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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 70 · No. 2 > In Step With Safety

Sept/Oct 2006
Vol. 70 · No. 2

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-2006-006

In Step With Safety

by Tamara Redmon and Charles Zegeer

FHWA offers new guidance and technical assistance to help States develop action plans to protect pedestrians.

A new 'how-to' document titled How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan offers guidance to engineers and others involved in protecting the safety of pedestrians. Here, a 'pork chop' island helps pedestrians navigate a complex intersection more safely. Photo: Michael Ronkin, Designing Streets for Pedestrians and Bicyclists.
(Above) A new "how-to" document titled How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan offers guidance to engineers and others involved in protecting the safety of pedestrians. Here, a "pork chop" island helps pedestrians navigate a complex intersection more safely.

Pedestrian fatalities, which account for 11 percent of all roadway deaths nationwide, are a growing concern in the United States. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has made reducing pedestrian fatalities a critical focus area within the Nation's overall safety goal.

In a May 2004 memorandum, former FHWA Associate Administrator for Safety George Ostensen described a new FHWA goal of cutting pedestrian fatalities by 10 percent by the year 2008. As a performance goal, Ostensen wrote, FHWA hoped that cities with the highest numbers of pedestrian fatalities per year would implement pedestrian safety plans.

To identify cities with high fatalities, FHWA analyzed national highway safety data to determine where concerted efforts could address one or more of the agency's three safety emphasis areas: roadway departures, intersections, and pedestrians. The analysis revealed a number of "focus States" with pedestrian fatality, injury, or crash rates higher than the national average: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas. To address pedestrian safety, FHWA selected five focus cities, in addition to the focus States, because pedestrian activity can be viewed in one sense as a local issue, with limited jurisdiction by State authorities. The focus cities are Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; and Phoenix, AZ.

At the State and local levels, developing pedestrian safety plans may be new tasks for personnel at individual transportation agencies, and existing staff may need experience and expertise in developing them. Accordingly, FHWA partnered with the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), a nonprofit program of the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, to address the need by creating a guide for State and local governments on how to develop and implement action plans. The final guide, How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, FHWA-SA-05-12, was completed in 2006.

The pedestrian safety guide, coupled with newly available technical assistance and training, provides the tools to help States, cities, and local governments address the challenge of ensuring the safety of pedestrians in the roadway environment. FHWA and PBIC created the guide for use by engineers, planners, traffic safety and enforcement professionals, public health and injury prevention professionals, and decisionmakers responsible for improving pedestrian safety at the State and local levels.

"The how-to guide will help the focus States and cities determine and address their pedestrian safety problems," says Beth Alicandri, director of FHWA's Office of Safety Programs, "but FHWA also sees it as a successful practices guide that communities throughout the entire United States can use to improve pedestrian safety."

Seven Steps to Safety

The new guide provides State and local officials with information about pedestrian safety issues, covering topics that range from identifying safety problems, analyzing data, and selecting optimal solutions to help agencies enhance existing safety programs and activities. Other useful information includes tips on involving stakeholders, potential funding sources for implementing projects, and methods for evaluating the outcomes of projects.

Designed primarily as a reference manual, the guide How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan focuses on redesigning streets, implementing engineering countermeasures, and promoting safety education and enforcement programs that involve multiple agencies as well as community members. The guide lays out seven steps for developing a pedestrian safety action plan.

The first step is planning and designing for pedestrian safety. Major elements that affect pedestrian safety include land use, access management, street design, street connectivity, and site design. The guide explains, for example, that some design practices and policies that were conceived to improve mobility for motor vehicles, such as the use of multilane and higher speed arterials and collectors, are now considered barriers to a safe pedestrian environment.

Among the strategies listed in the guide to improve planning and design for pedestrians are the following:

  • Slowing vehicle speeds
  • Reducing street crossing distances for pedestrians
  • Providing pedestrian facilities such as sidewalks and crossing islands where appropriate
  • Encouraging mixed-use development by fostering small-scale retail in neighborhoods or placing schools in the center of neighborhoods to help create destinations within walking distance of where people live, learn, and work

The second step is involving stakeholders in the decisionmaking process, which helps yield more comprehensive solutions to safety problems. Stakeholders include citizens, citizen-based organizations, public employees and agencies, businesses, and the media.

