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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 73 · No. 2 > Road Safety Audits for Pedestrian Facilities|
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-09-006
Road Safety Audits for Pedestrian Facilities
by Kohinoor Kar and Michael R. Blankenship
From sidewalk obstructions to inaccessible pushbuttons, RSAs in Arizona reveal common problems to watch for.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrians account for nearly 11 percent of roadway fatalities. In 2007, that equated to the loss of 4,654 pedestrian lives. Improving safety and mobility for pedestrians, bicyclists, and others using nonmotorized travel modes is a critical goal of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and State and local departments of transportation (DOTs).
One tool that FHWA and State and local DOTs have found effective in identifying potential safety issues and recommending countermeasures is the road safety audit (RSA). FHWA defines an RSA as a formal examination of the safety performance of an existing or planned road or intersection by an independent audit team. As described in the publication FHWA Road Safety Audit Guidelines (FHWA-SA-06-06), RSAs are different from traditional safety reviews in a number of key ways. First, an RSA is performed by a multidisciplinary team, including safety and design experts independent of the project, ensuring objective critiques. Another key difference is that RSAs always result in generation of a formal report.
Further, while traditional safety reviews focus primarily on vehicle traffic, RSAs broaden the scope to consider all potential road users and account for their capabilities and limitations. "A top priority for RSAs is to consider all roadway users, minimizing the unintended consequences, especially for pedestrians," says Craig Allred, a transportation specialist on the Safety and Design Team at the FHWA Resource Center.
The benefits of an RSA include the design and reconstruction of facilities that reduce the number and severity of crashes, and the reduction of costs by identifying safety issues and correcting them before projects are built. RSAs also promote awareness of safe design practices, the value of integrating multimodal safety concerns, and consideration of human factors in all facets of design.
FHWA initiated an RSA pilot project with State DOTs in 1997. Since then, the agency has completed numerous case studies on RSAs conducted across the United States. In 2007, FHWA published a series of case studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of RSAs. Arizona was chosen to participate in one of the case studies because FHWA had identified it and Phoenix as a focus State and city for improving pedestrian safety. Although all RSAs should include a review of pedestrian safety as applicable, some DOTs, including the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), now are placing greater focus on pedestrian safety during their RSAs.
ADOT, which calls its RSAs "road safety assessments," established a Road Safety Assessment Program that handles RSAs statewide, including the State highway systems, county and city roadway systems, and Indian Reservation Roads. As of July 2009, ADOT had conducted 25 RSAs within various jurisdictions. The city of Phoenix has conducted several RSAs, including hosting a case study featured in the FHWA publication Pedestrian Road Safety Audit Guidelines and Prompt Lists (FHWA-SA-07-007), which is a pedestrian-specific guide that presents a broad overview of the RSA process and how pedestrians should be considered in that process. (FHWA completed pilot pedestrian RSAs in 2008 to test the application of these guidelines in the field, and in 2009 all pedestrian focus States received training on applying the guidelines.)
"It is rare during an RSA to find complete facilitation for pedestrian needs," Allred says. Because pedestrians are among the most vulnerable road users, RSA teams need to emphasize pedestrian safety while considering the safety of drivers, passengers, and other road users. "Pedestrian RSAs are a valuable tool to enhance walkability," he says.
Although Arizona has not conducted pedestrian-only RSAs, the State's experience indicates that vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, bicyclists, and persons in wheelchairs, are not always accommodated in the design and construction of transportation facilities. Below, ADOT researchers share some of the typical pedestrian-safety issues they observed while conducting RSAs, highlighting key findings and a few lessons learned along the way.
As noted earlier, FHWA developed national guidelines to help DOTs perform RSAs and pedestrian RSAs. These guidelines are based on literature reviews, case studies, and peer exchanges across the country and, thus, provide a systematic and formalized approach to performing facility audits.
According to the FHWA guidelines, an RSA or pedestrian RSA involves the following eight steps: (1) identify a project or existing road, (2) select a multidisciplinary team, (3) conduct a startup meeting to exchange information, (4) perform field reviews under various conditions, (5) conduct an RSA analysis and prepare a findings report, (6) present findings to the project owner or design team, (7) prepare a formal response, and (8) incorporate findings into the project when appropriate.
The guidelines for conducting pedestrian RSAs include detailed prompt lists that provide a high-level outline of the topics typically considered at each stage and highlight areas that should be examined for safety issues. For example, when auditing pedestrian facilities, RSA teams should consider the following: the presence, design, and placement of pedestrian features; their quality and condition; their continuity and connectivity; lighting; and visibility.
