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Are Pedestrian Crosswalk Signs Effective?

Believe it or not, pedestrian crosswalks have been used for more than 20 centuries to help ensure the safety of foot traffic.  In recent years, however, some experts have begun to question their value, especially in cases where un-signalized, or zebra-striped, crossings are the only markers in place.  Critics of their use make the following points:


  • A five-year study of 1,000 marked intersections found no significant safety enhancements when compared to unmarked locations.
  • In areas with traffic of more than 12,000 vehicles a day, marked crossways have worse safety statistics than unmarked areas, except in places with supplemental measures implemented, such as pedestrian refuge islands.
  • In areas with traffic of more than 15,000 vehicles a day, even the addition of refuge islands or other measures failed to make marked crosswalks safer than unmarked ones.


Signals Make All the Difference

The above findings are taken from a study that excluded locations without a stop sign or traffic signal in place.  This points to the conclusion that signaling devices are vital to ensuring crosswalk safety, especially in areas with larger amounts of traffic.  Some of the device options available include the following:


  • Pre-programmed signals that operate according to times fixed by traffic officials and based on local studies.
  • Signals that work on an “on-demand” basis, meaning that pedestrians can stop traffic both ways by pushing a button.
  • Flashing signals set ahead of crosswalks to give advance warning to motorists that they are approaching a pedestrian intersection.
  • In-Street Pedestrian Signs that warn oncoming vehicles of the impending crosswalk.


Local conditions may require using a combination of these measures.  For example, in rural areas a flashing signal may advise drivers that they’re approaching a settled community, while a pre-programmed or on-demand signal may provide additional safety for foot traffic within town limits.  While exact applications will vary based on circumstances, though, the evidence that un-signalized crossings are ineffective in many areas is abundant enough to warrant action on behalf of pedestrians.