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Pedestrian Safety Strategic Plan: Background Report

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Executive Summary

Project Purpose

Pedestrian injuries, fatalities, and accessibility continue to be a serious concern in the United States. A data-driven Strategic Plan is needed to identify gaps in existing research, resources, and deployment and prioritize short- and long-term activities that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) can undertake to improve pedestrian safety over the next 15 years. This Background Report provides the knowledge base behind the Strategic Plan and documents the activities and findings of the project that support the development of the Plan.

Project Methodology

To develop the Background Report underlying the Strategic Plan, the project team utilized four main sources of information: 1) a data analysis of pedestrian crash and walking trends and expected demographic changes, 2) a literature review of recently published pedestrian safety research and resources, 3) an evaluation of existing FHWA products and dissemination strategies, and 4) stakeholder feedback and expert opinion on research and information needs to advance pedestrian safety efforts. The methods/process for each of these is as follows:
  1. Data analysis: This was based on a secondary review of several information sources, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, published reports that examined Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) data, Census data, and others. The analysis synthesizes pedestrian safety and demographic trends such as: pedestrian crash and fatality trends (including age, gender, alcohol-involvement, vehicle speed, etc.); crash types and crash locations; future demographic, social, and policy changes (including aging, population growth, development and travel trends, and policy and funding changes at the national level, etc.).
  2. Literature review: An extensive literature review was conducted to identify key findings and gaps in pedestrian safety research. The literature review included an examination of nearly 200 journal articles, comprehensive studies, broad-based syntheses, pedestrian design technical references, and meta-analyses of the pedestrian safety research literature for the years 2000-2008. The research was organized into four major topic areas: 1) problem identification and assessment, 2) analysis and decision making tools, 3) development and evaluation of countermeasures, and 4) product delivery and technology transfer. The review also included a synthesis of existing national research agendas from relevant organizations, as well as a review and critique of existing national data sources that supports research on pedestrian safety issues.
  3. Evaluation of existing products: Westat performed an independent evaluation of 17 existing FWHA products by conducting a targeted web-based survey of 478 people, followed by more focused telephone interviews with 85 respondents. The questions covered issues such as: user demographics, product usage, ease-of-use, impact and importance of the product in addressing pedestrian safety issues, and how professionals prefer to receive information. This information was useful in guiding the recommendations for future technology transfer and product deployment.
  4. Stakeholder feedback and expert opinion: A one-day stakeholder workshop was conducted in December 2008 to solicit input on needed research and research priorities from a diverse group of stakeholders and pedestrian safety experts. Stakeholders received background information on pedestrian safety trends and research findings before the meeting. During the meeting, a series of break-out sessions were held to discuss the vision and goals for the plan; identify and prioritize research needs; and brainstorm plan implementation challenges and solutions. After the breakout sessions, a list of research topics discussed was compiled, ranked by each stakeholder, and used to identify critical research needs to be included in the Strategic Plan. A complete list of stakeholder participants can be found in Appendix III.

Results and Discussion

Pedestrian Safety Issues: Past, Present, and Future

A big picture review of pedestrian crash trends, walking patterns, and future demographic changes revealed four key areas of need for pedestrian safety research and technology transfer, as well as opportunities with the highest potential to reduce pedestrian crashes. The findings include the following, which are described in detail in the full report:
  1. Funding research on understanding the needs of older pedestrians and developing planning and design best practices for accommodating older pedestrians will be critical as older pedestrians are a quickly growing demographic group already overrepresented in pedestrian crashes and fatalities.
  2. More knowledge is necessary regarding the epidemiology of crashes involving immigrant pedestrians, who are often overrepresented in pedestrian crashes, and which educational, enforcement, encouragement, or environmental/engineering solutions are effective in reducing these crashes. With the large expected growth of this population in coming years, research and development related to this demographic group will likely have a high payoff for improving pedestrian safety nationwide.
  3. Currently, 73 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur in urban areas, and America’s rapid urbanization will likely lead to more pedestrian crashes occurring in urban areas in the next 15 years. With rapid metropolitan growth and historically high pedestrian crash frequencies and rates, states in the South and Southwest should be targeted for technology deployment.
  4. Within urban areas, the majority of pedestrian fatalities occur on arterial roads. High-speed, high-volume multilane arterial roads have long been known to be a problem for pedestrians; this concern is only expected to rise as communities continue to place bus stops and other pedestrian attractors along these facilities. A focus on research to examine and improve pedestrian safety when crossing and when walking along multilane arterial roads will likely have a wide application to addressing pedestrian crashes in the future.

