More tools for great streets

What about bike lanes? What about crosswalks? Beyond the traffic calming tools reviewed on the previous few pages, another set of great street tools can be used to improve streets. This page and the next describe other techniques that can be used to make your community more walkable and more livable. These tools can be used with the traffic calming techniques - or on their own.

ADA-compliant design

People with disabilities who experience higher than normal levels of risk include the visually impaired, wheelchair users, developmentally restricted persons, and people who walk with special aids. Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, improvements were mandated to ensure access and mobility for people with physical limitations. Most of these improvements — including adequate time to cross streets, well-designed curb ramps, limited number of driveways, and wide sidewalks that are clear of obstructions — benefit all walkers.

Bicycle lanes

Bicycle lanes indicate a preferential or exclusive space for bicycle travel on a street, and are typically striped — although colored pavement is sometimes used. They create more consistent separation between bicyclists and passing motorists, and can also provide a buffer zone between motor vehicles and pedestrians on a sidewalk.

Marked/striped crosswalks

To make pedestrians' actions more predictable for motorists, marked crosswalks indicate the proper locations to cross. In many cities, crosswalks are commonly installed at all legs of all signalized intersections and also at other selected locations.

Using crosswalks is a shared responsibility between drivers and pedestrians. Drivers must yield to pedestrians and pedestrians must not assume that all motorists see them in a crosswalk. Care on behalf of both parties can prevent pedestrian injuries.

While marked crosswalks are generally desirable at signalized locations, they may also be appropriate for selected, low speed, two- or three-lane, narrow streets, particularly in conjunction with speed tables, medians, refuge islands, bulbouts, and other traffic calming measures. Various striping patterns and textures can be used. It may be useful to supplement crosswalk markings with pedestrian warning signs.

Curb radius reduction

One common type of crash involving pedestrians occurs when a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle turning right at an intersection. A curb radius of 25 feet or more typically results in high-speed turns by motorists.

Shortening the radius — making the turn "tighter" for the driver — by extending the curb reduces the vehicle's speed, shortens the crossing distance for pedestrians, and improves visibility between pedestrians and motorists. Tighter turning radii are especially important in areas with heavy foot traffic.

Curb ramps

Curb ramps provide access between the sidewalk and roadway for people using wheelchairs, strollers, walkers, and hand carts as well as for pedestrians who have trouble stepping up and down high curbs. Appropriate for use on all types of streets, curb ramps may be installed at intersections and mid-block locations with pedestrian crossings.

Driveway improvements

Driveways may cause safety problems for pedestrians if the sloped pavement ramp extends through the sidewalk area. This will require the pedestrian to navigate the sloped pavement at each driveway crossing.

Other driveway features to be avoided are wide turning radii, multiple adjacent driveways, or poorly defined driveways. Driveways that are wider than needed to enter and exit expose pedestrians to unnecessary risk by keeping them in the path of vehicles.

Driveway improvements can include narrowing or closing driveways, tightening turning radii, converting driveways to right-in/out median dividers on wide driveways.

Lighting improvements: Pedestrian-scale lighting

Pedestrians — especially if they are wearing light colors — often assume that motorists can see them at night. They are deceived by their own ability to see the oncoming headlights. Without sufficient overhead lighting, however, motorists may not be able to see pedestrians in time to stop.

In commercial areas with night-time pedestrian activity, special lighting placed over the sidewalks can enhance both the ambiance of the area and the visibility of pedestrians to motorists.

Neighborhood speed watch/Speed monitoring trailer

On some streets where traffic calming treatments have not yet been installed, temporary compliance with speed limit signs may be achieved by using a sign board which displays the speed of passing vehicles. Used in conjunction with intermittent police enforcement, this is an effective short-term strategy.

Pedestrian signals

The use of walk/don't walk signals at signal locations is often valuable. Pedestrian signals are necessary when: (1) vehicle signals are not visible to pedestrians; (2) signal timing is complex — such as a left turn signal for motorists; (3) there is an established school zone crossing; and (4) an exclusive pedestrian interval is provided. Pedestrian signal heads may either be symbols of a walking person, an upheld hand, or they may be the words "walk" and "don't walk."

Pedestrian signal timing: Upgrade/modify

Pedestrian push buttons (with timing based on a walking speed of 3-3 1/2 feet per second) may be installed at locations where pedestrians are expected at intermittent intervals. Push buttons should not be used in downtowns or where pedestrians are routinely present. Quick response to the button should be programmed into the system.

Since push-button devices are activated by only one-half of pedestrians, new "intelligent" microwave or infrared pedestrian detectors which automatically activate the red light and walk signal when pedestrians approach — are now being installed in some cities.

