photograph of blue bike lane among motorized vehicle travel lanes at a signalized intersection.
Figure 36. Example of a blue bike lane between a dedicated right turn lane and a shared use right-and-through lane in Portland.

The second type was a raised, textured crosswalk. Scan team members observed such a crosswalk outside the offices of the city of Charlotte at a mid-block crossing. Figure 37 presents a close-up view of this crosswalk. There have not been any known formal evaluations of raised or textured crosswalks on safety.

The third type was a brick crosswalk. Figure 38 depicts brick crosswalks that were recently implemented as part of an intersection improvement project in Charlotte.

Photograph of a textured crosswalk.
Figure 37. Raised textured crosswalk in Charlotte.

Photograph of a brick crosswalk.
Figure 38. Brick crosswalks in Charlotte.

Traffic Signals and Signs Related To Pedestrian and Bicycle Crossings

While this category of treatments could have been classified and included in the chapter on Traffic Control Devices for motorists, since they are displayed to drivers, it is considered more appropriate to include these in the chapter on pedestrians and bicycles.

Regulatory Signs. It was apparent to the scan team that there was a significant amount of creative thinking that went into the design of the regulatory signs to warn drivers of pedestrian and bicycle crossings at the sites visited as part of this scan. Figure 39 presents a sign used in Portland prior to a blue bike lane crossing on an exit from a roadway on a bridge structure. The sign assembly endeavors to communicate in a symbolic manner, which is complemented by a simple text message, “YIELD TO BIKES.” Similarly, where the bike lane will straddle a dedicated must turn right only lane and a shared use, right-and-through lane, the regulatory sign advising drivers of this situation is presented in figure 40.

Photo of sign warning drivers to yield to bikes.
Figure 39. "YIELD TO BIKES" regulatory sign in Portland.

Photo of sign warning center lane vehicles that are turning right to yield to bikes that are in the adjacent bike lane, which bisects two right-turn lanes.
Figure 40. A regulatory sign for the situation where a blue bike lane "straddles" a dedicated right turn only lane and a shared-use, right-and-through lane.

Warning signs. There were several sites where local agencies endeavored to create greater awareness of pedestrians in upcoming intersections and trail crossings. Figure 41 presents a large pedestrian warning sign with a supplemental sign posted below that reads “STATE LAW YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS IN CROSSWALKS.”

Sign warns drivers that yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks is the state law.
Figure 41. Pedestrian crossing warning sign and supplemental sign in Charlotte.

Another system that was investigated was a crosswalk at an intersection in Dallas that had both in-pavement flashing lights and a solar-powered, responsive flashing beacon (atop a pedestrian crossing warning sign). The warning sign and flashing beacon are shown in figure 42. The flashing beacon and in-pavement lights activate whenever a pedestrian pushed one of the two pedestrian push buttons located on the far sides of the crosswalk.

Photo of a flashing beacon mounted above a static crosswalk sign.
Figure 42. Activated flashing beacon that complements static warning sign and in-pavement crosswalk lights in Dallas.

A novel sign was encountered in Portland that attempted to provide warning information to bicyclists that were traveling on streets with rail tracks for light rail and trolleys. The sign, which symbolically shows a bicyclists “tripping” on an indentation in the pavement, is presented in figure 43 below.

Sign warns bicyclists of the potential for a 'tripping' accident, in which the front wheel catches on a rail indention in the roadway and the bicyclist flies over the handlebars of his bike.
Figure 43. Symbolic bicyclist "tripping" warning sign in Portland.

Pedestrian Push Buttons, Signal Heads and Other Devices

As part of their progressive pedestrian safety program for pedestrians with visual impairments, Charlotte implemented audible devices that allow pedestrians to hear instructions on when it is time to cross. The system was devised to also allow pedestrians with visual impairments to hear a tone that would orient them when they cross the intersection. An example of these audible signal heads with integrated countdown devices are shown in figures 44 and 45.

Photograph of mounted pedestrian signal heads with speakers.
Figure 44. Audible pedestrian signal heads and speakers in Charlotte.

Photograph of a speaker on the underside of a pedestrian signal head.
Figure 45. Speaker on underside of a pedestrian head in Charlotte.