A digital illustration superimposed upon this photograph provides an example of how simple changes-access management, a raised median, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and landscaping-can make the roadway environment more safe and appealing for pedestrians. Photo: Michael Ronkin, Designing Streets for Pedestrians and Bicyclists.
A digital illustration superimposed upon this photograph provides an example of how simple changes-access management, a raised median, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and landscaping-can make the roadway environment more safe and appealing for pedestrians.

"Stakeholders who are well informed about the problems and implications provide the best advice," says Peter Lagerwey, Seattle pedestrian and bicycle coordinator. "Local and statewide pedestrian safety action plans should also address the problems and needs at the neighborhood level to meet the diverse needs of an ever-changing population, including specific ethnic groups, age groups, and persons with disabilities."

Providing multiple venues for participation and feedback, such as public meetings, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, Web sites, and comment forms, maximizes convenience for diverse stakeholders. Also, project-specific task forces may be advisable for large, complicated, or controversial projects.

The third step, collecting data to identify pedestrian safety problems, focuses on reviewing crash statistics to verify the nature and extent of perceived problems. However, the guide advises against expending too many resources on data collection, as scarce dollars should be reserved for making safety improvements. Wherever possible, localities should create geocoded databases of pedestrian crashes to facilitate identifying problem locations. Once created, databases need to be maintained and updated over time.

Fourth, systematically analyzing information and prioritizing concerns is crucial to identify where countermeasures should be implemented. Areas of need will always outstrip available funds, so localities need to develop a system of prioritization to rank the competing projects. Typically, the severity of pedestrian crashes is so disproportionately high compared to other motor vehicle crashes that reducing pedestrian crashes will yield a high safety dividend and high benefit/cost ratios.

To identify high pedestrian crash locations, the guide's authors recommend reviewing pedestrian crash data over a 3- to 5-year period. To assess entire corridors, the guide suggests breaking the study area into roadway segments of 0.8 kilometer to 8 kilometers (0.5 mile to 5 miles) in length and looking for patterns in crash locations or circumstances, such as a prevalence of crashes at transit stops or at night. Pedestrian safety concerns also can be identified through pedestrian safety audits conducted by a multidisciplinary team that examines walking facilities and pedestrian and driver behavior at a specific location or along a corridor. The guide explains how to implement systemwide changes, such as adopting more pedestrian-friendly policies (such as creating a pedestrian advisory board, providing pedestrian facilities as part of new projects, and designing roads for all users) and implementing educational programs in elementary schools.

The pedestrian safety guide will bolster ongoing State and local efforts, such as here, in California, where school officials and parents participate in a Safe Routes to School program.
The pedestrian safety guide will bolster ongoing State and local efforts, such as here, in California, where school officials and parents participate in a Safe Routes to School program.

The fifth step, selecting safety solutions, depends on the types of pedestrian crashes. The guide specifically addresses the following common pedestrian crash categories: walking-along-the-road, midblock, nighttime, intersection right-turn, intersection straight-through, intersection left-turn, signalized intersection, and transit-related crashes. Although law enforcement, education, land use, and site design represent effective countermeasures, the guide's primary focus is on engineering solutions.

For example, localities can reduce the number of walking-along-the-road crashes by installing sidewalks in urban areas and paved shoulders in rural areas, ensuring well-designed driveways and access control, and installing nighttime illumination.

Countermeasures to avoid midblock crashes include installing crossing islands, curb extensions, yield lines at uncontrolled crossings, or advance stop bars (a painted line placed before a street crossing to direct motor vehicles where to stop for pedestrians). Another midblock countermeasure is adding pedestrian-actuated traffic signals with pedestrian signal (Walk/Don't Walk) displays.

