Proven Countermeasures for Pedestrian Safety
FHWA and many State DOTs are relying on the demonstrated effectiveness of medians and walkways to help protect those on foot.
Each year, more than 4,000 pedestrians are killed in the United States. Transportation agencies across the country are looking for ways to reduce that number. They want to make walking safer and thus a viable choice for trips of appropriate distances, whether for leisure, business, or health.
Increasingly, State departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations, and cities and towns are acknowledging the role that upgrading pedestrian facilities can play in improving safety. For example, Dirk Gowin, executive administrator of transportation with the Louisville Metro Government in Kentucky, describes how his agency's view of pedestrian safety has changed over the years. "Many of our roadways were designed solely to move traffic, and pedestrians were viewed as an afterthought, or not considered at all. It is time for our community to retrofit our more dangerous roadways to be safer for pedestrians, improve the pedestrian level of service, and enhance walking as a safe means to increase physical activity."
To help communities improve safety, on July 10, 2008, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published a "Guidance Memorandum on Consideration and Implementation of Proven Safety Countermeasures." The memorandum highlights when and where certain processes, design techniques, and safety countermeasures are the most effective at increasing roadway safety in general. Two of the proven countermeasures specifically address pedestrian safety: (1) medians and pedestrian refuge areas, employed in urban and suburban settings, and (2) walkways. FHWA also developed promotional materials, a best practices report, and a webinar to educate State and local transportation professionals about the benefits of using these countermeasures. These resources are available on FHWA's "Pedestrian & Bicycle Safety" Web site at http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike.
"FHWA is strongly committed to reducing highway fatalities and serious injuries on our Nation's highways," says Elizabeth Alicandri, director of FHWA's Office of Safety Programs. "We know that a comprehensive mix of strategies is required -- including stronger policies to support system-wide and sustainable improvements. We believe our area of greatest potential influence is how Federal funds are used and targeted to implement improvements that will have a positive impact on safety. Every investment decision should consider the impact on safety, and every federally funded project should include appropriate safety enhancement features."
Medians and Walkways
Research shows that medians and walkways can reduce pedestrian fatalities and injuries significantly. In addition, medians and walkways commonly are included in complete street designs, which aim to provide safe right-of-way access for all road users.
Shawn Turner, chair of the Transportation Research Board Pedestrian Committee, says, "Median crossing islands and sidewalks and walkways are design elements that should be included on any complete street. They are two of the fundamental building blocks for a safe, comfortable walking environment."
According to Safety Effects of Marked Versus Unmarked Crosswalks at Uncontrolled Locations: Final Report and Recommended Guidelines (FHWA-HRT-04-100), providing raised medians or refuge areas at unmarked crosswalk locations can reduce pedestrian crashes by 39 percent. At marked crosswalks, these countermeasures have resulted in even higher reductions (46 percent). Crash reductions occur because medians simplify the street crossings for pedestrians, making it easier for them to assess the adequacy of gaps between vehicles.
From a driver's perspective, medians make pedestrians waiting in the center of the roadway more visible. Medians also provide space for roadway lighting, which research has shown helps to reduce nighttime pedestrian fatalities at crossings by 78 percent. Based on these findings, FHWA encourages agencies to use raised medians in curbed sections of multilane roadways in urban and suburban areas, particularly in areas where there are mixtures of a significant number of pedestrians, high volumes of traffic (more than 12,000 vehicles per day), and intermediate or high travel speeds.
Another FHWA research project, documented in An Analysis of Factors Contributing to "Walking Along Roadway" Crashes: Research Study and Guidelines for Sidewalks and Walkways (FHWA-RD-01-101), found that providing walkways that are separated from the travel lanes can help to prevent up to 88 percent of crashes involving pedestrians walking along (not crossing) roadways. In addition to reducing crashes that involve walking along roadways, sidewalks can reduce other types of crashes, such as head-on, sideswipe, and fixed object crashes. Roadways without sidewalks are more than twice as likely to have pedestrian crashes as locations with sidewalks on both sides of the street. One theory speculates that this is because pedestrians do not need to cross the street to access a sidewalk, limiting their exposure to vehicular traffic.
FHWA recommends accessible sidewalks or pathways along both sides of streets and highways in urban areas, particularly near school zones and transit locations, and any other locations with frequent pedestrian activity. Further, FHWA recommends that agencies provide walkable shoulders along both sides of rural highways and widen shoulders to greater than 4 feet (1.2 meters) to reduce pedestrian crashes.
