New crosswalk technology improves pedestrian safety

Congress’s ongoing debate over whether to include funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in the next transportation bill does not change the fact that pedestrian traffic deaths are unacceptably high. Sixty-seven percent of the more than 47,000 pedestrian fatalities from 2000 to 2009 occurred on federal-aid roadways. These numbers clearly indicate there should be a federal interest in funding pedestrian safety measures.

Many state and local governments are not waiting for the federal funding bill, but are moving forward to improve pedestrian safety, particularly at intersections and mid-block crossings. Fortunately, recently approved technological advances in intersection design and signalization are improving pedestrian safety and motorist behavior. The traveling public, both motorized and nonmotorized, are encountering these new technologies with increasing frequency. Improvements may not even be visible such as passive pedestrian detectors that are able to recognize pedestrian presence and adjust the time of the walk signals accordingly. These passive detectors work regardless of whether a pedestrian pushes a button requesting a crossing phase.

Other measures, such as high-visibility crosswalk markings and installation of raised crossings, also improve pedestrian safety. New types of pedestrian crossing signals increase pedestrian safety while also encouraging the compliance of drivers in yielding to pedestrians. For example, installation of HAWK (High Intensity Activated Crosswalk) signals in Tucson, Arizona, improved the rate of drivers’ yielding to pedestrians from 30 to 90 percent. Use of the Rapid Rectangular Flashing Beacon (RRFB), a high intensity LED light array that is normally dark, but is activated by pedestrians waiting to cross a street at an uncontrolled crosswalk, is raising awareness in Florida, home to the top four most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians. Studies of motorist behavior before and after installation of RRFBs showed an increase in drivers’ yielding from 15 to 20 percent compliance to between 80 and nearly 100 percent. This data comes from St. Petersburg and Miami/Dade County, Florida. The benefits of installing these new traffic controls should get the attention of traffic engineers and lawmakers, resulting in continued safety improvements.