This map was created using geographic information system (GIS) software to show high pedestrian crash concentrations in Miami-Dade County, FL. The pedestrian crash concentrations are represented by a spectrum of colors, from orange (lowest concentration) to yellow, to green, to blue (highest concentration). The map illustrates the application of GIS software to identify neighborhoods and zones with high pedestrian crash numbers-in this case, South Miami Beach, Little Havana, and Liberty City/Little Haiti in Miami-Dade-that deserve further analysis for planning potential safety initiatives.
The metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for Miami-Dade County, FL, created a series of maps using geographic information systems software to identify areas with a high number of pedestrian crashes. The MPO created this map showing Miami and South Beach in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) pedestrian safety demonstration project, which seeks to reduce deaths, injuries, and associated crash costs within the county's urban setting.

Intersection crashes involving pedestrians and turning vehicles may be reduced by providing tighter turning radii, raised median islands, or properly designed, channelized right-turn lanes.

Signalized intersections should typically have pedestrian signals, marked crosswalks, and adequate crossing times. Signal enhancements such as protected left-turn phasing, all-red intervals, leading pedestrian intervals, or pedestrian countdown signals also may be beneficial.

Routes with transit stops have a high potential for pedestrian crashes. Therefore, transit stops should be located at safe pedestrian crossing areas and where sidewalks and adequate lighting are provided.

The sixth step, providing funding, is crucial for implementation. With most State and local governments facing budget constraints, allocating funds for pedestrian safety can be challenging. Nevertheless, some States and towns are achieving very low pedestrian crash numbers despite limited funding.

A policy change or an update to a design standard that leads to fewer pedestrian crashes may not cost anything. For example, almost all arterial streets in Seattle, WA, have a design speed of 48 kilometers per hour (30 miles per hour), which is the legal speed limit unless otherwise posted. This may be one of many reasons why Seattle has one of the lowest pedestrian fatality rates in the country.

The guide discusses various funding sources and strategies that States and localities can use. For example, pedestrian safety improvements could be financed through annual maintenance budgets, routine accommodations in new projects, dedicated funds and set-asides, or partnerships with universities, private developers, public works entities, or utility companies, among others.

The final step, creating the pedestrian safety action plan, involves putting countermeasures into a practical and achievable strategy that enables the locality to measure progress over time. The plan provides the blueprint for going from the "where" to the "what" to the "how" stages in improving pedestrian safety. The typical action plan involves the following eight tasks: defining objectives; identifying locations with opportunities for improvement; assessing and selecting countermeasures; developing an implementation strategy; institutionalizing changes to planning, design, operational, and maintenance standards; considering land use and site design issues; reinforcing commitment; and evaluating the results of projects implemented. The guide describes each step in detail to help States and localities successfully develop their own comprehensive plans.

Crosswalks and signals encourage pedestrians like those shown here to cross at signalized intersections.
Crosswalks and signals encourage pedestrians like those shown here to cross at signalized intersections.

Getting the States Involved

The FHWA Office of Safety worked with the FHWA division offices in each focus State and city to identify people who would champion development and implementation of the pedestrian safety action plans. The champions were informed about the goals that FHWA aimed to accomplish and about free technical assistance from PBIC that could assist them in their efforts.

FHWA developed an e-mail list to keep the State and city champions up to date on the progress of projects and to enable them to communicate with each other. In addition, FHWA hosts monthly conference calls to discuss projects and issues of concern. The calls help keep projects in the forefront of the champions' minds.

In addition to these ongoing communication activities, FHWA sponsored a national meeting for the focus States and cities in October 2005 in Chicago, IL. The meeting was held in conjunction with the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals' Professional Development Seminar series. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program covered travel costs for participants, and FHWA paid the registration fees.

Riders are boarding a bus at a suburban bus stop.
Transit stops should be designed like this one with pedestrian needs in mind. Possible measures include shelters, signs, lighting, sidewalks connecting to the pedestrian travel network, and bus loading areas that are wheelchair accessible.

The meeting introduced representatives from the focus States and cities to the topics that are covered in the guide. Engineers, planners, public officials, and advocates concerned with pedestrian safety delivered presentations. Federal, State, and local officials shared information on their successful programs and activities to improve pedestrian safety.

