Improvements to Marked Crosswalks

A man walks across a marked, mid-block crosswalk in St. Petersburg, Fla.Sometimes marked crosswalks aren't enough. In those cases, it often is helpful to combine the marked crossing with other safety measures. For instance, a national study found that raised medians provided significantly lower pedestrian crash rates on multi-lane roads, compared to roads with no raised median. A properly designed crosswalk should employ a combination of design features to maximize pedestrian safety.

Treatments used to make streets easier to cross and crosswalks more visible to motorists include a raised median (pedestrian crossing) island, parking restrictions, advanced warning signs or pavement markings, brighter nighttime lighting, or other devices that can slow traffic down at the crossing or improve driver expectancy of the crossing.

Those treatments do not work everywhere and should not be viewed as cure-alls due to some cautions and cost restraints. On higher speed and busy, multi-lane streets, more substantial facilities are usually needed to provide safer crossings for pedestrians. These measures can include:

Mark crosswalks with highly reflective material

If it is determined that a crosswalk should be marked, then to be visible to motorists, particularly at night, they must be marked with a bright retro-reflective material. Even though granite or cobblestones are aesthetically appealing materials, they are not appropriate as a walking surface or for marking the crosswalk lines.

One of the best materials for marking crosswalks is inlay tape, which is ideal for use on new or repaved streets. It is highly reflective, long-lasting, and slip-resistant, and it does not require a high level of maintenance. Although initially more costly than paint, both inlay tape and thermoplastic are more cost-effective in the long run.

Raise the crossing above street level

A raised crosswalk with and advance yield bar on a street in Straford, Conn.Raised pedestrian crossings improve the visibility of pedestrians and can encourage motorists to drive slower at the crossing, which will make them more likely to yield to crossing pedestrians.

On one street in Cambridge, MA, the number of motorists who yielded to pedestrians crossing at crosswalks went from approximately 10 percent before installation of the raised crosswalks to 55 percent after the installations.

Additionally, according to an FHWA study, The Effects of Traffic Calming Measures on Pedestrian and Motorist Behavior, raised crosswalks increase pedestrian visibility and the likelihood that the driver yields to pedestrians especially when combined with an overhead flashing light.

Raised crosswalks should not be used on emergency routes, bus routes, or high speed streets. Drainage of storm water runoff and snow plowing considerations may also be a concern with raised crosswalks. They are most appropriate on low speed local or neighborhood streets.

Narrow the roadway

Curb extensions narrow the road and reduce the crosswalk length at an intersection in Cotati, Calif.Studies have found that roadway narrowing treatments (such as crossing islands, curb extensions, road diets, etc.) can increase pedestrian safety. These treatments reduce the distance pedestrians have to cross the street, thereby decreasing their exposure to moving motor vehicles.

An FHWA study, Safety Effects of Marked Versus Unmarked Crosswalks at Uncontrolled Locations, found that the presence of a raised median or crossing island can significantly reduce the likelihood of pedestrian crashes since the median can serve as a refuge for crossing pedestrians and may cause motorists to drive slower since the roadway appears less wide open.

Curb extensions provide pedestrians a safe place to stand and view oncoming traffic before crossing. Road diets involve restriping the street to reduce the number of travel lanes. The left-over space can be used for shoulders, bike lanes, or a median area for left turns or raised pedestrian crossing islands. This is significantly less expensive than rebuilding streets.