Several different types of pedestrian push button devices were used at the intersections in Charlotte. One type featured a tone that would sound and a small indicator light that would be displayed after the push button was depressed. Figure 46 depicts this device. The accompanying sign provides basic information about the meaning of the displays, but also includes information in Braille. Charlotte also uses a white nylon fabric on wood poles to protect the hands of visually impaired pedestrians from staples and splinters as they feel for the push buttons. Figure 47 shows this treatment. Another pedestrian push button device that was also implemented in Charlotte is shown in figure 48.

Photograph of a pedestrian push button device with instruction in text and Braille.
Figure 46. Pedestrian push button device in Charlotte with supplemental information in Braille on sign.

Photograph of a pedestrian push button device with instruction in text and Braille.
Figure 47. Pedestrian push button device in Charlotte with supplemental information in Braille on sign.

Photograph of a pedestrian push button device with a circular raised arrow above the push button.
Figure 48. Example of another pedestrian push button device with supplemental raised arrow device mounted above the push button.

One last item of note with respect to pedestrian signals is installation of pedestrian crossing signs in both English and Spanish at intersections that serve areas with large populations that speak only Spanish. Figure 49 presents a pedestrian push button with both signs. Figure 50 presents a more detailed view of the sign in Spanish.

Photograph of pedestrian push button with directions in both English and Spanish.
Figure 49. Pedestrian push button signs in both English and Spanish at an intersection in Charlotte.

Close-up photo of pedestrian push button with directions in both English and Spanish.
Figure 50. A close up of the pedestrian crossing sign that shows the information in Spanish.

Automated Detection of Pedestrians

In downtown Detroit, a unique pedestrian detection system was implemented as a showcase project at a mid-block, unsignalized crossing with actuated-responsive in-pavement flashing lights and dynamic flashing “signs” inside pedestrian warning signs. The technology features motion detectors such as the one shown in figure 51.

Photo of a motion detection device mounted near a pole-mounted pedestrian signal.
Figure 51. Pedestrian detection system that employs motion detection technology in Detroit.

Another example of pedestrian detection technology is one deployed to detect pedestrians still present in the crosswalk at an intersection in Portland. The detection is used to extend the clearance interval (flashing "DON'T WALK") while the pedestrians are in the roadway.

Figure 52 shows the location of the pedestrian detection on the signal pole. A closer view of the device is shown in figure 53. There is still debate on their relative effectiveness of both systems. Passive detection technology for pedestrians is still not developed enough for nationwide use. However, the technology offers promise for the future in terms of enhancing pedestrian safety.

Photo of a pedestrian detection device mounted on a pole above a pedestrian signal head.
Figure 52. Pedestrian detection system that detects pedestrians in crosswalk in Portland.

Close up photo of a pedestrian detection device mounted on a pole above a pedestrian signal head.
Figure 53. Closer view of the pedestrian detection device deployed in Portland.

Automated Detection of Bicycles

There were several sites in Portland where devices and systems had been implemented to assist in the passive detection of bicyclists. The first was at a trail crossing of a major four-lane road, which technically is not an intersection. However, the application is transferable to at-grade intersections where there is significant bicycle traffic. A loop detector for bicycles was installed in the trail as presented in figure 54. While some bicyclists may actuate pedestrian push buttons at some intersections, the loop detector would detect their presence even if the bicyclist does not depress the pedestrian call button. The detection is also used to extend the green phase for platoons of bicycle drivers.

Photograph of a detector loop mounted in a bike trail.
Figure 54. Loop in trail crossing to detect bicyclists in Portland.

Figure 55 presents another innovative application of existing technology for the automated detection of bicyclists. The camera’s field of view is set to capture bicyclists as well as pedestrians and vehicular traffic. Figure 56 depicts a closer view of the video camera.

Photo of a video detector mounted to a light mast at an intersection.
Figure 55. Video cameras deployed to detect bicyclists in Portland.

Close-up photo of a video detector mounted to a light mast at an intersection.
Figure 56. Figure 56. A closer view of the camera mounted on the luminaire arm.

Figure 57 presents a closer view of the signal heads and signs. Please note that sign adjacent to the right-most signal indication with the thru green arrow indicates a bicyclist diagram with the words “BIKE SIGNAL.” The sign next to the left-most signal indication showing the solid red right arrow indicates “NO TURN ON RED.”

Photograph of signal lights at an intersection with video camera detection of bicyclists.
Figure 57. Signal heads and phasing for bicycle movement at intersection where video cameras are used in Portland.

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