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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-15-043    Date:  June 2015
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-15-043
Date: June 2015

 

Investigating Improvements to Pedestrian Crossings With An Emphasis on The Rectangular Rapid-Flashing Beacon

CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION

BACKGROUND

Several methods have been used to emphasize the presence of a pedestrian crossing, including methods with beacons or embedded light-emitting diodes (LED). A device that has received national attention is the rectangular rapid-flashing beacon (RRFB). On July 16, 2008, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provided interim approval (formally listed as IA-11) for the optional use of rectangular rapid-flashing beacons.(1) FHWA approved the use of this device at pedestrian and school crosswalks across uncontrolled approaches and defined it in IA-11 as the following:

  • An RRFB shall consist of two rapidly and alternately flashing rectangular yellow indications having LED-array based pulsing light sources, and shall be designed, located, and operated in accordance with the detailed requirements specified” in the interim approval.(1)

RRFBs appear to be different than previously used pedestrian crossing treatments, displaying noteworthy characteristics that seem to produce improved vehicle stopping and yielding behavior to pedestrians. These noteworthy characteristics include the following:

  • Brighter. The use of LEDs appears to provide greater brightness, which could improve recognition.

  • Rapid-flashing pattern. Compared with slower flashing beacons, the rapid flash appears to imply urgency to drivers.

  • Only flashing when pedestrian is present. The treatment is activated by a pedestrian, typically via a pedestrian pushbutton, which results in the beacons only being active when a crossing is desired rather than flashing continuously. The activated nature of the treatment better communicates that a pedestrian is actually present and wanting to cross the roadway.

The Signals Technical Committee (STC) of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) assists in developing language for chapter 4 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).(2) The STC is interested in research and/or assistance in developing material on the RRFB. Earlier research studies did not address certain issues that the STC believes are important in crafting language suitable for creating a uniform standard for the MUTCD. The STC sought advice on several issues, including whether the housings have to be rectangular and whether circular-shaped housings will achieve the same effect.

As a result of FHWA providing interim approval (as IA-11) for the optional use of RRFBs and the NCUTCD’s interest in addressing issues such as beacon shape and size, this research investigated size and shape of the beacon, brightness/glare issues, and position of the beacon. The research later focused on the shape (rectangular and circular) of rapid-flashing beacons. The research included a closed-course study and an open-road study.

The closed-course study was designed to investigate the ability of a driver to detect an object (box, trash can, or pedestrian) placed about 3 ft beyond a beacon assembly for different combinations of beacon shape (circular or rectangular), size (8 or 12 inches in diameter for the circular), and placement (above or below the sign). One of the objectives of the closed-course research effort was to identify assemblies for field (open road) evaluation. Because of the common use of the RRFB below the sign, it was considered the baseline device and was selected for inclusion in the open-road study. Considering the challenges with switching devices at a location, only one additional device was suggested for testing. The suggested alternative was the 12-inch circular beacons located below the sign. It had longer sign legibility distances during the night, and longer object detection distances during both day and night compared with other assemblies.

The open-road study was designed to investigate 1) whether drivers yield differently to circular or rectangular beacons when used with a rapid-flashing pattern, 2) whether a driver is more likely to yield to a pedestrian when the rapid-flashing beacon is activated than when it is not activated, and 3) whether vehicle traffic volume affects driver yielding.

STUDY OBJECTIVE

The research included a closed-course study and an open-road study. The closed-course study had the following objectives:

  • Determine whether the shape, size, and placement of flashing beacon/LEDs affect the following:

    • Sign legibility and symbol identification distances.

    • o Object detection.

  • Determine driver ratings of disability glare for 8-inch circular beacons and LED-embedded signs using a rapid flash pattern.

  • Identify up to two assemblies for field evaluation to be conducted following the conclusion of the closed-course tasks.

The open-road study had the following objectives:

  • Determine whether drivers yielded differently to circular or rectangular beacons when used with a rapid-flashing pattern.

  • Determine to what extent, if any, a driver is more likely to yield to a pedestrian when the rapid-flashing beacon is activated than when it is not activated.

  • Determine whether vehicle traffic volume affects driver yielding.

SCOPE OF WORK

The goal of this research effort is to improve pedestrian safety at urban and suburban crossing locations by identifying and evaluating low- to medium-cost pedestrian countermeasures to reduce pedestrian fatalities and injuries at these locations. This research effort focuses on countermeasures that can be implemented at unsignalized pedestrian crossing locations and that previously have not been rigorously evaluated from a safety perspective.

