Five Innovative Ways to Make Bicyclists and Pedestrians Safer

Last year, 41 people were killed while walking or biking on Minnesota roads and nearly 1,700 were injured.

Dozens of measures are available, however, for making roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Minnesota Department of Transportation Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Engineer Melissa Barnes reviewed some of these design techniques in a recent presentation to city and state transportation engineers. (Watch the full webinar.)

We asked Barnes to highlight her favorite bike and pedestrian safety countermeasures used in Minnesota.

Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon RRFB

An unusually effective new pedestrian warning device, called the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon, has become quite popular.

User-activated, the device alerts drivers to a pedestrian’s presence with a bright flashing beacon that “looks kind of like an ambulance or fire truck light,” Barnes said. (RRFBs can also be activated passively by a pedestrian’s presence.)

Studies have shown that the number of motorists stopping for pedestrians increases from 18 to 81 percent with the RRFB. Another plus: the device doesn’t appear to lose its effectiveness over time. After two years, compliance has been shown to still be more than 80 percent.

Advanced Stop Lines

It’s not uncommon for a motorist to stop for someone in a crosswalk, only for the vehicle following them to not see the pedestrian and veer around, driving through the crosswalk.

But an advanced stop line, placed 20 to 50 feet prior to a crosswalk, is effective at making both vehicles stop and see the person in the crosswalk.

“They are a really good option at an unsignalized, mid-block crossing,” said Barnes, although the stop line may not be a good option for a two-way stop.

Advanced stop lines have been shown to reduce pedestrian-vehicle conflict up to 90 percent; however, stop lines shouldn’t be placed too far in advance of the crossing, because motorists might then ignore them.

Leading Protected Interval

An innovative treatment called the Leading Protected Interval minimizes conflict by allowing pedestrians to enter a signalized intersection before vehicles do.

The walk signal begins three to seven seconds before the parallel street turns green by extending the time all lights are red.

A right turn on red can be prohibited with this device; however, even without the prohibition, the Leading Protected Interval has been shown to reduce crashes by 5 percent.

Protected Bike Lanes

Protected Bike Lanes

Bike lanes buffered from  traffic with some sort of physical barrier, even parked cars, will reduce all types of crashes. They also increase comfort levels for cyclists, helping keep bikes off the sidewalk.

“A lot of people are much more comfortable biking in these than a regular bike lane,” Barnes said. “It can be a very effective solution for places with lots of cyclists.”

Protected bike lanes, also called cycle tracks, also have a traffic-calming effect.

In New York City, the cycle track reduced all types of crashes an average of 40 percent and up to 80 percent on some roads.

“The challenge is how to design these at intersections,” Barns said. “It’s hard to get the turns right and get everybody visible. It’s pretty important to design these carefully at intersections.”

For those reasons, two-way cycle tracks work best on one-way streets, she said.

Flexible Bollards
Flexiblebollard
Photo courtesy of Reliance Foundry

Flexible bollards create temporary curb lines that encourage vehicles to slow down. They can be installed easily and inexpensively.

Flexible bollards bend up to 90 degrees when struck by an errant vehicle. They do not physically stop a car, but encourage vehicles to stay within their lane. Although they can create additional maintenance, they are a good interim solution at locations that need an immediate fix, but have no funding to do so.

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