Numerous agencies have successfully implemented programs that require medians and sidewalks in particular types of projects. Several States' programs, including those in Florida, New York, and Oregon, are described in the FHWA memorandum's best practices report. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has a policy requiring raised medians on divided highways. Similarly, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) have policies that promote the inclusion of raised medians, but do not require it. NYSDOT also mandates paved shoulders for pedestrians on roadways where sidewalks may be impractical, and ODOT acknowledges shoulders for use as pedestrian facilities.
Below are some examples of successful deployments of median and walkway improvements that are making walking a safer, more enjoyable option for communities.
Florida's Median Policy
In 1993, FDOT adopted a policy requiring raised medians on all multilane roadway projects. Specifically, the Multilane Facility Median Policy states, "All multilane facilities shall be designed with a raised or restrictive median except four-lane sections with design speeds of 40 mi/h [64 km/h] or less. Facilities having design speeds of 40 mi/h [64 km/h] or less are to include sections of raised or restrictive median for enhancing vehicular and pedestrian safety, improving traffic efficiency, and attainment of the standards of the Access Management Classification of that highway system."
To assist in policy implementation, FDOT inserted the median design standards directly into its Plans Preparation Manual. According to FDOT officials, this additional measure has proven much more beneficial than simply making it part of an access management program because the relevant details are literally "in the book" that designers use for their projects.
Although the policy specifically mentions pedestrian safety, other factors -- traffic efficiency and vehicular safety -- are the primary reasons FDOT adopted the policy. The department recognized that raised medians provide additional benefits above and beyond reducing pedestrian crashes, including the following:
- Reducing motor vehicle crashes by 15 percent
- Decreasing delays (>30 percent) for motorists by minimizing unpredictable interruptions in traffic flow
- Increasing capacity (>30 percent) of roadways by minimizing unpredictable interruptions in traffic flow
- Reducing vehicle speeds on the roadway
- Providing space for landscaping within the right-of-way
- Providing space to install additional roadway lighting, further improving the safety of the roadway
- Providing space to provide supplemental signage on multilane roadways
- Costing less to build and maintain than paved medians because the inclusion of a median leaves less asphalt for resurfacing and restriping
"Some professionals think access management is all about limiting the number of driveways," says Gary Sokolow, senior transportation planner in the access management section of the FDOT Systems Planning Office, who was central to developing the Multilane Facility Median Policy. "However, installing restrictive medians plays a critical role in safety, both for the pedestrian and motorist."
When FDOT developed the policy, it was responding to research by the University of Florida that showed a difference in motor vehicle crash rates between raised medians and two-way left-turn lanes that reduced both midblock and intersection crashes. A subsequent study of median treatments by the Georgia Department of Transportation found that raised medians reduced crashes involving pedestrians by 45 percent and fatalities by 78 percent, compared to two-way left-turn lanes.
In Tampa, FL, FDOT engineers applied an innovative method, based on the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' Highway Safety Manual Part C Predictive Method, to select its preferred design alternative for a corridor widening project along State Route 574. When widening this type of roadway from two lanes to four, based on the Multilane Facility Median Policy, FDOT typically would construct a raised median in the center of the roadway, which requires acquiring right-of-way. In the past, FDOT may have used the expense of acquiring right-of-way to justify an alternative configuration. However, using the new methodology, FDOT quantified the cost of crashes on the alternatives, which showed the cost of crashes on a five-lane alternative to be more than twice as much as that of the four-lane divided section. The estimated savings resulting from crash reductions justified the inclusion of the raised median and the purchase of the right-of-way. Using FHWA's Desktop Reference for Crash Reduction Factors (FHWA-SA-08-011), FDOT determined that a raised median could reduce the number of crashes by 15 percent.
Oregon's Median Policy
Traffic volume and the number of travel lanes are two of the most important factors in crashes, according to FHWA's Safety Effects of Marked Versus Unmarked Crosswalks at Uncontrolled Locations: Final Report and Recommended Guidelines. Accordingly, ODOT's midblock crossing policy states that a median island should be installed where average daily traffic is more than 10,000 cars per day. Other locational criteria include adjacency to bus stops, a lack of alternative crossing locations, and distance from a traffic signal. For higher speed roadways, additional measures include advanced warning signs and pedestrian beacons.
ODOT is installing median crossings throughout the State. For example, the City of Corvallis, OR, installed eight medians and four pedestrian activated flashing beacons on 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) of a five-lane arterial to improve access. The section of roadway includes an elementary school, residential areas, and strip mall shopping on both sides. The medians were installed to enhance walkability, increase safety, and calm traffic along the roadway. Since this installation 8 years ago, ODOT has put in place several dozen pedestrian activated flashing beacons on roadways and identified a number of lessons learned.
