Is nighttime pedestrian safety an issue in your community?
Imagine this: It’s just past dusk and the streets are quiet as you head home from a late meeting, driving on a road you’ve taken countless times. You hum along with the radio, thinking about the quick email you need to send when you get home.
Then, out of nowhere, your headlights shine on two pedestrians crossing the street just a few yards in front of you, their eyes wide as saucers as they scramble to get out of the way.
Each second seems to pass slowly as you slam on your breaks and swerve hard to the right, flying over the curb and nearly plowing into a tree. You miss the pedestrians by mere inches.
Both you and the pedestrians are lucky, but each year several thousand are not — and there’s been little improvement. Between 2007 and 2016, pedestrian deaths increased by a whopping 27 percent in the U.S., with 75 percent of those deaths occurring in the dark and 70 percent occurring at non-intersections, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Though pedestrian deaths have lowered slightly since 2016, multiple reports have found the number still hovers near 6,000.
Interestingly, traffic fatalities for occupants inside vehicles decreased by 14% in that same ten-year period. Essentially, our vehicles have become safer, but our roads have gotten more dangerous for pedestrians. And, of course, the risks go up as visibility goes down.
Solutions like streetlights, static signs and freshly painted crosswalks aren’t enough because motorists frequently don’t notice or obey them. Fortunately, there are more innovative, life-saving steps you can take to drastically improve nighttime pedestrian safety.
1. Upgrade to more reflective signage
Drivers can’t obey a sign they can’t see. Many traffic signs are made with outdated sheeting that doesn’t maximize reflectivity. Replace those signs with ones using highly reflective, durable, micro-prismatic lens sheeting with pressure-sensitive adhesive. They’re visible from up to 600 feet away because they reflect more available light, drastically increasing sign visibility and compliance. This is helpful for any type of sign, but especially for those placed in areas with lots of foot traffic.
If you’re not sure if your signs meet reflectivity standards, invest in a quality retroreflectometer.
2. Replace static signs with flashing LED signs
If static signs – no matter how reflective – aren’t enough, leverage the BlinkerSign® Pedestrian Crosswalk System, which features signs with flashing solar- or electric-powered LEDs embedded into the sides. With the LEDs, the signs are much easier to see, particularly at night and during adverse weather conditions, such as fog and heavy rain.
Plus, these signs can be programmed to flash 24/7, at scheduled times or only when a pedestrian is approaching, thanks to new low-power thermal detector technology that can be mounted on the sign.
Increase the rate at which motorists’ look out for and yield to pedestrians by placing these attention-grabbing signs in high-risk areas, like crosswalks near parks and schools.
3. Leverage RRFB technology
Another innovative way to increase nighttime pedestrian detection is with a Rectangular Rapid-Flashing Beacon (RRFB) Pedestrian Crosswalk System. According to a study by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), they can bring motorists’ yield rate up to 90 percent. Look for FHWA-approved ones with dimmable LED warning lights with an alternating WW+S (wig-wag and simultaneous) flash pattern.
Ideal for uncontrolled crossings and high-speed and multi-lane roads, RRFBs can be activated via user-actuation or passive detection activation using directional bollards or thermal technology.
4. Install a crosswalk illuminator
A simple solution to lack of visibility at night is to add light, but it’s important to add the right kind of light. Streetlights beam light down on small sections of road, often not reaching the middle where pedestrians are furthest from safety.
For two-lane crossings, consider adding the SafeWalk™ Crosswalk Illuminator in tandem with LED-enhanced signs or RRFBs. They use a flood light to illuminate the approach area of the crosswalk and a beam light to illuminate the middle, ensuring motorists’ can easily see pedestrians. Crucially, activation can happen concurrently with LED-enhanced warning alerts and be either passively activated via thermal detection or user-actuated. This conserves energy and prevents the lights from becoming “white noise” to motorists.
Illuminators are especially great for increasing pedestrian visibility at night in frequently visited areas, such as transportation stops, libraries, parks and shopping areas.
Be sure to look for one with minimal glare and a 20 LUX minimum – as recommended by the FHWA – that can be retrofitted if necessary.
5. Give pedestrians a head start
If none of these lighting-related methods work for you, concentrate on minimizing the time pedestrians and motorists interact. At intersections with traffic and pedestrian crossing signals, create a Leading Pedestrian Interval, a short interval for pedestrians to start crossing before motorists’ signal changes to green. It’s a relatively simple and cost-effective solution that considerably reduces conflicts between pedestrians and turning vehicles.
For added protection, install a “No Turn On Red” sign as well so motorists are less likely to enter crosswalks while slower pedestrians still occupy them.
6. Focus on left-turn collisions
Left turns are the cause of most intersection-related accidents, according to the NHTSA, even outnumbering right turn crashes in heavily congested city streets. This poses a major threat to pedestrians – especially at night – because left-turning drivers are often distracted by watching oncoming traffic, only looking out for pedestrians as “an afterthought,” states the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC).
Add a traffic signal with a green arrow for left turners, providing them with a protected right of way for a short time when pedestrians are not permitted to enter the crosswalk. The “green light for all” method may seem most efficient, but nighttime pedestrian safety must come first.
7. Redesign your roadway
If none of these solutions are the right fit for a problem area in your community, you may need to redesign the area entirely. Look into solutions like raised crosswalks, road diets, pedestrian crossing islands and curb extensions. Then, consult with other experts to determine what makes the most sense for the problem area’s unique challenges.
While pedestrian safety is top of mind for many, tight budgets and competing priorities often get in the way. Don’t let them. Identify the right nighttime pedestrian safety solutions for the right places in your community by doing your research and working with reputable providers — so no one else becomes a statistic.