City and county engineers often struggle with how to respond to safety concerns about pedestrian crossings, with no scientific method for evaluating them.
In Long Lake, for example, the police department received numerous complaints about the safety of a particular pedestrian crossing. But when the crossing was videotaped, no one was observed using it.
This example — which was part of a research project funded by the Local Road Research Board — exemplifies the difficulties local governments face when they receive requests for a stop sign or signals at a crossing.
A new manual and June 5 training workshop being held by the Minnesota Local Technical Assistance Program will provide cities and counties with step-by-step tools for evaluating a pedestrian crossing and identifying whether improvements are warranted.
The soon-to-be released guidebook* recommends when to install marked crosswalks and other enhancements based on the average daily vehicle count, number of pedestrians, number of lanes and average vehicle speed. It guides users how to rate a crossing for pedestrian service, and includes a flow chart to assist in decision-making.
The training is unique because it is based on actual video footage of existing crosswalks and the pedestrians which use them.
Although vehicles are legally required to stop for pedestrians crossing at intersections and within marked crosswalks, they don’t always yield the right-of-way. And areas with high traffic volumes may not have adequate gaps for pedestrians to cross safely, leading to risk-taking.
Alan Rindels, a MnDOT research engineer, had previously looked for a methodology to evaluate a crosswalk’s effectiveness, but could not find an appropriate engineering analysis.
“What I kept coming up with were results based on the experience of an engineer or planner for what they ‘felt’ was a better crosswalk, such as additional pavement markings, lights or maybe a signal system,” he said.
Rindels finally found guidance in a Transportation Research Board webinar two years ago. Based on that, he asked the LRRB to develop a training methodology for Minnesota practitioners.
Uncontrolled pedestrian crossings
Unless specifically marked otherwise, every intersection is a pedestrian crossing, regardless of the existence of crosswalk markings or sidewalks. At mid-block locations, crosswalk markings legally establish the pedestrian crossing. Uncontrolled pedestrian crossings (which the guidebook focuses on) are locations that are not controlled by a stop sign, yield sign or traffic signal.
Defining where to place pedestrian crossing enhancements — including markings, signs and or other devices — depends on many factors, including pedestrian volume, vehicular traffic volume, sight lines and speed.
The LRRB developed a worksheet that engineers can use to evaluate an uncontrolled pedestrian crossing location in a systematic way, in accordance with the 2010 Highway Capacity Manual. Users note the level of lighting, distance from the nearest all-way stop and whether another location might serve the same pedestrian crossing more effectively.
The guidebook’s 11-step evaluation can identify what level of treatment is appropriate, ranging from overhead flashing beacons and traffic calming devices, such as curb bump-outs, to more expensive options like building overpass or underpass.
Hennepin County Senior Transportation Engineer Pete Lemke, who went through pre-training, said the guidebook will help engineers measure the pedestrian experience by “quantifying the delay at non-signalized intersections.”
“It will inform how we respond to concerns — whether that response is ‘the crossing fits the needs of what’s there’ or ‘we need to make changes or enhancements,’” he said.
Training workshop - June 5 (register here)
* Consultant Bolton & Menks prepared the guidebook with guidance from a 21-member project team that included University of Minnesota researchers and engineers from the city of Eagan, Hennepin County, Carver County, Scott County, MnDOT, the Center for Transportation Studies and the Federal Highway Administration.