Building better crosswalks: an overview of crosswalk safety enhancements

April 1, 2022
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To help support citizens, local groups, and elected officials to advocate for safer local roadways, we’ve compiled a step-by-step Crosswalk Safety Guide and toolkit—including a quick video below. Adding or improving crosswalks is one of the most effective ways for cities to achieve safe, walkable streets. Watch our video below:


Imagine you’re in your car, traveling along a wide, multi-lane road with long blocks, high-speed limits, and few or no crosswalks or intersections. It’s nice, isn’t it? You’re getting where you’re going quickly, quietly, and seemingly safely.

Now imagine you’re traveling that same road without a car. Instead, you’re on foot. Maybe you’re carrying a load of groceries or laundry, or pushing a toddler in a stroller. Suddenly, the experience is quite different.

Without adequate crossing infrastructure between signalized locations, there’s an increased risk of pedestrian and vehicle crashes. Three-quarters of pedestrians killed in 2018 were crossing marked.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to make an unsignalized intersection or marked crossing safer—for everyone. One of the simplest and most effective: marked crosswalks.

Commonly implemented on roadways near schools, parks, and commercial districts, marked crosswalks create safer, more visible, and more direct routes for pedestrians. They help channel them to more desirable, designated crossing locations where drivers can expect them. And they support an accessible and walkable urban environment, which can reduce pollution, improve health, and attract community investment.

Despite these advantages, marked crosswalks remain an often misunderstood and poorly implemented design tool. In this video, we’ll help you understand where marked crosswalks work best, what the most effective treatments are, and we’ll share some valuable resources that can help you advocate for a marked crosswalk in your neighborhood.

Like most pedestrian facilities, midblock crosswalks generally work best under certain roadway conditions. These include roads:

  • with speed limits below 40 mph
  • with four or fewer lanes
  • and where the sight distance—that’s the length of roadway ahead that’s visible to the driver—is long enough for a driver to react to an incoming pedestrian

Marked crosswalks are also particularly effective in areas where there is already a substantial number of illegal crossings, and where there is evidence of pedestrian/vehicle conflicts.

Unfortunately, creating a crosswalk that adds safety for pedestrians and drivers isn’t as simple as painting some lines on the road. To do this, you need to carefully evaluate and select from a variety of proven crosswalk safety countermeasures.

Many of these of these are endorsed by the Federal Highways Administration, or FHWA, including Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons, raised crosswalks, refuge islands, and rectangular rapid flashing beacons.

The right countermeasure will depend on a variety of factors, including cost, effectiveness, and characteristics unique to your location, like number of lanes, volume of traffic, and speed limit.

Understanding the relationship between cost and effectiveness is key to selecting a countermeasure. For example, while a PHB has been shown to be highly effective at increasing average yield rates—averaging 96% according to one FHWA study—they come with a high price tag.

Rectangular rapid flashing beacons, or RRFBs, on the other hand, are much more affordable, and nearly as effective. Here you can see where all of the FHWA’s crosswalk countermeasures fall when it comes to effectiveness and cost.

Often, cities have to make the choice between investing in one or two high-cost, high-performance systems or dozens of lower-cost, but still highly effective treatments.

Once you understand what the countermeasures are, you can start to gather data about your location, which will help you build your case for a crosswalk addition or improvement. Your research should include:

  • Traffic and pedestrian volumes
  • Historical crash data
  • Local design guidelines and standards for pedestrian infrastructure
  • Whether there are existing programs or initiatives in place for pedestrian safety and walkability, such as Safe Routes to School, Vision Zero, and Complete Streets

Then you can begin to build support for the project in your community. This should include groups and people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds—anyone who is underserved by the existing infrastructure and is willing to share their perspective. With broad community support, you’ll be well-equipped to present your proposal to the transportation agency that oversees your roadway.

If you’re looking to learn more about how to get a marked crosswalk added or improved in your area, check out our Crosswalk Safety Guide. It contains a wealth of transportation research and best practices, and gives actionable tips for getting your project approved.

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