An estimated 6,205 pedestrians were killed in traffic collisions in the United States in 2019, a 44% increase in pedestrian fatalities since 2010, representing 17% of total traffic fatalities. Over 80% of those pedestrian fatalities occurred at unmarked midblock locations. Roadway safety is a shared responsibility and while some fatalities are due to pedestrian negligence, many cases result from a system that prioritizes automobile mobility at the expense of pedestrian safety. Research has found that locations where pedestrians are most likely to cross outside crosswalks are highly influenced by the surrounding roadway environment and characteristics, such as pedestrian volume, number of bus stops, vehicular volume, distance between crosswalks, and crossing distance. For most pedestrians to walk far out of their way to cross a street at a marked crosswalk would contradict basic human behavior. It follows that safely designed crosswalks properly spaced so pedestrians can practically utilize them should prevent needless fatalities and injuries. While research has established the safety and effectiveness of countermeasures such as refuge islands, pedestrian hybrid beacons (PHBs), and rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFBs) and provides guidance (e.g., STEP guide) for selecting countermeasures at uncontrolled crossing locations, current guidance and research regarding midblock crosswalk spacing is limited. The ongoing study NCHRP Project 03-14, “Guidance on Midblock Pedestrian Signals (MPS)” will assess the safety effects of MPS and potentially develop language suitable for inclusion in the MUTCD, but more work is needed to understand suitable spacing of these treatments. This research aims to reduce pedestrian fatalities and severe injuries through a better understanding of appropriate midblock crosswalk spacing.
National crosswalk spacing guidance is ambiguous, with Section 3B.18 of the MUTCD (define?) stating: “Crosswalk lines should not be used indiscriminately. An engineering study should be performed before a marked crosswalk is installed at a location away from a traffic control signal or an approach controlled by a STOP or YIELD sign.” Although it is recommended that the engineering study consider the distance from adjacent signalized intersections and the possible consolidation of multiple crossing points, there are no specific criteria offered in terms of spacing and no specific criteria that take varying infrastructure and land use conditions into account.
Several state guidelines for crosswalks refer to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Stopping Sight Distance formula. This formula combines a driver’s reaction time, braking distance, travel speed, and roadway grade to calculate the distance necessary for a vehicle to make a complete stop. AASHTO recommends that midblock marked crosswalks not be installed where sight distance and sight lines are limited. However, while this guidance identifies where marked crosswalks should not be installed, it does not directly inform where they should be installed and their appropriate spacing.
To ensure efficient traffic operations, many agencies have also adopted requirements that preclude marking a crosswalk within a close distance of another crossing. These requirements generally specify a minimum distance of 200-600 feet between a midblock crosswalk and the next nearest marked crosswalk. While these minimum distances are important to ensure safety and efficient traffic operations, the maximum suitable distance between crosswalks is more critical for ensuring there are adequate crossing opportunities designed appropriately to reduce the risk of pedestrian crashes. More research is needed to provide states and cities with guidance on the important criteria of maximum crosswalk spacing. Providing appropriately spaced crosswalks properly designed for the specific roadway conditions may improve the safety and security of pedestrians.
The objective of this research is to determine the maximum distance pedestrians will travel to use a crosswalk and develop crosswalk spacing recommendations in various contexts, based on pedestrian behavior and willingness-to-deviate. A better understanding of this spacing will help to inform when to add marked crosswalks at uncontrolled midblock locations to discourage pedestrians from crossing at higher-risk locations between crosswalks. In addition to crosswalk spacing, the research will explore factors that influence pedestrians’ choice to divert from an unmarked direct crossing path toward a marked crossing in terms of origin/destination proximity, land use context, and crossing need.
Research tasks would include: (1) literature review of existing strategies and research regarding crosswalk spacing compliance and safety outcomes with a focus on human factors; (2) data collection (crosswalk location and land use and transportation context, pedestrian compliance and safety outcomes, roadway environment such as lighting, geometry, facilities, vehicle speeds and volumes, operational details, users, vehicles, etc.); (3) survey pedestrians to explore willingness to deviate to cross at a marked crosswalk across a variety of land-use contexts; (4) identify compliance and safety outcomes related to crosswalk spacing and context; and (5) propose solutions and guidance for agencies on maximum crosswalk spacing.