While state law requires cars to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, marked crosswalks have shown time and again to be more dangerous than unmarked crosswalks.
In 2006 a pedestrian in Millbrae, California suffered extensive brain damage after being struck by a passing car while she was in a marked crosswalk at an intersection without a traffic signal. The area where the pedestrian was struck has six lanes of traffic and a raised median and sees an average of more than 25,000 vehicles a day. Within a ten year period after the crash, with no safety improvements added to the intersection, four other pedestrians were killed at the same marked crosswalk.
USDOT Study Compares Safety of Marked vs Unmarked Crosswalks
Pedestrians account for only three percent of car accidents, but 22 percent of accident deaths. In a 2005 study to determine the safety of marked crosswalks, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), Federal Highway Administration analyzed 5 years of pedestrian crashes at 1,000 marked crosswalks and 1,000 unmarked comparison sites, collecting date on traffic volume, pedestrian exposure, number of lanes, median type, speed limit, and other site variables. All sites in the study had no traffic signal or stop sign on the approaches.
Study Concludes Marked Crosswalk Alone More Dangerous Than If Unmarked
The study revealed that, on roadways with four or more lanes with traffic volumes above about 12,000 vehicles per day, having a marked crosswalk alone (without other improvements) was associated with a higher pedestrian crash rate compared to an unmarked crosswalk. The study also noted that pedestrians who assume cars will see the crosswalk and stop for them may not be watchful while crossing. The study found that in marked crosswalks without streetlights, pedestrians are 2-3 times more likely to be hit by a car, and recommended other improvements such as adding traffic signals with pedestrian signals, providing raised medians, and speed-reducing measures. The study concluded that intersections should have marked crosswalks only in low-trafficked areas and only when accompanied by street lights and other improvements.
Portland Installs Flashing Beacon Crosswalks
In 2014, Portland, Oregon began installing Flashing Beacon Crosswalks as an affordable and effective method for increasing visibility on busy streets, especially those without sidewalks and adequate lighting. A pedestrian, preparing to cross, pushes a signal button to activate one or more rectangular flashing beacons, which it is hoped approaching cars will see in time to stop for the crossing pedestrian. Unfortunately, in an area with low visibility and fast traffic flow, if a car is too close to be able to stop when the beacon begins to flash and the pedestrian assumes that, since the light is flashing it is safe to immediately cross, the car and pedestrian may collide.
Southeast 160th Avenue and Stark Street, Portland, Oregon
On Friday November 25, 2016, at 5:44 p.m., East Precinct and Traffic Division officers responded to the report of a pedestrian hit by a driver at Southeast 160th Avenue and Stark Street. Officers and medical personnel arrived and found a male in his 70s critically injured at the scene. The man was transported by ambulance to a Portland hospital but did not survive his injuries.
Investigators learned that the motorist was driving his 1996 Ford F-150 pickup eastbound on Stark Street when he struck the pedestrian in the crosswalk, who was walking from the north side of Stark to the south side in a marked crosswalk that was previously upgraded with a rapid flashing light beacon, which alerts traffic that a pedestrian is crossing the street. Evidence collected at the scene as well as witness statements indicate that the rapid flashing beacon was activated and working at the time of the crash.
High-Intensity Activated Cross Walk Signal Safer for Pedestrians
Many cities throughout the country have installed what is known as High-Intensity Activated Cross Walk (HAWK) Signals, officially known as Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons (PHB), as a safer alternative to Flashing Beacons. HAWK uses a series of traffic lights, yellow to prepare drivers to stop and red to stop.
When a pedestrian activates the beacon (generally by a push-button), the HAWK beacon sequence is started, first with flashing yellow, then steady yellow, and finally steady red over a period of several seconds to prepare vehicles to stop, while at the same time pedestrians receive a “don’t walk” signal.
When vehicle traffic is about to restart, the pedestrian signal goes to steady “don’t walk.” Then, the HAWK beacon goes dark and the pedestrian signal remains in “don’t walk” mode until the signal is activated by another pedestrian.
High-Intensity Activated Cross Walk Signal
A study released by the Federal Highway Administration found that, after a HAWK signal was installed, vehicle/pedestrian crashes were reduced by 69%. As many as 97% of motorists comply with the HAWK beacon, higher than signalized crossing, or crossings with flashing yellow beacons.