Key Research Gaps

Research gaps were identified by reviewing a wide selection of published literature on pedestrian safety and by gathering input from pedestrian safety experts and key stakeholders.
Overwhelmingly, the issues identified by the experts and the literature review were supported by the pedestrian trends identified in the above section, suggesting that all of research needs identified have a high payoff potential for reducing pedestrian crashes in the long run. The key research gaps identified (in no particular order) include:
  1. Problem Identification and Data Collection
    1. Evaluation on MUTCD Devices for Vulnerable Pedestrians (Topic: Research on older pedestrian crash trends and issues related to aging (including sight/hearing/mobility loss) that can be addressed through changes to the built environment)
    2. Understanding Diverse Vision Needs of Pedestrians (Topic: Research on pedestrians with diverse vision needs including safety studies, sight-impaired pedestrian behavior, and best practices in facility design)
    3. Race/Ethnicity Evaluation for Pedestrian Morbidity and Mortality (Topic: Research on the socio-economic factors related to pedestrian crashes, including low-income pedestrians and recent immigrants, and what countermeasures are most appropriate)
    4. Evaluating Methods for Collecting Pedestrian Exposure Data (Topic: Research to collect and evaluate sources of pedestrian exposure data and develop recommendations for a national source for exposure database, as well as recommendations for collecting data)
    5. Automated Pedestrian/Vehicle Conflict Video Data Collection (Topic: Research on the use of video data collection to detect, measure, and evaluate pedestrian/vehicle conflicts and the accuracy compared to human observations)
    6. Evaluating of Automated Pedestrian Detection Technologies (Topic: Research testing the accuracy and effectiveness of automatic pedestrian detectors to 1) detect pedestrians to activate pedestrian signals (and minimize false calls and missed calls) and 2) to count pedestrians and measure walking levels along a street or crossing a street)
    7. Effect of Hand-Held Communication Device Use on Pedestrian Safety (Topic: Research on pedestrian and driver distractions including the use of mobile telephones and mp3 players to explore 1) the relationship between pedestrian and driver distraction and pedestrian safety and 2) how to collect this data most effectively)
    8. Methods to Improve Physical Conditions for Pedestrians along Existing Roads (Topic: Research examining non-vehicle related pedestrian safety issues (including facility maintenance) and recommendations for collecting data)
  2. Managing Safety Through Analysis and Decision-Making
    1. Identification and Prioritization of High Pedestrian Crash Locations/Areas (Topic: Research to generate best practices in pedestrian problem area identification (including the use of GIS, crash data, and land use data) and prioritization to assist practitioners in accurately and systematically identifying pedestrian risk areas that could be pro-actively treated)
    2. Using National Exposure Data to Examine the Relationship Between Pedestrian Exposure and Safety (Topic: Research using national exposure data to better explore the relationship between pedestrian exposure and safety)
    3. Identification and Use of Pedestrian Facility/Safety Funds (Topic: Research that explores how communities can obtain, allocate, and use transportation funds in an efficient and effective manner, and how funding levels relate directly or indirectly to pedestrian safety outcomes)
    4. Relationships Between Land Use, the Built Environment, and Pedestrian Safety (Topic: Research on the relationship between land use/the built environment and pedestrian safety)
  3. Innovative Research and Evaluation
    1. Cost-effective Retrofits for High-Speed Multilane Arterial Roads for Pedestrians (Topic: Research on how to cost-effectively retrofit high-speed multilane arterial roads, and how to balance safety improvements with other tradeoffs, such as operational effects of lowering speeds or traffic volume)
    2. Effects of Traffic Signals on Pedestrian Behavior and Safety (Topic: Research on the effects of cycle length and signal phasing on pedestrian behavior (including yielding) and other transportation issues (such as congestion and red-light-running, etc) and guidance for helping to address pedestrian safety issues at signalized intersections)
    3. The Effect of Roadway Features on Pedestrian Crashes on Urban and Suburban Corridors (Topic: Research on roadway design and other factors of the built environment that influence a motorist’s decision to yield to pedestrians (especially in urban areas), as well as countermeasures (such as traffic calming policies) to improve driver yielding behavior)
    4. Develop Guidelines for Pedestrian Midblock Crossings (Topic: Research on the locations of crossings based on site-specific characteristics (including block length, location of pedestrian generators, pedestrian and vehicle volumes, other pedestrian facilities, etc) to improve pedestrian safety at mid-block crossings)
    5. Pedestrian Crash Reduction Factors (Topic: Research identifying additional Crash Reduction Factors (CRFs) and contextual factors related to treatment effectiveness, including innovative technologies such as the HAWK signal and Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon)
    6. Accessible Pedestrian Signals (Topic: Research on APS devices, specifically the impacts and benefits for non-disability users, guidance on maintenance audits and protocol, as well as guidance on where APS devices are most beneficial and should be prioritized, or where fixed-time operation should be used)
    7. Best Practices and Pedestrian Safety Concerns Related to Transit Access in Urban Areas (Topic: Research on 1) pedestrian safety concerns around transit (including bus stops, light and heavy rail, and streetcars), around at-grade rail crossings, and along railways and on 2) best practices related to transit access and increasing transit ridership through pedestrian facility improvement)
    8. Research on the Effects of White Lighting in Reducing Pedestrian Nighttime Crashes and to Evaluate Emerging Lighting Technologies in Real World Conditions (Topic: Research to better understand the promise of LED lighting in reducing pedestrian crashes and to evaluate emerging lighting technologies in real world conditions)
    9. Effects of New Pedestrian Facilities on Pedestrian Exposure (Topic: Research to evaluate how new pedestrian facilities affect pedestrian exposure data and to determine the increase facility use using before and after case studies of pedestrian facility projects)
    10. Increasing the Safety of Interactions Between Pedestrians and Large Commercial Vehicles (Trucks and Buses) in Urban Areas (Topic: Research identifying pedestrian safety improvements with regard to large commercial vehicles, especially in urban areas)
  4. Technology Transfer
    1. Case Studies of Model City/County Ordinances that Support a Vibrant Pedestrian Network (Topic: Research on pedestrian safety outcomes in the form of case studies as related to pedestrian-supportive policies such as Complete Streets and others)
    2. Automobile Parking and Pedestrian Safety: A Search for a Unifying Frame of Reference (Topic: Determine best practices in parking lot design for increased pedestrian safety, gains in urban livability, and sustainability)
    3. Best Practices for Pedestrian Facility Maintenance (Topic: Research on best practices for pedestrian facility maintenance)