DOTs can conduct pedestrian RSAs at any stage of a project, including preconstruction (planning, preliminary design, final design), construction (work zone traffic control, preopening), and postconstruction (existing road open to traffic); however, ADOT officials suggest the earlier the better from the point of view of cost effectiveness. For example, an RSA performed at the planning or preliminary design stage could be more beneficial than one conducted during construction or after the project is completed, when making changes can be costly.
Even though pedestrian considerations always should be an important element in any RSA, a pedestrian-specific RSA might be warranted for particular locations with anticipated or actual safety issues. When historical crash and injury data or engineering judgment deems specific locations to have pedestrian safety issues, an RSA might be an ideal tool.
While conducting RSAs on Arizona facilities, ADOT researchers discovered that some pedestrian signal locations and installations did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, one local agency had installed traffic signals at five intersections on a rural divided highway and included pedestrian signals. However, the agency did not provide any other pedestrian accommodations, such as sidewalks or accessible pushbutton locations. Another agency had installed a pushbutton in a location that required the pedestrian to stand between the guardrail and turning traffic, with very little refuge area.
The RSA team's recommendations at these sites included providing ADA- compliant signal installations and removing pedestrian signals until proper accomodations were installed.
One busy urban intersection with convenience stores and check-cashing facilities on all four corners had only one street light, making it difficult for motorists to see pedestrians crossing the intersection at night. As a result of the RSA, the city is exploring options to improve lighting at this location.
Elsewhere, an RSA team visited a section of high-speed arterial in an urban area that had been the site of 14 pedestrian crashes over a 6-year period (2001 to 2006), including three fatal pedestrian crashes over a 4-year period (2000 to 2003). A convenience market, a bar, a post office, and several motels, condos, and residences are located along this section of arterial. While conducting the RSA at this location, the audit team observed a steady flow of pedestrians crossing the five-lane arterial, both during the day and at night, near an unsignalized intersection with no marked crosswalks. The closest signalized intersections are approximately 1,300 and 1,600 feet (396 and 488 meters) from the crossing location with the high volume of pedestrian traffic.
The team witnessed several pedestrians crossing at midblock just south and just north of the unsignalized intersection. Most would cross halfway and then wait in the center turn lane for a gap in traffic before continuing their crossing maneuvers. Others simply ran across the arterial, darting among moving vehicles. Local drivers might expect to see these types of pedestrian activities, but a large number of tourists also use this route and might not anticipate pedestrians in the middle of a five-lane highway.
According to ADOT's crash database and police crash reports, 79 percent of the pedestrian crashes at this location occurred at night. Although one side of the road offers continuous lighting, the RSA team found it difficult to see pedestrians crossing the highway in the dark. As a part of the RSA, the team reviewed crash reports from drivers who struck pedestrians at this location and found statements including the following: "I always slow down in the area because of the lighting, and I know people cross the highway at night and it's hard to see them," and "Even with my headlights and the headlights from the vehicle in the inner lane, I still did not see the pedestrians until they were directly in front of me."
As a result of the audit, FHWA approved the use of Federal funding from the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) to implement a number of RSA recommendations to improve pedestrian safety at this location. Specifically, ADOT will conduct a lighting assessment, improve the lighting infrastructure, install an in-road warning light system with light-emitting diode (LED) pedestrian crossing signs, and put in high-visibility crosswalks and advance warning signs.
In terms of transit operations and pedestrian safety, the audit teams found that some bus stop locations and transit schedules unintentionally encouraged pedestrians to make hazardous crossing movements when trying to transfer to another bus. Team members observed transit riders darting across busy streets at the intersection and at midblock locations to avoid missing their connections.
RSA recommendations therefore included relocating bus stops and adjusting bus schedules to allow more time between transfers. The team also recommended that the city explore the need for accommodating midblock crossings, including the use of two-stage crosswalks.
The RSA teams also observed a number of sidewalk-related issues during the course of conducting their audits. These issues included inconsistent or nonexistent use of truncated domes (detectable warnings required by the ADA to help visually impaired pedestrians detect the boundary between the sidewalk and the street), improper ramps, steep cross slopes where sidewalks intersect steep driveways, sidewalk discontinuities at raised islands, edge dropoffs, and dropoffs at drainage facilities.