"A significant number of people use the enhanced pedestrian crossings -- between 30 and 100 per day, depending on the location," says Sheila Lyons, ODOT's bicycle and pedestrian program coordinator. "ODOT also has found that median islands increase the performance of pedestrian activated flashing beacons. When installed with medians, these crossings improve driver stopping compliance as much as 50 percent."
New York's Walkway Policy
Although many States have policies on the installation of shoulders, the NYSDOT policy promotes paved shoulders as pedestrian facilities where sidewalks are impossible. In its Highway Design Manual, NYSDOT writes, "Shoulders are not substitutes for a well-designed pedestrian facility. However, there may occasionally be a need to design shoulders as walkways where roadside space is constrained."
NYSDOT's Highway Design Manual also includes design considerations for pedestrian-friendly shoulders. One specific consideration is for cross slope, a cross-sectional design element that helps drain water from a roadway laterally. The normal NYSDOT shoulder cross slope is 6 percent; where designed for pedestrians, the cross slope is 2 percent. Lessening the slope to 2 percent makes the shoulder compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 without causing drainage issues.
Oregon's Walkway Policy
ODOT also recognizes that paved shoulders may be used as pedestrian facilities in rural areas. According to the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, "In sparsely populated areas, the shoulders of rural roads usually accommodate pedestrians. There are, however, roadways outside urban areas where the urban character creates a need for sidewalks... Where sidewalks are not provided, shoulders should be wide enough to accommodate both pedestrians and bicyclists."
As in Florida, Oregon also considered the many non-pedestrian-related benefits when developing its requirements for paved shoulders, including the following:
- Reducing numerous crash types: head-on crashes (15-75 percent), sideswipe crashes (15-41 percent), fixed object crashes (29-49 percent), and pedestrian (walking along roadway) crashes (71 percent)
- Improving roadway drainage
- Increasing effective turning radii at intersections
- Reducing shoulder maintenance requirements
- Providing emergency stopping space for broken-down vehicles
- Providing space for maintenance operations and snow storage
- Providing an increased level of comfort for bicyclists
The numerous non-pedestrian-related benefits plus the benefits to pedestrian safety are the reasons why ODOT implemented a policy that promotes the inclusion of paved shoulders on rural roads.
Agencies around the country recognize that improving pedestrian facilities and safety is critical to their communities' vitality. In fact, some communities also are using pedestrian and bicycle facilities to help revitalize struggling areas. In Raytown, MO, for example, the city recently approved adding new sidewalks and medians along one of its main streets to improve pedestrian access to the commercial and retail development along the corridor. John Benson, interim director of community development for the city of Raytown says, "These improved facilities will not only provide safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities but also [serve as] a component of the city's economic redevelopment strategy for the Highway 350/Blue Parkway corridor and the Raytown Central Business District."
FHWA continues to work to help States and communities identify and implement the most effective countermeasures for keeping pedestrians and bicyclists safe. In early 2012, FHWA released an updated version of the "Guidance Memorandum on Consideration and Implementation of Proven Safety Countermeasures," which highlights medians, pedestrian hybrid beacons, and road diets. Although walkways and shoulders are no longer specifically called out in the latest version of the memo, FHWA continues to champion their use and effectiveness. By installing proven safety countermeasures, including raised medians and walkways, communities can make their transportation systems safer for all users.
In addition, FHWA's National Highway Institute (NHI) offers training on providing safe and comfortable pedestrian facilities. Training includes courses on general pedestrian facility design (FHWA-NHI-142045) and designing for pedestrian safety (FHWA-NHI-380089 and FHWA-NHI-380091). For more information on training, visit NHI's Web site at www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov.
Jennifer Bartlett is a bicycle and pedestrian planner at Sprinkle Consulting, Inc. She earned her bachelor's degree from Haverford College and her master's degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado Denver. Bartlett helps communities around the country with planning for smart growth and safe routes to school, as well as bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
Brett Graves is a transportation analyst at SAIC. Graves supports FHWA's Office of Operations and FHWA's Office of Safety research programs. His focus areas include work zone operations, traffic incident management, and roadway safety. Graves holds a master's of science in transportation policy, operations, and logistics from George Mason University.
Theo Petritsch, P.E., PTOE, is director of transportation services at Sprinkle Consulting, Inc. Petritsch's responsibilities include leading nonmotorized transportation planning, design, and research efforts. He also teaches courses on the design of bicycle and pedestrian facilities through NHI. Petritsch has a civil engineering degree from the University of Florida.
Tamara Redmon is the pedestrian safety program manager in FHWA's Office of Safety. She develops programs to help reduce pedestrian and bicyclist crashes, fatalities, and injuries. Recent accomplishments include developing a pedestrian strategic plan and a webinar series on designing for pedestrian safety. Redmon has a bachelor's degree from Virginia Tech and a master's from Marymount University.