Collaborative Research Opportunities

In many cases, there are research needs that go beyond the mission and scope of FHWA, but are of vital concern for pedestrian safety. For all research that is more appropriately funded by other organizations, it is recommended that FHWA coordinate with those organizations to discuss pedestrian safety topics and how they can be addressed through collaborative, cross-cutting research and how funded research can incorporate issues that are of interest to FHWA. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have also been involved in pedestrian safety research for some time, making coordination on the development of the Strategic Plan a unique opportunity for inter-agency cooperation. Some key research areas where collaboration opportunities exist include:
  1. Research or other efforts aimed at improving the collection process for pedestrian crash data to capture all crashes, more accurately record information, and to include additional data of interest (such as pedestrian or driver distraction); this work should also include a component to better train law officers to investigate pedestrian crashes (and assess fault) as well as understand and enforce pedestrian laws.
  2. Research on the level and impact of pedestrian alcohol and drug use on pedestrian crashes, especially serious injury and fatal crashes, and evaluation and guidance for potential countermeasures.
  3. Research on pedestrian distractions (such as cell phones or MP3 players) and how they contribute to pedestrian crashes, as well as the impact of driver distractions on pedestrian collisions.
  4. Research on school site locations and design issues and how it impacts pedestrian safety, as well as research on education of people of all ages in pedestrian safety.
  5. Research on quiet cars/roads and how less sound-based information to make decisions may affect older pedestrians or others with hearing loss or disability (Some research is already being completed on this topic by a research group headed by NHTSA).

