An Overview of the FHWA’s STEP Program Countermeasures — Including Touchless Options

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A whopping 6,283 pedestrians lost their lives in the U.S. in 2018 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That’s the highest number in nearly three decades, and a 53 percent increase since 2009.

The majority of these deaths occur at uncontrolled crossings, such as mid-block or un-signalized intersections, likely due to insufficient pedestrian crossing systems and poor crossing opportunities.

Fortunately, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has outlined recommendations aimed at drastically reducing pedestrian fatalities in its Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian (STEP) program. Part of the Every Day Counts (EDC) safety initiative, STEP was created to promote several countermeasures – dubbed the Spectacular Seven – with known pedestrian safety benefits.

The countermeasures vary in cost and complexity, meaning there is one to fit virtually every application, including those calling for touchless activation methods to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Photo source: FHWA

Photo source: FHWA

Photo source: FHWA

The Spectacular Seven Countermeasures

1) RRFBs

Rectangular rapid-flashing beacons (RRFBs) are LED light bars that flash to capture drivers’ attention and provide real-time warning of pedestrians in or about to enter a crosswalk. Look for amber RRFBs that use the FHWA-approved wig-wag plus simultaneous (WW+S) flash pattern to maximize safety.

While push button-activated RRFBs are available, many communities are leveraging touchless activation methods to prevent hundreds or thousands of people from pressing the same button each day and spreading disease.

TAPCO offers RRFBs that leverage FLIR thermal sensors and imaging cameras to create infrared heat profiles that identify vulnerable road users moving within targeted detection zones, which activate the RRFBs. This durable, weatherproof technology also detects presence and/or directionality — meaning it activates the RRFBs only when people approach the crosswalk. Plus, upgrading an existing pedestrian crossing system to feature thermal activation is simple.

If that isn't the right touchless activation choice, then consider cost-effective infrared bollards. Vulnerable road users passively trigger the RRFBs by passing between bollards placed on either side of the crosswalk.

2) Crosswalk Visibility Enhancements

Safety methods like LED-enhanced signs and crosswalk lights greatly improve crosswalk visibility, making pedestrians much easier to see in low light conditions when they’re most vulnerable.

Consider a provider with a large variety of standard and custom LED-enhanced signs and robust crosswalk light enhancements like the SafeWalk® Crosswalk Illuminator. Ideal for poorly lit, two-lane crossings, the illuminator drastically increases pedestrian visibility with dual-light technology.

3) Raised Crosswalks

A helpful traffic-calming measure at mid-block crosswalks is a raised crosswalk — essentially a ramped speed table that stretches from one end of the road to the other.

Photo source: FHWA

This slows down drivers and allows pedestrians to cross the road at grade with the sidewalk. By making pedestrians more noticeable to drivers, raised crosswalks reduce pedestrian crashes by 45%.

According to the FHWA, “In addition to their use on local and collector streets, raised crosswalks can be installed in campus settings, shopping centers, and pick-up/drop-off zones.”

4) Pedestrian Refuge Island

Sometimes referred to as a refuge or crossing island, a pedestrian refuge island is an area in the middle of a multi-lane road for pedestrians only. It allows pedestrians to cross in front of traffic going one way, then wait safely for the ability to cross in front of traffic going the other way.

Pair these islands with a marked, high-visibility crosswalk at mid-block crossings on roads with four or more lanes, particularly ones with medium-to-high speeds and traffic.

5) Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons

Consisting of two red lights over one yellow one, pedestrian hybrid beacons (PHBs) display flashing and solid lights that indicate how long pedestrians have to cross and when motorists can continue driving. They’re usually installed on mast arms over mid-block crossings or on the side of the road.

Offering stop control on high-speed, multi-lane roads, PHBs are popular in areas where traffic signals aren’t warranted, but pedestrian safety is a concern.

A variety of activation options are also available, including some touchless options.

Photo source: FHWA

6) Road Diets

Proven to reduce total crashes by 19% in urban areas and 47% in suburban areas, road diets shorten the distance pedestrians need to cross on four-lane, undivided roadways by reducing the road to two through lanes, plus a center, two-way left turn lane for vehicles. In addition to enhancing safety, road diets generate more space for bike, transit and parking lanes.

“This design allows left-turning drivers to exit the traffic stream while waiting for a gap to complete their turn,” according to the FHWA.

7) Leading Pedestrian Intervals

At signalized intersections, transportation professionals can adjust signal timing to create leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs), providing pedestrians with 3- to 7-second head starts before vehicles cross a signalized intersection parallel to them. This low-cost measure greatly reduces interaction between pedestrians and turning vehicles.

According to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), an LPI “should be at least 3 seconds in duration and should be timed to allow pedestrians to cross at least one lane of traffic or, in the case of a large corner radius, to travel far enough for pedestrians to establish their position before the turning traffic is released.”

Photo source: FHWA

From increasing driver compliance to improving pedestrian visibility, these seven countermeasures outlined by the FHWA add up to many lives saved. Carefully assess which countermeasures make sense for your problem areas to get started protecting pedestrians today.

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Robert Kurka

TAPCO | Product Manager

With over a decade in business development, marketing and product management, Robert strives to improve transportation safety through innovation.

He is a pedestrian safety solutions expert who especially enjoys working with the TAPCO family to develop lifesaving products and solutions, such as the SafeWalk® Crosswalk Illuminator and the VizMark™ Pavement Marking Enhancement.

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