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Publication Number: FHWA-RD-03-042
Date: November 2003
A Review of Pedestrian Safety Research in the United States and Abroad
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Part 1. Introduction
Walking, the most traditional mode of transportation, can carry a high risk of injury or death on many of our Nation's streets and highways. Motor vehicles only have been around for about a century, but during that comparatively short time, they often have made walking hazardous.
Emphasis on highway transportation historically has focused on increasing the safety and mobility of motor vehicles; less attention has been given to pedestrians. The trend has begun to shift in recent years. Several detailed studies have been conducted on various aspects of pedestrian safety. These studies have attempted to quantify the magnitude and characteristics of pedestrian collisions and identify the traffic and roadway characteristics associated with such crashes. Some research has also involved attempts to evaluate the safety effects of various roadway and educational treatments. (Editor's note: The terms "accident", "collision", and "crash" are used throughout this report. Some authors use one term and some another. All of these terms should be assumed to mean a crash between a pedestrian and a motor vehicle.)
The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of research studies on pedestrian safety, including details of pedestrian crash characteristics, measures of pedestrian exposure and hazard, and specific roadway improvements and their effects on pedestrian safety. Pedestrian educational considerations and enforcement programs also are discussed. Because this report is confined to a review of safety research, it follows that other important topics are left out. Thus, we do not address matters of facility design, finance, pedestrian comfort, convenience, factors affecting the amount of walking by pedestrians, and other salient issues.
This report is an update resulting from two earlier reports. The most recent was Synthesis of Safety Research: Pedestrians, by C.V. Zegeer (FHWA-SA-91-034, August 1991). Before that was Chapter 16, "Pedestrian Ways," by R.C. Pfefer, A. Sorton, J. Fegan, and M.J. Rosenbaum, which was published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in Synthesis of Safety Research Related to Traffic Control and Roadway Elements (Volume 2, December 1982). This updated report includes results from numerous foreign and domestic studies. A review of pedestrian safety research from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom is given at: www.walkinginfo.org/rd/international.htm.
Organization of this Report
This report consists of five parts. Part 1 is an executive summary followed by introductory text. Part 2 deals with statistics regarding traffic collisions and injuries to pedestrians. Part 3 reviews published research on the effectiveness of facilities and other measures adopted for increased pedestrian safety. Most research cited was carried out in the United States; many studies are recent, but some date back to the 1960s. Some older studies now may be less valid. There is also a series of reviews of pedestrian safety research in several foreign countries, authored by research professionals in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Sweden. These may be found at www.walkinginfo.org/rd/international.htm.
Summary of Main Findings
Evolution of Vehicle/Pedestrian Collision Problems
Even the ancients knew it was a good idea to separate pedestrians from vehicles roadways. Fruin (1973) presents a comprehensive historical perspective of the methods used in the past to limit vehicular intrusion into cities; regulations prohibiting heavy wagons within the central city after dusk; vehicle/ pedestrian separation using stone barriers and metal spikes; and special areas along main thoroughfares where pedestrians could rest. Medieval city planners provided central pedestrian plazas as an open space for the marketplace and the cathedral, as well as a location for festive occasions and recreation. In a number of cities, pedestrians were protected from the elements by galleries, canopies, colonnades, and porticos.
The introduction and increased use of motor vehicles in urban areas has made it much more difficult to ensure pedestrian mobility and safety. Most space provided for pedestrians has been sacrificed to provide space for motor vehicle traffic. Both motorist and pedestrian face visual clutter of traffic signals and signs.
The central business district (CBD) of a city hosts various land uses: office buildings, government, shopping, entertainment centers, restaurants, historical sites, and high-rise residential developments. The CBD is the focal point of the regional transportation network and the confluence of transit and highways. Because of its flexibility, walking is the only means of transportation satisfying the short, dispersed trip linkages required in the CBD. Downtown-origin-and-destination surveys in most cities show that approximately 90 percent of all internal trips within the CBD are made on foot.
The traditional urban core is often superimposed on an archaic street system surviving from past land use and a smaller population. The street system of the Manhattan financial district of New York City, for example, dates to colonial times when the tallest structure was two or three stories. Now these same streets serve buildings rising 50 to 100 stories, representing millions of square feet of office space. Thousands of workers and visitors enter and leave these buildings each day, exceeding the capacity of the sidewalk and spilling over into the roadway. In such situations, maximum use of sidewalk area and flow capacity is a necessity.