Disseminating Information and Technology Transfer

From the evaluation of 17 existing FHWA products and their usage in recent years, there were several findings that provide significant insights into how research products are received/used and what is needed in the future in terms of technology deployment:
  1. Familiarity and Usage: Overall, in most cases only about half of respondents who claimed familiarity with a product actually used it in the last three years. Even among transportation professionals who had previously ordered FHWA materials, there appeared to be a widespread lack of familiarity with the many FHWA products available for use. Additional marketing and distribution of these materials is needed with the caveat that some materials are tailored to a specific audience and may not need to be marketed to all transportation professionals.
  2. Ease of Use: All products/deployments were rated above the scale midpoint (5) for ease-of-use. The three products/deployments that recent users rated as the easiest to use were those geared for widespread use by a more general audience: Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Materials for Hispanic Audiences, Walkability Checklist, and Bicycle Safer Journey. In contrast, the most difficult to use products tended to be more technical in nature and require significant data inputs, such as the Bicycle Compatibility Index and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Intersection Safety Indices. There appears to be a need for more products aimed at a general audience that can be easily used by all, or more training and support for practitioners wanting to use the more technical tools.
  3. Product Usefulness: Overall, all products/deployments were rated above the midpoint for usefulness. The products/deployments that recent users rated as the most useful overall were the Pedestrian and Bicyclist University Course and Walkability Checklist. The products that gave them the most knowledge for reducing crashes and injuries were the Pedestrian Road Safety Audit Guidelines and Prompt Lists, How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, and the Ped/Bike Crash Analysis Tool. However, some of the products that were ranked as the most useful were also ranked as the least used (not necessarily by the same respondents). This indicates a critical need to ensure that more professionals are aware of these products.
  4. Product Impact on Pedestrian Safety: The products/deployments rated as having the most impact included the report Safety Effects of Marked vs. Unmarked Crosswalks at Uncontrolled Locations, Pedestrian and Bicyclist University Course, and How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan. Similarly, users felt that the Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System and the Resident's Guide for Creating Safe and Walkable Communities will be likely to play an important future role in reducing crashes/injuries/fatalities. It is interesting to note that most of these products have been heavily marketed and supported by programmatic efforts (such as webinars, monthly conference calls, listservs, workshops, and even funding to use and apply the information) to engage and train transportation professionals on the use of these products. More effort to systematically support the use of key products and research tools appears necessary in order for the projects to have an impact on pedestrian safety.
  5. Product Delivery: In general, respondents preferred to receive their information through web-based formats, including e-mail (77 percent), Web site (68 percent), and Webconference/webinar (31 percent). Only 19 percent of respondents preferred receiving information through conferences, as travel budgets to attend such events are increasingly shrinking. It is recommended that product delivery strategies continue to take advantage of Web-based technologies, and to look more into opportunities for using social media, which is growing at a rapid pace and offers a low-cost option for reaching millions of individuals in an interconnected online network.

Conclusion and Next Steps

The next step in the process is to reconvene with pedestrian stakeholders to host a workshop to discuss the final recommendations documented in this Background Report and to prioritize the needed research, considering project scope, needed funding, and timeline. In addition, the development of potential products or the revision of existing products should also be discussed in the workshop. This will ensure that the survey feedback can be meaningfully incorporated into the Strategic Plan final document. The results of the workshop will drive the development of the final Strategic Plan. The FHWA should continue to coordinate with the FTA and the NHTSA in facilitating an open and cooperative revision process for the Strategic Plan.

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Page last modified on February 1, 2013.
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