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Complete Streets: Ensuring Crosswalk Safety

Crosswalk safety is essential for any properly functioning mass transit system. Unfortunately, injuries and fatalities at crosswalks continue despite the efforts of public safety officials.  The following statistics tell a grim story:

  • 4,784 pedestrians were killed in crosswalk accidents in 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
  • The victims of crosswalk injuries are mostly children and seniors—the segments of the nation’s population most likely to suffer serious injury or death from mishaps.
  • The number of injuries and deaths at crosswalks is expected to increase over the next several years.  This is due to many factors, including the growing number of older persons, renewed emphasis on physical activity, and high gas prices.
  • As the nation’s population increases, areas that were once rural are becoming urbanized.  With this trend comes more crosswalks and an ever-greater potential for accidents.
  • Researchers have found that the most often used method for preventing crosswalk accidents—striped lines on the roadways—is ineffective.  In one Federal Highway Administration study, an analysis of incidents at more than 2,000 crosswalks showed no difference in accident rates between marked and unmarked crossings.


Together, these statistics point to a future increase in crosswalk-related accidents.  Stopping this trend requires aggressive action on the part of traffic planners and public safety officials.  These efforts should center around two types of initiatives: improved crosswalk safety measures and increased public education.


Promoting Crosswalk Safety through Infrastructure Improvements

Studies on the general public’s knowledge about crosswalks reveal a number of misconceptions among pedestrians.  They tend to believe the following:

  1. They can only cross streets at marked walkways, even when local laws state otherwise.
  2. Motorists can see crosswalk patterns as well as them.
  3. Marked walkways are safer crossing points than unmarked ones.


Number one is so commonly believed that it’s even included in some crosswalk safety guides! However, municipalities and local authorities don’t create formal crosswalks to establish the rights of those on foot.  Rather, they place them where the foot traffic justifies their presence.


In other words, crosswalks don’t create a right-of-way for pedestrians.  Rather, they serve as notices to drivers that a particular spot is more likely to have significant foot traffic.  Therefore, motorists should exercise greater care in those areas.  However, what drivers should do and what they actually do isn’t always the same thing.  Distracted, inattentive, or impatient persons often fly through marked crosswalks, either not seeing pedestrians or not respecting their rights.


This doesn’t mean that markings are useless.  Rather, it shows that public officials should implement additional safety measures around frequently used crossing areas.  These may include any or all of the following:

  • Pedestrian warning signs and reflective posts along roadsides
  • Rumble strips on roads near crosswalks
  • Flashing caution lights installed in the pavement
  • Traffic signals
  • Curb extensions, narrowed lanes, and other traffic-calming measures
  • Overhead crosswalk signs
  • Speed tables (speed bumps with flattened tops)
  • Raised refuge islands for pedestrians in the center of multi-lane roads
  • Rapidly flashing lights. These have proven especially effective in several locales.  For example, in St. Petersburg, Florida, they led to a tenfold increase in the percentage of times drivers yielded to foot traffic, from 8% to 80%.
  • Traffic signals that show pedestrians how many seconds they have to cross a street before the light turns green for motorists


Increased law enforcement efforts also noticeably affect how often drivers yield to pedestrians.  For example, in Portland, Oregon, police conduct monthly sting operations at intersections where pedestrians report inattentive or rude motorists.  When a vehicle fails to yield to those on foot, officers record the incident and ticket the driver.


Educating the Public about Crosswalk Safety

To be truly effective, officials should supplement infrastructure improvements and law enforcement efforts with public safety campaigns.  These programs should educate drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists on the fundamentals of crosswalk safety, including the following guidelines.


For Pedestrians

  • Walkers should look to their left, then their right, then to their left again before crossing streets.
  • Walkers should make eye contact with approaching motorists to ensure the driver sees them.
  • Walkers should make sure all traffic lanes are clear before crossing. Just because one driver waves them on doesn’t mean that motorists in other lanes see them as well.


For Cyclists

  • Bicycle riders should remember that unless they’re walking their bike, they’re considered vehicle operators, not pedestrians.
  • Bicycle riders should use reserved bike or multi-lane paths whenever possible.
  • Bicycle riders should be especially cautious when crossing between roads, sidewalks, and bike paths.  Pedestrians and motorists may not be paying attention to their movements.


For Motorists

  • Drivers should always be on the alert for cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Drivers should be ready to stop as they approach marked crossways.
  • Drivers should always come to a complete stop if they see pedestrians waiting to cross the road.
  • Drivers should never pass another vehicle that has stopped or is slowing down at a crosswalk.
  • Drivers should wait until pedestrians have crossed at least one lane beyond the lane their vehicle is in before resuming driving.



The number of pedestrians using the nation’s roadways will continue to increase for the foreseeable future.  This will create additional challenges for public safety officials as well as motorists, bicyclists, and those who travel by foot.  By implementing appropriate traffic safety systems and education programs, however, the human cost that comes with these changes can be minimized.


For more information on products that can increase crosswalk safety, contact Impact Recovery Systems today at 1-800-736-5256.