Recommendations included providing ADA-compliant accommodations such as curb ramps, truncated domes, and proper sidewalk cross slopes.
During one RSA, the audit team identified a free-flowing, high-speed, right-turn lane that created unsafe crossing situations for pedestrians at an intersection near a residential area and local government office complex. The team's recommendations included realigning the right-turn lane to reduce the turning radius and, therefore, right-turn speeds.
Elsewhere, a suburban intersection with an office park, convenience store, and restaurants on the corners had a pedestrian crossing distance that included seven vehicle lanes, two bike lanes, and a median. Implementation plans stemming from the RSA include providing pedestrian countdown signals and installing a refuge area in the median.
The audit teams noted numerous obstructions that inhibited accessibility and sight distances for pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. Obstructions included utility and light poles in the middle of the sidewalk, trees overhanging the sidewalk, a gate installed to prohibit motorized vehicles from using a recreational trail, and vehicles parked on the sidewalk. The teams also observed instances where private property owners were encroaching on the public space by constructing walls on the sidewalk and store owners were stacking new tires and parking all-terrain vehicles on the sidewalk.
The audit teams' recommendations included removing the obstructions, delineating the poles with reflective bands, using bollards (metal or wood posts) instead of gates, and improving enforcement of city ordinances.
Based on Arizona's experience, a multidisciplinary approach is particularly important to ensure a well-rounded, comprehensive RSA. "Having law enforcement officials participate on the RSA team is critical to the development of safety countermeasures for pedestrians," says Karen King, a safety engineer with the FHWA Arizona Division Office, who participated in the RSAs. "They offer a unique vantage point in regard to pedestrian and driver behavior, which contributes greatly to successful problem identification and solutions."
Additional specialty disciplines might be beneficial to have on the team as well. For example, where private property owners are encroaching on sidewalks, it might help to have someone from the city planning department or code enforcement on the team. Pre-RSA coordination with the road agency requesting the RSA can help identify these issues, which in turn can guide the selection of appropriate members for the team.
Another lesson learned is the value of conducting a field review at night as part of the RSA. One local traffic engineer informed her RSA team that she never would have known about the high volume of pedestrian and bicyclist traffic using a poorly lit intersection at night without the nighttime RSA review.
A strong DOT or agency commitment to ensuring safety for all road users is important not only in identifying safety countermeasures but also in implementing them quickly. For example, when ADOT participated in an FHWA-sponsored RSA case study for the city of Phoenix, one of the audit team's suggested countermeasures was to improve the accessibility of a pushbutton for a pedestrian signal at the entrance to a high school. Before the ink had dried and the final RSA report had been delivered to the city, Phoenix's Street Transportation Department had made the recommended improvements at this location.
Also, the ADOT researchers concluded that the reactive culture of some roadway agencies sometimes stands in direct conflict with the proactive nature of an RSA. For example, some agencies do not consider a location to have a pedestrian safety issue unless a fatal crash involving pedestrians has occurred there. An RSA can help identify pedestrian safety issues before a tragedy occurs.
Although crash history is a primary method for determining where to conduct an RSA, there are other, more proactive ways to select RSA locations. For example, road agencies should consider pedestrian RSAs in locations with high pedestrian activity, such as near schools, fast-food restaurants, convenience markets, parks, post offices, hotels, and offices. Also, the local law enforcement agency can provide keen insight into problem areas that might warrant an RSA. Recognizing and overcoming the tendencies of a reactive culture could help reduce the number of pedestrian injuries and fatalities in the United States.
Kohinoor Kar, Ph.D., P.E., PTOE, is a transportation safety engineer at ADOT. He has a doctorate in civil engineering, specializing in transportation engineering, from Michigan's Wayne State University. He has experience as a practitioner, researcher, instructor, and consultant. Kar serves on a number of national and State safety research advisory committees.
Michael R. Blankenship, P.E., is the manager of the Arizona Road Safety Assessment Program. He has BSCE and MSCE degrees, specializing in transportation engineering, from West Virginia University. He was the manager of the West Virginia Local Technical Assistance Program Center, where he conducted numerous RSAs as the Safety Circuit Rider.
ADOT acknowledges the support and resources provided by FHWA through its RSA and HSIP programs. The authors are thankful to all participants in the RSAs conducted through the Arizona RSA Program and FHWA case studies.
Disclaimer: Any statements expressed in this article are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of ADOT.
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