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Pedestrian Crossing Signs: Four Trends to Watch

Pedestrian crossing signs play a vital role in helping to manage traffic flow in communities of all sizes.  Their importance will only increase in years to come due to these ongoing trends:

1. Economic development – As recent reports show, the world economy is beginning to recover from the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009.  This trend towards global prosperity is welcome, but it also means more challenges for those who must manage ever-increasing amounts of foot traffic in commercial and retail areas.  These challenges are going to be especially acute in regions that are just beginning to develop a viable commercial base, as locals will be unaccustomed to the lifestyle changes associated with urbanization.

2. Cultural globalization – Cultural barriers are collapsing on every continent and bringing together people from vastly different backgrounds.  Westerners commonly travel to Asia, while Asians regularly visit the United States, Canada, and Europe.  The Global South is also seeing a rapid influx of visitors from other lands.  These exchanges offer rich opportunities for promoting understanding and peace, but they also pose special challenges to public safety officials who must ensure that public crossing signs are easily recognized and understood by all pedestrians.

3. Technological distractions – People today enjoy unprecedented levels of connectivity with employers, friends, and family.  But this new era of personalized communication means that both pedestrians and motorists are more distracted than ever with multiple messages competing for their limited attention.  This means that designers of pedestrian crossing signs must find ways to engage pedestrians and motorists to ensure that travelers stay aware of their surroundings.

4. Geriatrification – As a whole, the population of the developed world is getting older.  Along with increased age comes declining mental and physical abilities, including lower levels of perception, increased reaction times, and decreased mobility.  Public signage that once commanded attention may be ignored or noticed too late to avoid injuries.

Pedestrian crossing signs must adapt to these trends in order to remain effective.  These adaptations will develop along the following lines:

1. Greater prominence – For example, so-called “zebra markings,” which consist of black and white stripes across the road surface, will be phased out by measures more likely to command public attention.  As this news story indicates, some of these new methods will involve making signs taller and adding reflective compounds.

2. Universal symbols – Signage will rely more on graphics and less on words.  Eventually, this may lead to standardized traffic symbols across the globe.

3. Technological sophistication – The low cost and energy efficiency of light emitting diodes (LEDs) and modern microchips is enabling new displays with flashing lights, evening illumination, and timed functions, all of which catch the eye of nearby pedestrians and drivers.

4. Interactivity – The Internet is already a near-universal mode of communication.  However, web access is mostly limited to tablets, smartphones, and desktop or laptop computers.  This is rapidly changing though, and it has begun to affect street signage.  This may eventually lead to pedestrians signs that not only mark crosswalks but display information about public events, traffic levels, and special weather conditions.  Along with the promising potential of this new technology will be ongoing concerns about tampering and vandalism, both of which could have negative effects on public safety.

Nothing stays the same forever, including the design of pedestrian crossing signs.  Trends like economic development and human aging are presenting new conundrums for public safety planners.  At the same time, new technological developments are also offering better resources for ensuring pedestrian safety.
The challenge for both public and private officials is to employ these resources to safeguard all who use the world’s transportation infrastructure.  This task should not prove insurmountable as long as those who face it use imagination, insight, and sound judgment.