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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 66 · No. 4 > Life in the Crosswalk

January/February 2003
Vol. 66 · No. 4

Life in the Crosswalk

by Tamara Redmon and Leverson Boodlal

Public service announcements, demonstration projects, and a university course are key components of a new FHWA push to improve pedestrian safety.

"In the time it takes to stop for someone in the crosswalk, you could save a life—or change yours forever."

Extracted from a radio public service announcement (PSA), this compelling reminder for motorists to brake for pedestrians in crosswalks lies at the heart of a new Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) drive to generate awareness among drivers and highway designers about the importance of pedestrian safety.

Tree-lined street, shops with outdoor seating, and a wide sidewalk in a mixed-use development. Leverson Boodlal

Tree-lined streets, shops with outdoor seating, and wide sidewalks are among the features that contribute to mixed-use development.

On average, a pedestrian is killed or injured in a traffic crash every 7 minutes. In the past, FHWA concentrated most of its safety resources on improving the roadway-driver environment more than the pedestrian environment. However, with pedestrians accounting for approximately 11 percent of roadway fatalities each year, the agency has modified its approach, and more effort and funding have been forthcoming in recent years to safeguard walkers and bicyclists. In fact, reducing pedestrian fatalities and injuries now is one of the FHWA Safety Office's top priorities and is part of the safety-related objective in FHWA's Vital Few goals.

More than simply providing highway engineers with the tools and resources they need to improve the roadway environment for foot and bike traffic, FHWA's approach now includes education and outreach, with a three-pronged strategy: (1) educating the public about safe pedestrian behavior, (2) getting drivers into the habit of watching for and yielding to pedestrians, and (3) ensuring that engineers and planners accommodate for nonmotorized traffic when they design roadways and other transportation facilities.

Among FHWA's ongoing tactics are an outreach campaign that includes television and radio PSAs, a demonstration program that will test and evaluate pedestrian safety countermeasures, and a new university course on designing pedestrian and bicyclist facilities.

Outreach Campaign

The idea for a pedestrian safety outreach campaign stemmed from a vision of persuading people to think about safety as they go about their daily lives. The threefold purpose of the campaign is to (1) sensitize drivers to the fact that pedestrians are legitimate road users and should always be expected on or near roadways, (2) educate pedestrians about minimizing risks to their safety, and (3) develop program materials to explain or enhance the operation of engineering measures such as crosswalks and walk signals.

Working with a limited budget, FHWA elected to develop a ready-made toolkit of outreach materials that States and communities could customize and use locally. The toolkit includes materials designed for use on television and radio and in cinema and print advertising. States and communities take responsibility for contacting local television and radio stations and print media to place the PSAs. FHWA also is developing a strategic planning guide that explains how to implement the campaign successfully at the local level.

Adult and child actresses approach a crosswalk in Bethesda, MD Adult and child actresses approach a crosswalk in Bethesda, MD, as a film crew records video footage for a new FHWA public service announcement (PSA) educating drivers on pedestrian safety.
Aerial shot of a parent and child in a crosswalk This aerial shot of a parent and child in a crosswalk in one highlight of a new FHWA television PSA that helps remind drivers to watch for pedestrians in crosswalks when making turns.
Photo of deceased mother held by daughter Another FHWA PSA makes a hard-hitting appeal to drivers to look out for pedestrians because the lives of children—and, in this case, the dead mother whose photo is held by her daughter—are in their hands.

Mustering a Team

From past experience, FHWA's pedestrian safety team knew that it would need the buy-in of the potential stakeholders in order for the campaign to move forward. In the early stages, FHWA formed a technical working group consisting of representatives from State departments of transportation (DOTs), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), FHWA field and resource center offices, and experts from the health, education, law enforcement, public relations, and transportation disciplines. The technical working group met in Washington, DC, on three occasions during the year that it took to develop the campaign.

Path at the end of a sidewalk. Leverson Boodlal

The well-trodden path that continues where the sidewalk ends provides evidence that pedestrians continue to use this route. Designers should look for such clues when considering locations for infrastructure improvements for foot traffic.

Making an Impact

With so many messages bombarding the public in daily life, one of the greatest challenges in developing the outreach campaign was deciding on themes and messages. In addition to capitalizing on the expertise brought to the table at the meetings of the technical working group, the team also hosted eight focus group meetings in Washington, DC; Chevy Chase, MD; and Los Angeles, CA.