In many high-density CBDs, the sidewalk width has been reduced to facilitate vehicular traffic movement. This reduces pedestrian traffic capacity, but does not always produce a commensurate increase in vehicle capacity. The wider streets increase the likelihood of pedestrian-vehicle crosswalk conflicts, which limits vehicle capacity at intersections.
The potential pedestrian capacity of the CBD sidewalks is further reduced by the intrusion of refuse cans, fire hydrants, fire alarm boxes, parking meters, traffic signals, control boxes and poles, signposts, newsstands, telephone booths, mailboxes, bus benches, planters, sewer and ventilation gratings, and other street furniture. In addition, building service operations, such as unloading or loading of trucks, often inconvenience and sometimes endanger the pedestrian. Many intersections were built with little control over the location of fixed sidewalk furniture and utilities that often appear in clusters at intersections, the most critical points in the pedestrian circulation network.
Pedestrians waiting at intersections need space, and intersections must accommodate weaving, opposing pedestrian flows. The intersection is also the most common location for bus stops and rapid transit entrances. The pedestrian is further harassed by vehicles stopped in the crosswalk or turning into the path of crossing pedestrians. When a rapid transit entrance is situated along a narrow sidewalk near an intersection, narrow subway stairs can cause pedestrian queues both in the transit station below and on the surface.
This all adds to inconvenience, potential danger, and delay for the pedestrian. Although the total amount of pedestrian delay time may far exceed driver delay time within the CBD, traffic signalization is usually designed to facilitate vehicular flow. Often, the only consideration given to pedestrians at signals is to meet the minimum pedestrian WALK and clearance times, which may not be sufficient for pedestrians with special crossing needs. Where automatic detection is provided for motor vehicles, pedestrians typically must push a button to be detected. In some cases, long cycle lengths encourage pedestrians to cross against a signal.
The rectangular grid pattern of the typical CBD is not conducive to characteristically short pedestrian trips. In some instances, the grid pattern of Manhattan's streets requires a time- and energy- consuming 1,000-foot walk for a straight-line trip distance of only 200 feet. Larger midblock buildings with frontages on adjacent streets are often used as through-routes so the pedestrian can reduce trip distances. This practice is more common in inclement weather. Depending on city location, one day in four may be too windy, cold, wet, or hot for the pedestrian's comfort. But, protection of the pedestrian from the elements is a low priority in most cities.
Guides and Model Programs
There is some variation among the States' laws and regulations for pedestrian movement, though the Uniform Vehicle Code (1992) and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (1998 and 2001) have helped to reduce this variability. Since the early 1970s, numerous publications have discussed alternative measures to prevent pedestrian crashes. Several studies in the 1970s suggested possible countermeasures for predominant pedestrian crash types, such as dart-outs, midblock dash crashes, and others. Brief synopses of some of these are provided in the following paragraphs.
A recent FHWA guide provides a matrix of 47 possible pedestrian treatments for 13 groups of pedestrian crashes (Zegeer et al., Pedestrian Facilities Users Guide: Providing Safety and Mobility, FHWA, March, 2002). The matrix of candidate engineering countermeasures is given in table 1. This guide provides information for each of the 47 engineering treatments, including a description of the countermeasure, considerations for using it, implementation cost, and a photo and/or sketch. A countermeasure matrix is also provided in that report (see table 2) for use in addressing various performance objectives (e.g., reducing vehicle speeds, reducing vehicle volume). Finally, the guide provides examples of pedestrian case studies and success stories, as well as recommendations and priorities for installing sidewalks and walkways, marked crosswalks and other pedestrian crossing treatments. This guide may be found at http://www.walkinginfo.org/rd/for_ped.htm#guide.
FHWA's Model Pedestrian Safety Program, written in 1977 and updated in 1987, provides a six-step process for planning, implementation, and evaluation relative to an agency's pedestrian safety program. The User's Guide Supplement presents detailed information on the various countermeasures for pedestrian crashes, including their advantages and disadvantages and implementation considerations. Details on work-zone management for improved pedestrian protection is given in Work Zone Traffic Management, a report published by FHWA in 1989.