STUDY APPROACH

The research was conducted in a series of tasks as follows:

Task 1—Hold Kickoff Meeting. The research team met with FHWA staff to discuss the project direction, scope, and work plan.

Task 2—Organize a Technical Advisory Panel. The research team identified and organized a Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) comprising a diverse set of stakeholders representing Federal, State, and local governments; academia; nonprofit organizations; and private industry. The role of the TAP has been to participate in meetings, provide input to FHWA and the research team, and review documents for the project.

Task 3.1—Conduct a Literature Review on Midblock Crossings. The research team conducted a literature review of pedestrian safety and behavior at midblock crossings in urban and suburban settings. This literature review focused on midblock crossing locations in urban and suburban conditions, but also included literature on pedestrian crossings at intersections.

Task 3.2—Gather Data on Pedestrian Crashes and Local Field Observations. The research team conducted an analysis of pedestrian crash datasets and field observations at selected midblock pedestrian crossing locations. The purpose of the crash dataset review was to document the characteristics, circumstances, and contributing factors for crashes at midblock pedestrian crossings, and to assess the suitability of these databases for any safety evaluations to be conducted in the research. The purpose of the local field observations was to serve as a first step toward deciding the types of treatment and locations to be studied later in the research.

Task 3.3—Prepare a Draft Work Plan for the Proposed Evaluation. Based on the results of Tasks 3.1 and 3.2, the research team generated a list of five proposed crossing countermeasures for evaluation in the research. A final selection of countermeasures for evaluation was made during Task 4. For each of the potential countermeasures, the research team prepared a draft work plan.

Task 3.4—Develop the Marketing Plan for the Project. The research team developed the Marketing, Communication, and Outreach Plan (MCOP), which summarized the most cost effective, high-leverage communications opportunities, strategies, and tactics for a successful marketing, communications, and outreach campaign explaining how practitioners can use design and operational information related to selected countermeasures.

Task 4.1—Organize, Prepare, and Conduct Briefing Meeting at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) with FHWA and TAP. The research team conducted a briefing meeting at TFHRC that included FHWA, TAP, and members of the research team. At the meeting, draft work plans and a draft MCOP were presented and discussed. During the meeting, advice and direction for the research team was gathered. At the briefing meeting, it was decided that the research team would conduct a closed-course study and an open-road study, focusing on the shape, size, and location of rapid-flashing beacons. The research team developed a final work plan for these two studies.

Task 4.2—Conduct a Teleconference or Web Conference with FHWA and TAP. The research team conducted a conference call with FHWA and TAP to discuss the final work plan.

Task 5—Evaluate Selected Pedestrian Crossing Countermeasures. The research team conducted a closed-course study to investigate the ability of a driver to detect an object placed beyond a beacon assembly for different combinations of beacon shape, size, and placement. The research team also conducted an open-road study to investigate driver yielding as a function of beacon shape, beacon activation, and traffic volume.

Task 6—Develop Technical Briefs, Final Comprehensive Technical Report, and MCOP. The research team developed the following final documents for the research:

  • MCOP.

  • Technical Report.

  • TechBrief.

REPORT ORGANIZATION

This report includes the following chapters:

  • Chapter 1. Introduction. This chapter presents general background information along with the research objective and the approach used for the closed-course and open-road studies conducted as part of this research.

  • Chapter 2. Literature Review. This chapter presents findings from the literature review that relates to the phase II studies along with supplemental literature reviews conducted as part of phase II research efforts. The full literature review is included in the appendix. The literature review findings provided direction regarding the countermeasures to be studied.

  • Chapter 3. Gather Data on Pedestrian Crashes. This chapter documents the results of a review and analysis of existing pedestrian crash databases.

  • Chapter 4. Local Field Observations. This chapter documents the results of field observations at midblock pedestrian crossings.

  • Chapter 5. Closed-Course Study. This chapter documents the results of a closed-course study designed to investigate the ability of a driver to detect an object placed beyond a beacon assembly for different combinations of beacon shape, size, and placement.

  • Chapter 6. Open-Road Study. This chapter documents the results of an open-road study to investigate driver yielding as a function of beacon shape, beacon activation, and traffic volume.

  • Chapter 7. Summary/Conclusions, Discussion, and Future Research Needs. The final chapter provides a summary and the conclusions of the research, and presents future research needs.

  • Appendix. Literature Review. The appendix contains the full literature review conducted during phase I.

 

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