Focus groups typically contain about 10 participants and are intended to provide insight into the thinking of an average member of the public. Although not statistically significant, focus groups can provide useful attitudinal and behavioral information, specifically regarding factors that influence both driver and pedestrian behavior. The findings from the focus groups indicated that (1) drivers are most influenced by the thought of hurting or killing a child; (2) both drivers and pedestrians want messages that appeal to them emotionally and are jarring, not anything humorous; (3) both drivers and pedestrians want to see and hear an actual crash in any video materials, as well as the aftermath.

The television spots focus on the meaning of the pedestrian signals and the importance of pedestrians making themselves visible at night. The driver spots have a strong emotional appeal. In one spot, for example, the camera cuts from the image of a mother and child walking to that of a driver about to make a left turn. As he drives down the road, various thoughts pass through his head: I'm a safe driver . . . I watch for cars . . . I pay attention . . . An image of the pedestrian crossing sign and the pedestrian signal pop into view, as does the image of the traffic signal on green. The driver makes a left turn not noticing the pedestrians in the crosswalk. The driver slams on the breaks and stops inches from the child, who is swooped out of harm's way by her mother. The driver, who appears completely shaken, gets out of the car and lets out a deep breath. The last image is of the child continuing to cross. She turns to look behind her, making eye contact with the TV viewer as if to say, "You could have hurt me."

The other driver-focused spot shows haunting images of a 10-year-old girl standing on a street corner holding a framed photo of her mother who was killed crossing the street. As other pedestrians pass her, she holds the photo up to them as they ignore her. She silently appeals to drivers to look for pedestrians and stop for them.

The radio spots were more challenging to make, lacking the visual images that were so effective in the television PSAs. All the radio spots target drivers. Four of the six feature an actual crash, complete with muted sound effects. Five have a heavy emotional appeal, while the last one features a pedestrian offering to compromise with drivers. "I'll watch out for you and cross the street safely," says the pedestrian. "You watch out for me and stop. Think of the impact we can make."

An intersection in Chicago, IL, shows a typical pedestrian-vehicle conflict. Carol Tan Esse, FHWA

An intersection in Chicago, IL, shows a typical pedestrian-vehicle conflict during a green light as a man crosses the street and a vehicle makes a right-hand turn. Both actions are legal.

Car yielding for a bicyclist crossing the road. Carol Tan Esse, FHWA

In Oregon, a car yields for a bicyclist at a bicycle crossing.

Selecting Locations And Actors

After developing, testing, and revising the campaign themes and messages, the team agreed on the framework for the television PSAs and began searching for the ideal intersection to film. Potential locations needed to have well-marked crosswalks, correct pedestrian signals, and good sidewalks and curb cuts. The team looked for an urban or suburban setting in the Washington, DC, area and finally settled on two intersections in Bethesda, MD. Since the crosswalks were not well marked, the Montgomery County government quickly stepped in to provide high-visibility crosswalk markings at both locations.

Selecting actors also was a key component. Professional actors played the parts in the driver-targeted PSAs, but one of the pedestrian PSAs—which focuses on the importance of wearing reflective clothing for visibility at night—takes place in a firehouse and features a volunteer firefighter.

In addition to the television and radio spots, the team also developed four pedestrian-targeted and four driver-targeted print PSAs and two posters. The campaign materials will be ready in their entirety by early 2003.

Creating a Pedestrian Environment

Creating a safe pedestrian environment involves more than laying down a sidewalk or installing a signal. A truly viable system is accessible to all pedestrians and starts with the a built environment that has destinations located close enough to each other for walking access; schools, parks, and public spaces sited appropriately; zoning that permits mixed-use developments; sufficient density to support transit; and commercial districts that people can access by foot. Thus, pedestrian facilities need to be planned, designed, operated, and maintained to be usable by all.

Traditionally, analyses of police crash reports provided the impetus for pedestrian safety improvements. Whether building new infrastructure or renovating existing facilities, planners and designers need to accommodate nonmotorized traffic. And methods should be identified to predict potential problems during the planning and design phases before crashes occur.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Analysis Tool

Researchers at FHWA, in cooperation with NHTSA, developed the Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Analysis Tool (PBCAT) to assist State and local coordinators, planners, and engineers with analyzing crashes and developing effective countermeasures.