Other detectors can extend the crossing time for slower moving pedestrians in the crosswalk. In addition to "standard" pedestrian signal timing (where motorists may turn left or right across a pedestrian's path), exclusive pedestrian intervals stop traffic in all directions. This timing has been shown to reduce pedestrian crashes by 50 percent. Use of larger pedestrian signal heads and/or audible pedestrian messages (such as chirps for the blind) can be used to enhance crossings for some pedestrians.

Right-turn slip lanes

At many arterial street intersections, pedestrians have difficulty crossing due to right-turn movements and wide crossing distances. Well-designed right-turn slip lanes place right-turning vehicles at a 60° angle from through traffic. This angle limits vehicle turning speeds and increases the visibility of pedestrians. Right-turn slip lanes should be accompanied by pedestrian refuge islands within the intersection. Pedestrians can cross the right-turn lane and wait on the island for their walk signal.

School zone improvements

A variety of roadway improvements may be used to enhance safety or mobility for children in school zones. The use of well-trained adult crossing guards has been found to be one of the most effective measures for assisting children to cross streets safely, while sidewalks or separated walkways and paths are essential for a safe trip from home to school — on foot or by bike.

Police enforcement in school zones may be needed in situations where drivers are speeding or not yielding to children in crosswalks or when making turns.

Other helpful measures include parking prohibitions at intersections near schools, increased child supervision, and the use of signs, such as SLOW SPEED LIMIT 25 MPH WHEN FLASHING. Pedestrian safety education programs are also an essential part of child pedestrian safety, which can carry over for a lifetime.

Add or modify signage

At some crossing locations and complex intersections, signs can effectively alert drivers or pedestrians to use extra caution, and thus improve pedestrian safety. Signs can, however, be used too frequently, which fosters noncompliance and disrespect for signs in general.

Speed limit signs, pedestrian warning signs, and no-turn-on-red sign, for example, can affect pedestrians. A new, strong yellow-green color is now approved by The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, an industry standard for use on signs which warn motorists that pedestrians and bicyclists may be in the vicinity. Because of its unique bright color, drivers pay more attention to the sign.

Street furniture/walking environment

Tripping and falling are primary causes of pedestrian injuries, particularly for older walkers. Carefully planned and designed sidewalks and pedestrian areas are important, as is providing safety and mobility for users.

Sidewalks should be continuous and be part of a system which provides access to goods, services, and homes. Sidewalks and walkways should be kept clear of poles, sign posts, newspaper racks, and other obstacles which could block or trip people.

Benches, water fountains, and other street furniture should be carefully placed to allow for unobstructed paths for pedestrians. Paths must be properly maintained and kept clear of debris and puddles that can cause problems for pedestrians. Places to sit, chat, and people watch enhance pedestrian livability.

Sidewalks, walkways and buffer zones

Sidewalks and walkways separate pedestrians from the roadway and provide off-street places for children to play. Sidewalks have been associated with significant reductions in pedestrian-vehicle collisions. Such facilities also improve pedestrian mobility and should be provided for walking from residential areas to parks, schools, stores, and transit stops.

While sidewalks are typically made of concrete with curb and gutter, less expensive walkways for low-density residential areas may be constructed of asphalt, crushed stone, or other materials if they are properly maintained.

A minimum width that allows two people to pass safely is 5 feet of sidewalk or walkway, free of obstructions. An additional buffer zone (grass, trees, or other vegetation) of 4 to 6 feet is desirable as a separation from the street. Careful planning of sidewalks and walkways is important for a neighborhood or area to provide adequate safety and mobility.

Traffic signals

Traffic signals can create gaps in traffic flow to allow pedestrians to cross the street while motorists are stopped. Such signals should allow adequate crossing time for pedestrians (a walking speed of 3-3 1/2 feet per second). Signals are especially important for pedestrians crossing at mid-block crossing points on high-speed roads, high-speed or congested intersections, and in areas where seniors and young children want to cross streets. National standards based on the numbers of pedestrians and vehicles should be used in selecting these sites.

Traffic signal enhancements

A variety of traffic signal enhancements can benefit pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. They include: providing left-turn phasing separate from pedestrian walk intervals; timing signals in sequence to encourage desired vehicle speeds; installing larger, more visible traffic signals (including back plates for bright background faces); and giving transit vehicles priority over other vehicles.

— from Streets and Sidewalks,
People and Cars
produced by the
Local Government Commission


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EcoCity Cleveland
3500 Lorain Avenue, Suite 301, Cleveland OH 44113
Cuyahoga Bioregion
(216) 961-5020
Copyright 2002-2003

Bikes and buses get special treatment in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Ryan McKenzie

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