The presentations led participants through the steps involved in developing action plans, the goal being to change the way agencies approach pedestrian safety and to train their engineers and designers to account for pedestrian safety in their roadway plans. The first session addressed pedestrian crash data and analysis, starting with an overview of the new how-to guide and the importance of involving multiple stakeholders in the development of a pedestrian safety plan. The second session focused on developing countermeasures and obtaining funding for pedestrian safety improvements.

This crowded sidewalk, flanked by shops and outdoor seating, offers an inviting atmosphere where pedestrians can stroll and congregate. This sidewalk has a pedestrian level of service (LOS) rating of 'A.'
(Above) This crowded sidewalk, flanked by shops and outdoor seating, offers an inviting atmosphere where pedestrians can stroll and congregate. This sidewalk has a pedestrian level of service (LOS) rating of "A."
This wide roadway has five lanes running in each direction and a broad raised median in between. Narrow sidewalks adjacent to the high-speed roadway contribute to an environment that is unfriendly to pedestrians.
By contrast, the sidewalks here earn a pedestrian LOS rating of "F." According to the Highway Capacity Manual model, LOS ratings are primarily based on delay caused by other pedestrians on the sidewalk. This example illustrates the need for new LOS models to take into account such factors as safety and comfort.

Free Technical Assistance

As part of its FHWA contract, PBIC and its subcontractors also crafted a menu of technical assistance options for the focus States and cities to use when developing their pedestrian safety action plans. The team produced two courses to help direct the jurisdictions toward the goals of developing action plans and opening communication with relevant stakeholders. The first course, Designing Streets for Pedestrian Safety, is available as either a 1-day or 2-day training session. The other, Pedestrian Safety Plan Workshop, is a 2-day course.

The course Designing Streets for Pedestrian Safety focuses on engineering countermeasures and designs for pedestrian safety. "Too often roads have been designed for vehicles only, without regard to the pedestrians who have to cross the roads," says Bob Planthold, cochairman of California Walks, a pedestrian advocacy group.

The course discusses the following topics: planning factors that affect pedestrian safety, sidewalk design elements, transit interactions, street crossings, popular countermeasures and enhancements, and intersection designs and signalization options. The 2-day version of the course also includes a field trip to a problem location where participants work in groups to provide potential solutions to help "fix" the problem. In addition, attendees participate in a brainstorming session afterwards to report their solutions, share information with one another, and discuss the next steps needed to implement the proposed remedies.

Although FHWA provides funding for the trainers and their travel, the local host is responsible for inviting key people to the training, organizing the sessions, and taking care of logistics. The host solicits participation from advocates, key politicians, and decisionmakers as well. As of this writing, FHWA and PBIC presenters have conducted a total of 23 training sessions, in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York City, New York State, and Pennsylvania. Sessions are planned for Chicago, IL; North Carolina; and Texas.

Initial feedback indicates that course attendees find value in the course. "The modules that were developed for this training were extremely informative and brought a new way of thinking to New Jersey," says Sheree J. Davis, the bicycle and pedestrian program coordinator for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, who attended a session in March 2006. "The course was very organized, and it heightened the awareness that innovative thinking and the use of new technologies could work in a State that is so densely populated and congested," Davis says. "It was so well done that we would like [the PBIC and FHWA workshop instructors] to come back and [conduct] the workshop again."

Jim Ercolano, a pedestrian specialist for the New York State Department of Transportation, echoes those sentiments. The Designing Streets for Pedestrian Safety course "included a historic joint New York City Department of Transportation and New York State Department of Transportation session on Queens Boulevard, sponsored by [NYC's] Division of Traffic Planning," he says. "Class instruction and onsite assessment workshops were outstanding, reflected in the fact that more than 90 percent of course evaluations rated the training from good to excellent."

The other course, Pedestrian Safety Plan Workshop, essentially sums up the information in the new guide, How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan. Topics covered include planning and designing for pedestrian safety, making a commitment, involving stakeholders, collecting data, analyzing information and prioritizing concerns, and selecting countermeasures. Like the first course, this one includes a field trip, brainstorming session, and discussion of next steps.

"Second only to the 2004 AASHTO [American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials] Guide for the Planning, Design, and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities, this how-to guide is an essential reference for pedestrian-related design, safety, and access issues," Ercolano says, pointing to the value of the workshop.