By analyzing data from actual crashes, such as where and when they occurred, characteristics of the victims, and the sequence of events leading up to the crashes, the PBCAT software can produce tables and graphs illustrating the relationships among various crash types and other factors associated with the crashes (age, gender, light conditions, etc.). PBCAT also provides recommended countermeasures linked to specific pedestrian and bicycle crash types.

The PBCAT software and manual (FHWA-RD-99-192) are available at www.bicyclinginfo.org/bc/pbcat.htm.

Carol Tan Esse

Screenshot of PBCAT

The opening screen in PBCAT prompts users

to begin by selecting "Pedestrian crashes"

or "Bicycle crashes" for analysis.

Evaluating Countermeasures

Past research on pedestrian safety focused on evaluating individual countermeasures, but safety personnel at FHWA and elsewhere recognized a need to examine safety impacts from a system-wide approach. In response, FHWA launched the Pedestrian Safety Engineering and Intelligent Transportation System-Based Countermeasures Program (PSECP) to demonstrate and evaluate that kind of approach. The objectives of the PSECP are to reduce pedestrian crashes and pedestrian-vehicle conflicts and to demonstrate the program's portability to other jurisdictions.

FHWA organized the PSECP into three phases—problem identification, implementation, and evaluation. In 2001, FHWA solicited proposals nationwide for jurisdictions to identify local problem areas and indicate interest in participating in the program. Locations with a high number of pedestrian fatalities were prime candidates. FHWA ultimately selected Miami Dade, FL; Clark County, NV; and San Francisco, CA. Pedestrian fatalities accounted for more than 25 percent of traffic fatalities at each jurisdiction. The next step, phase 2, will involve implementing and evaluating selected pedestrian countermeasures at different zones within each site.

Hot dog vendor on sidewalk. Leverson Boodlal

This hot dog vendor has taken up so much of the sidewalk that pedestrians may be forced into the road in order to get around the cart.

The PSECP project's unique features include (1) deploying common pedestrian safety countermeasures at each site; (2) using standardized performance measures; (3) employing a zonal process (that is, identifying a subset of locations containing pedestrian problems) for targeting pedestrian safety improvements; (4) analyzing crash types with a software program, Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Analysis Tool (PBCAT), developed by FHWA and NHTSA; (5) using a geographic information system (GIS) to develop maps showing pedestrian crash densities, (6) applying conflict analysis techniques to predict pedestrian crashes, and (7) engaging an independent evaluator to produce a crosscutting and how-to manual.

Lessons learned to date indicate that effective pedestrian programs are based on strong partnerships, public participation, and sensitivity to community concerns. They require accurate data, demonstrate an understanding of demographics, and feature pedestrian-oriented development regulations. Engineering, enforcement, and education are all critical elements in an effective pedestrian safety program. Engineering solutions often involve a combination of treatments at any one site, and any program evaluations should review the individual treatments as well as examine area-wide effects for both safety and mobility. Strong management support also is key to ensuring a successful program.

As of the end of 2002, phase 1 activities for Miami Dade and Clark County were completed. San Francisco will complete phase 1 by March 2003.

Safer Journey

Safer Journey cd coverEvery day, across the United States, pedestrians face similar challenges trying to get from place to place safely. Safety practitioners at FHWA recognized a need for an educational tool that could reach a broad audience of road users—from engineers and designers to the law enforcement community and educational institutions. In 2001, FHWA created an interactive CD-ROM and online tool called "Safer Journey" to meet this need.

"Safer Journey" is an animated virtual journey that follows a

14-year-old as he embarks on a walking trip from his home to a soccer field and back. Along the way, he encounters typical pedestrian situations such as busy streets without sidewalks, mid-block crossings, intersections, bus stops, and shared-use paths. The latter part of the trip takes place after dusk to simulate nighttime issues. Throughout the trip, the user helps the youth make appropriate decisions and has the opportunity to learn more about pedestrian safety features.

By the end of 2002, FHWA expects that at least eight States (California, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Texas) will have formed partnerships among FHWA and State departments of transportation and education to produce, market, and implement "Safer Journey" in classrooms.

To date, "Safer Journey" has won three international awards from Omni Intermedia and the U.S. International Film and Video Festival, as well as commendations from State and local officials. FHWA is translating the "Safer Journey" materials into Spanish, and a version targeting bicyclists also is under development. Check out "Safer Journey" online at http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/saferjourney.cfm.

