3 Ways to Enhance Pedestrian Safety at Midblock Crossings

As pedestrians and motorists continue to compete for space, the midblock has transformed into a sort of black hole for pedestrian traffic. Despite relentless efforts of safety campaigns encouraging the use of crosswalks at intersections, pedestrians continue to cross midblock, particularly when blocks are long and crossing at an intersection would extend their travel time.
So the question is, if pedestrians are crossing midblock anyway, how do we improve their safety? We're glad you asked. We've gathered three proven applications that promote pedestrian safety at midblock crossings, check them out and see what solutions can work for your city.
1) HAWK Beacons

One application growing in popularity for its proven ability to promote pedestrian safety is the High-intensity Activated crossWALK beacon (say that 3 times fast), also known as a HAWK beacon. This uniquely configured signal is used to stop traffic and allow pedestrians to safely cross the road. 

The HAWK beacon consists of two red signals over a single yellow signal, typically mounted to a mast arm pole like a traditional traffic signal. However, the main difference between a HAWK and a traditional signal is a HAWK signal remains dark until activated by a pedestrian. When activated, a HAWK signal illuminates solid red lights, stopping traffic so pedestrians can safely cross. This is an ideal solution for a midblock with wide-crossing or high speed conditions.

How it Works
All it takes is one push of a button and the HAWK sequence is activated, and it looks something like this:

Pedestrian pushes button, activating the HAWK sequence and illuminating a flashing yellow signal.

The flashing yellow signal changes to solid yellow, warning drivers of imminent stop. 

Dual red signals are displayed alerting cars to stop while a walking person symbol is illuminated directing pedestrians to safely cross. 

The solid lights change to alternating flashing red lights and pedestrians are shown a flashing hand symbol. Note: Cars can proceed through crosswalk after coming to a complete stop first, provided the intersection is clear of pedestrians. 

The signal returns to dark for vehicles and a steady upraised hand is illuminated for pedestrians, ending the HAWK sequence.
2) Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons
Another option for enhancing pedestrian safety at midblock crossings is the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB). Unlike the HAWK beacon, the RRFB does not command traffic to stop; rather, it increases visibility of pedestrian crosswalks and warning signs. As the name states, the RRFB is  simply a rectangular signal used to command driver's attention through rapid flashing lights. The use of the RRFB is quickly gaining popularity due to its high driver compliance rate - upward of 80% - and low price point.

How it Works
The RRFB uses an irregular flash pattern, similar to police and emergency vehicles, that is activated by a push button or pedestrian detection system. The wig-wag or stutter flash pattern warns drivers of possible pedestrian traffic. Side-mounted LEDs flash concurrently to advise pedestrians that the unit is actively flashing. The beacon is typically installed on an upright pole along with a pedestrian push button and warning signs at the desired crossing location.
3) Road Diets

Although this application has been used since 1970, roadway reconfiguration, aff ectionately known   as  "road diets," offer valuable improvements at a low cost. When reworked  appropriately, road diets can enhance midblock crossings through the addition of medians or pedestrian refuge islands. These low-cost solutions effectively separate vehicle and pedestrian conflicts by creating shorter and safer crossing distances. 

As more cities desire livable space and "complete streets," agencies are encouraged to find better integration of pedestrian traffic. Road diets can effectively marry the needs of cars and pedestrians, achieving safety and operational benefits for as little as the cost of restriping.

How it Works
Essentially, a road diet converts an existing four-lane undivided roadway into a three-lane segment consisting of two through-lanes and a center two-way left turn lane. The road diet uses the reclaimed space for items like a pedestrian refuge island, medians, and sidewalks.
The Bottom Line

Bottom line, increasing pedestrian safety is a must. Ask yourself, do cars and pedestrians safely and efficiently coexist in your city? If the answer is no, then consider one of the three applications we covered. You may be surprised at how quickly and easily you can resolve a problem spot.
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