In 1981, a report by Vallette and McDivitt reviewed available pedestrian literature and operational experiences of 19 U.S. cities concerning pedestrian safety programs. The study included the development of a matrix of 450 pedestrian-related articles and publications by 71 subject categories. Operational experiences of 19 city agencies were provided based on visits and interviews with those agencies relevant to their safety program coordination, traffic engineering, school and child safety programs, provisions for the handicapped, public information and education, enforcement of pedestrian-related laws, safety analysis, and safety program recommendations and philosophy.
The WALK ALERT program is a national pedestrian safety program, a cooperative effort of the National Safety Council, FHWA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and more than 100 service and community organizations. The primary objective is to reduce pedestrian crashes. The 1989 WALK ALERT Program Guide (National Safety Council, 1988) provides the steps needed to organize and implement a local pedestrian safety effort. The guide includes information on engineering improvements, educational materials for all age levels, and possible enforcement/laws and ordinances to improve pedestrian safety. Information is also provided for working with the news media, along with a resource guide that lists pedestrian safety programs, audiovisuals, and print materials recommended for the WALK ALERT program.
In 1988, a Transportation Research Board (TRB) synthesis, Pedestrians and Traffic-Control Measures, was published by C. Zegeer and S. Zegeer. This report provides details on publications and information related to 21 specific types of engineering traffic-control measures. This information is based on questionnaire responses from 48 city and state transportation agencies on pedestrian facilities, including traffic and roadway conditions under which each measure is most and least effective. The report includes discussions of special pedestrian situations (e.g., work-zone travel) and traffic-control needs for special pedestrian groups (e.g., college students, children in school zones, older and handicapped adults). Recommendations are provided for selecting effective traffic-control measures to improve pedestrian safety and movement.
A 1987 National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) report, Planning and Implementing Pedestrian Facilities in Suburban and Developing Rural Areas contains information on providing for pedestrian needs outside of urban areas. The report discusses the nature of suburban and rural pedestrian problems and how they occur, the planning process, pedestrian facilities within highway right-of-way, and practical considerations for providing such facilities. A summary addresses pedestrian facility problems and possible solutions, and a sample of such information is given in table 1. Many of the deficiencies that were found in suburban and developing rural areas were attributed to planners' failure to think about how to get pedestrians safely and conveniently from one place to another.
A report entitled, Handbook on Planning, Design, and Maintenance of Pedestrian Facilities (Bowman, Fruin, and Zegeer, 1989) assembled current information to help design, construct, and maintain pedestrian facilities. The planning and design details are emphasized for such facilities as sidewalks and walkways, crosswalks, curb ramps and refuge islands, overpasses and underpasses, pedestrian priority zones (e.g., malls, auto-restricted zones, and temporary street closings), traffic-control devices, and pedestrian facilities in work zones. The report also provides information on pedestrian characteristics and how to conduct pedestrian traffic and safety studies.
Planning Community Pedestrian Safety Programs- An Agenda for Action (NHTSA, 1980) is a guide to assist local communities in either integrating pedestrian safety into an existing community traffic safety program or developing and implementing a new and independent pedestrian safety program. The components of community programs are discussed in addition to methods for developing the plan of action and program evaluation.
As discussed above, a number of user guides and procedural manuals have been written on developing local or statewide pedestrian safety programs (e.g., WALK ALERT Program Guide, Planning Community Pedestrian Safety Programs, Model Pedestrian Safety Program User's Guide) (National Safety Council, 1988; Planning Community Safety Programs, 1980; Work Zone Traffic Management, 1989). Other publications document city pedestrian safety programs and/or provide information from previous pedestrian literature in selected areas (e.g., Vallete and McDivitt, 1981; Zegeer and Zegeer, 1988). Still others assist the planning, design, implementation, and maintenance of pedestrian facilities (e.g., Smith et. al., 1987 and Bowman et. al. 1989).
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Keywords: Pedestrians, safety research, crashes, countermeasures, education, enforcement
TRT Terms: Pedestrians--Safety measures--Research, Pedestrians--Protection--Research, Traffic safety--Research, pedestrian safety