Medians and Pedestrian Refuge Islands in Urban and Suburban Areas

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Federal Highway Administration

median is the area between opposing lanes of traffic, excluding turn lanes. Medians in urban and suburban areas can be defined by pavement markings, raised medians, or islands to separate motorized and non-motorized road users.

pedestrian refuge island (or crossing area) is a median with a refuge area that is intended to help protect pedestrians who are crossing a road.

"alt="Photo: This photograph, taken above the median of a two-lane divided roadway, demonstrated the use of pedestrian and refuge islands. The roadway features crosswalks, pedestrian warning signs, and bike lanes. Traffic calming techniques, such as on street parking and extended curbs, are also present.""

Example of a road with a median and pedestrian refuge islands.
Source: City of Charlotte, NC

Pedestrian crashes account for approximately 17 percent of all traffic fatalities annually, and 74 percent of these occur at non-intersection locations.1 For pedestrians to safely cross a roadway, they must estimate vehicle speeds, determine acceptable gaps in traffic based on their walking speed, and predict vehicle paths. Installing a median or pedestrian refuge island can help improve safety by allowing pedestrians to cross one direction of traffic at a time.

"Photo: This photograph shows a pedestrian refuges island at the approach of a single-lane roundabout. A high visibility crosswalk is located more than a vehicle length away from the roundabout. This crosswalk features pedestrian warning signs, yellow tactile curb ramps, and a cutout within the raised median."

Median and pedestrian refuge island near a roundabout.
Source: / Dan Burden

Transportation agencies should consider medians or pedestrian refuge islands in curbed sections of urban and suburban multilane roadways, particularly in areas with a significant mix of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, traffic volumes over 9,000 vehicles per day, and travel speeds 35 mph or greater. Medians/refuge islands should be at least 4-ft wide, but preferably 8 ft for pedestrian comfort. Some example locations that may benefit from medians or pedestrian refuge islands include:

  • Mid-block crossings.
  • Approaches to multilane intersections.
  • Areas near transit stops or other pedestrian-focused sites.



1. National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2020, March). Pedestrians: 2018 data (Traffic Safety Facts. Report No. DOT HS 812 850). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

2. (CMF ID: 175) Desktop Reference for Crash Reduction Factors, FHWA-SA-08-011, September 2008, Table 11.