Pedestrian pushbutton. ITE Pedestrian Bicycle Council

Easy-to-use pedestrian pushbuttons are mounted approximately 1.1 meters (3.5 feet) above the sidewalk and located at both ends of the crosswalk.

University Course

After reviewing civil engineering and planning curricula at universities across the United States, safety professionals at FHWA discovered an absence of information on accommodating pedestrian and bicyclist issues. Many students graduate without having a working knowledge of how to integrate walking and biking facilities into the planning and design of roadways. When informal feedback from professors indicated a lack of time or inclination to generate their own materials, FHWA began developing a university course on pedestrian and bicyclist facility design.

Completed in 2002, the course material is intended for use in undergraduate- or graduate-level transportation planning and design curricula at universities and related institutions. The course provides current information on pedestrian and bicycle planning and design techniques, as well as practical lessons on how to increase bicycling and walking through land-use practices and engineering design.

Developed in coordination with professors, the course is designed to be modular so that faculty members can teach it as a complete full-semester course, in segments, or as topics extracted to incorporate into their own courses. FHWA also received input from industry, State and local jurisdictions, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Human Powered Transportation Committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and other transportation organizations.

An interdisciplinary team approach to planning and implementing bicycle and pedestrian programs helped create materials that can be used to train future transportation professionals representing a variety of disciplines, including planners, engineers, and landscape architects.

2 pedestrians looking to their right for oncoming traffic. Carol Tan Esse, FHWA

2 pedestrians crossing road as car yields to allow them across. Carol Tan Esse, FHWA

Two pedestrians look to their right for oncoming traffic as they wait at a wheelchair-accessible median.

After a car yields to them, the two pedestrians complete their crossing.

Course Components

One component of the course, the Student's Guide, has 24 modules arranged into three sections. The introductory section covers the history of nonmotorized transportation, current levels of bicycling and walking, and factors that influence the choice to bicycle or walk. The planning section provides lessons covering a range of planning issues, including crash types, local bicycle or pedestrian plans, travel in suburban communities, traditional neighborhood design, and local zoning and subdivision regulations. The design modules cover a range of issues in nonmotorized transportation design such as traffic calming, pedestrian accommodation at intersections, on-road bicycle facilities, and trail design.

The Instructor's Guide parallels the Student's Guide, providing goals and objectives for each lesson, activities and homework problems, and overheads for the instructor to use while teaching the course. The final components are scripted, 1-hour slideshows providing an overview of pedestrian and bicycle planning and design.

To date, more than 90 professors have participated in workshops designed to introduce the course and materials. Gene Russell, professor emeritus of civil engineering at Kansas State University (KSU), attended an early workshop in 1999. "I could see right away that the materials would be excellent for a course," he says. "Whether you're teaching graduate engineering students or offering an elective course for professional development, the materials are flexible so you can use what you want and add your own supplemental materials."

Russell, who teaches a graduate version of the course, emphasizes the importance of teaching pedestrian facility design to new generations of engineers and designers. "Increasingly, communities and pedestrian advocates are putting pressure on engineers and policymakers to create more and safer environments for nonmotorized traffic, and we need to build them right," he says.

FHWA plans to continue promoting the university course nationwide. The course materials are available on the Web at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/safety/pedbike/05085/. The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals also has put together a task force to help promote the course.

The Road Ahead

Achieving FHWA's goal of reducing pedestrian fatalities and injuries requires a comprehensive program that touches on all aspects of the pedestrian safety problem. By employing innovative approaches to reaching out to roadway users and designers, FHWA can have the greatest impact. We will not be satisfied until there are no pedestrian fatalities and injuries.


Tamara Redmon is a transportation specialist in FHWA's Safety Office. She has worked for FHWA for 11 years and currently manages the pedestrian and bicyclist safety program. She has a B.A. in English from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and an M.A. in human resource management from Marymount University.

Leverson Boodlal has more than 20 years experience in highway and transportation safety projects. He is a consultant to FHWA, currently serving as technical manager and developer on projects involving pedestrian and highway safety. He has a B.S. degree in civil engineering, an M.S. in transportation and traffic planning, an executive MBA, and he is a registered professional engineer.

For more information on pedestrian/bicyclist issues, please visit http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/.

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