Despite the requirements placed on local hosts, past attendees indicate that the courses are worth the time and investment. "The FHWA courses on the pedestrian safety action plan and designing for pedestrian safety validate our anecdotal insights and make it easier to educate and persuade local and State officials to pay proper attention to reducing collisions between vehicles and pedestrians," says Planthold, of California Walks. "The written guide and the companion course are a worthy investment of the time for all traffic, public safety, and public health professionals."

Adds Beth Rolandson, senior transportation planner for the city of Santa Monica, CA: "Many people working for municipalities have competing demands for their time, and it can be difficult to take the time to do more proactive work. Sometimes the big picture gets lost while accomplishing immediate tasks. Santa Monica is in the process of updating our community's circulation element, and the day after the training I went back to work and made sure safety was on the short list of community priorities for transportation."

Interest in the training sessions continues to grow. The State of New York, which held the first sessions of Designing Streets for Pedestrian Safety, is in the process of planning more sessions for this year and next, according to Ercolano. California, Florida, Michigan, and New Mexico also have requested more.

Many intersections, like the one shown here, are designed to accommodate large volumes of fast-moving vehicles. These types of intersections often pose risks to pedestrian safety. Photo: Michael Ronkin, Designing Streets for Pedestrians and Bicyclists.
Many intersections, like the one shown here, are designed to accommodate large volumes of fast-moving vehicles. These types of intersections often pose risks to pedestrian safety.

PBIC is in the process of training more trainers to join the team. FHWA also is adapting the live instructor courses to create online versions that can help keep down costs and provide more access to training opportunities. Safety Engineer Peter Eun, with FHWA's Resource Center, is pilot testing a distance learning version of the course Developing an Effective Pedestrian Safety Action Plan. If it proves successful, the Resource Center will offer the training more broadly in the near future. "A distance learning version would make it easier for State and local agencies with limited budgets to still have access to the training materials and the ability to ask questions of a panel of national pedestrian safety experts," Eun says.

Aside from the two courses, States are free to select the types of technical assistance that make the most sense for their given circumstances. For instance, States that are well along in the process of developing pedestrian safety plans may prefer a different type of assistance, such as having a pedestrian safety expert help them identify countermeasures for problem locations.

Off to a Good Start

"The U.S. Department of Transportation has set ambitious safety goals, and achieving significant reductions in pedestrian fatalities is a critical step in reaching those goals," says FHWA Associate Administrator for Safety Jeff Lindley. "The focused approach helps us make significant progress in pedestrian safety, and the how-to guide and the training workshops are critical tools in implementing this approach."

Technical workshops reinforce the pedestrian safety guide and illustrate safety countermeasures, such as well-delineated crosswalks and medians like the ones shown here from above.
Technical workshops reinforce the pedestrian safety guide and illustrate safety countermeasures, such as well-delineated crosswalks and medians like the ones shown here from above.

"FHWA is showing a very proactive approach to protecting those most vulnerable to traffic collisions—pedestrians," says Planthold. "FHWA's work now makes clear that pedestrians also are a population to be considered in designing roads for safety—for all who use them."


Tamara Redmon is team leader for the Pedestrian and Bicycle Program in FHWA's Office of Safety. She has worked for FHWA for more than 15 years. She develops products and programs to help reduce pedestrian and bicyclist crashes, fatalities, and injuries. She holds a bachelor's degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and a master's degree from Marymount University.

Charles Zegeer is the director of PBIC, an entity within the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center. He has been principal investigator on numerous Federal studies related to the safety of roadway design and engineering measures, including pedestrian and bicyclist safety. He holds a bachelor's degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and a master's in civil engineering from the University of Kentucky. He is a registered professional engineer.

For more information, contact Tamara Redmon at 202-366-4077 or tamara.redmon@fhwa.dot.gov, or Charles Zegeer at 919-962-7801 or charlie_zegeer@unc.edu. How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan is available for download at http://drusilla.hsrc.unc.edu/cms/downloads/howtoguide2006.pdf. Hard copies of the guide also are available and can be ordered in limited quantities at the same site.

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