To promote pedestrian and vehicular safety on roadways, federal safety and traffic laws are in place to reduce the risk and rate of pedestrian fatalities and injuries.
In urban and suburban areas, pedestrian crossing areas are called islands and refuges. They can also be called center islands, refuge islands, pedestrian islands, and median slow points. All refer to a raised island located at a street intersection or in midblock locations to separate pedestrians who are crossing the street from traffic.
While pedestrian safety areas in between roads and highways give people some degree of protection from accidents and fatalities, most accidents happen while pedestrians are in transit in between the island and surrounding roads. However, the following safety mechanisms can reduce the risk of incident.
Intersection Median Barriers
Intersection median barriers extend through the intersection. They help pedestrians cross by slowing oncoming traffic and reducing the frequency of left turns that cars can make. They reduce vehicle entry into and out of neighborhoods, which in turn lowers the amount of overall traffic. Although median barriers are beneficial to pedestrians, they can significantly alter traffic patterns and cause a buildup of traffic congestion. The riskiest time to use median barriers is right after they are installed, as most accidents happen when drivers and pedestrians are not used to new traffic changes.
T-intersections are used in residential areas to slow traffic speeds. According to the Department of Transportation, 80 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur when people are hit from vehicles traveling at speeds of 40 MPH or more. Fewer than 10 percent of people are killed by cars traveling at slower speeds. Therefore, T-intersections, which involve a gradual curb extension or bulb at the top of the T, discourage traffic cut-through and reduce speeds in the intersection.
Pedestrian signals are safety measures commonly installed at traffic signals. These are the “WALK/DON’T WALK” signals that indicate to pedestrians when it is safe to cross the road. Some signals have accompanying chirping noises to help visually impaired pedestrians know when it’s safe to cross the road. These signals appear most often in wide streets, when pedestrian clearance knowledge is helpful, and in school zones.
In the 1970s, new laws let vehicles make right turns at red lights. The law was intended to be a fuel-saving measure. While useful for vehicles, the law was less helpful for pedestrians. Although the law requires turning vehicles to come to a full stop before turning, many do not. Motorists often look left for oncoming traffic, but fail to look right before moving, which puts pedestrians in harm’s way. In an effort to protect pedestrians, some localities have imposed restrictions that prevent vehicles from making right turns at intersections unless they have a green light.
Traffic Signal Enhancements
As more pedestrians and cyclists are entering the roadways, technology is playing an important role in improving their safety. Automatic pedestrian detectors are one type of new safety measure that officials are using to improve pedestrian crossing areas. Some locations have also added visual and audio countdown signals to warn pedestrians about how much time is left for them to safely cross the road.
Signs leading up to crossing areas are one of the oldest forms of supplemental pedestrian safety measures. The intent of signs is to warn motorists of upcoming hazards, such as crosswalks and speed modifications when they are entering a reduced-speed zone. Signs are effective ways to indicate potential hazards to motorists, provided they are not overused. Signs should also have adequate reflective materials to be visible at night.
Signals on traffic lights create gaps in traffic flow, which in turn gives pedestrians time to cross the road. Signals are most effective in high-volume roads and intersections, and on roads with higher travel speeds. Signals help pedestrians and bicyclists navigate multi-land roads and highly congested intersections too. Nationwide, warrants from the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to install signals are given based on the number of pedestrians and cars at a particular intersection.
Safety crossing measures of all kinds can reduce pedestrian fatalities by up to 46 percent and motor vehicle crashes by up to 39 percent. They give pedestrians a safe halfway point while crossing roads, and they enhance visibility of pedestrian crossings.