sitemap Pedestrians


Walking is our most basic form of transportation. Every trip we make, even by car, we begin and end as pedestrians. For mass transit to be effective, passengers must be able to walk between transit stops and multiple destinations of interest. Many people do not have access to automobiles or even bicycles, and must walk to reach important destinations. Walking can also be a pleasant way to exercise, relax, and socially interact with others in the community. The safety and convenience of pedestrian travel is an important factor in our quality of life.

Accessible Routes
Human beings have been building and walking upon roadways for over six thousand years. The ancient Romans were prolific road builders, spanning much of Europe with a network of highways paved with stone. In urban areas congested with animals and wagons, the Romans and other early road builders added sidewalks to improve conditions for walking. Extra-wide sidewalks were built where pedestrian use was heavy. Outside urban areas, traffic on the highways was light enough to walk on the roadway surface, occasionally stepping sideways to allow large animal traffic to pass.

Today motor vehicles have replaced horses and wagons in most of the world. Motor vehicles are more abundant and faster than horses were, creating special challenges for pedestrians. Now more than ever, the importance of sidewalks is a function of the speed and volume of vehicular traffic on the road. As always, the
width required of a sidewalk is determined by the number of pedestrians. In order to ensure that sidewalks accommodate wheelchair users, minimum dimensions and maximum slopes for new and improved sidewalks are specified in standards created under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

ADA-Compliant sidewalks should be installed on all roads with significant traffic. On busy roads, sidewalks are needed on both sides of the street.

A 16' wide rural through road without sidewalks. Drivers must travel slowly; pedestrians must often step out of the way of vehicles. Such roads are only appropriate for extremely low traffic volumes.

A 32' wide street with sidewalk separated from the street by a planting strip and trees. Pedestrian travel on such facilities is safe and pleasant even at very high vehicle traffic volumes.

Street Crossings
Pedestrians traveling to important destinations must cross streets and driveways used by vehicles. About 80% of fatal car-pedestrian collisions occur to pedestrians crossing streets. The design of intersections, traffic signals and streets as well as the behavior of all road users affects the safety of street crossings.

Intersection Design
Intersections are the most important places for pedestrians to cross streets. Unfortunately, intersections are often the most challenging and dangerous places to do so. Traffic at intersections may cross a pedestrian's path from multiple directions, for example drivers turning right into a cross street, drivers turning left into a cross street, and drivers exiting a cross street or turning right on red. The design of an intersection affects how fast this traffic moves, how effectively drivers yield to pedestrians, and how effectively pedestrians can avoid those drivers who do not.

Older intersections in downtown areas developed before the boom in automobile use often feature sharp curb return radii at intersections and driveways. This forces drivers to slow down considerably before making turns; the reduced speed gives pedestrians and drivers more time to see one another and reduces drivers' stopping distance. The geometry of older downtown streets also limit the crossing distance between curbs on each side of the street and thus limits the amount of time pedestrians are exposed to traffic in the intersection.

Newer intersections, especially those in suburban areas, often feature wide, sweeping turn radii that allow vehicles to turn at high speeds, and more, wider lanes of traffic. Often channelized turn lanes are provided to continuously move traffic across all legs of the intersection at all times. Often no crosswalks are painted, and drivers stop vehicles past the point where pedestrians need to cross. These intersections are often challenging, frightening, and dangerous to cross on foot, especially at night.

Suburban roads often lack basic safety measures designed to prevent car-pedestrian collisions even though the vehicle speeds in these areas are more likely to generate fatalities when pedestrians  are struck. As suburban development expands, more of the destinations that are important to pedestrians appear on these wide, high-speed suburban roads.

Tighter curb return radii, marked crosswalks, advance stop lines, and better lighting make intersections safer for people on foot.

Pedestrians must cross a minimum of five lanes at this suburban intersection between two shopping centers and two professional centers. No crosswalks are marked to establish proper paths for pedestrians; pedestrians either climb over flowers in the median and walk between cars or venture out to the widest portion of the intersection at the front of the vehicle queue where some drivers are turning right on red. No pedestrian signals or detectors are present to assist with the signal timing required to cross safely.

At this intersection pedestrian crossing locations are clearly marked; turning speeds and crossing distances are limited by the curb radii.

In principle, traffic signals should make it clear when it is safe for pedestrians to cross. Unfortunately, many traffic signals at wide intersections do not provide enough time for pedestrians to complete crossing the street before conflicting traffic movements begin. At wide intersections pedestrian detectors/buttons should be used to increase signal time when needed.  Ped-head signals tell pedestrians when it is safe to cross and when it is not.

Mid-Block Crossings
Pedestrians cross streets mid-block where intersection spacing is long. If intersections are wide and fast with added turn lanes, it is often safer to cross mid-block during traffic gaps than at the intersections. Raised center medians and refuge islands make mid-block crossings much safer and more convenient.

Raised center medians reduce car-pedestrian crash rates in half where pedestrians cross mid-block, while making crossing easier at the same time.

A mid-block median refuge island on a four-lane road


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