Have you or a family member ever tried using a crosswalk at a busy intersection with a static pedestrian crossing sign — or perhaps no sign at all? Trying to cross a road while countless cars pass without yielding can be frustrating, and potentially dangerous if you decide to navigate through a narrow opening in traffic.
While it can be disheartening to watch car after car pass by without a second thought, static and poorly maintained crosswalks can be nearly invisible to drivers from a distance. With so much happening on the road, drivers may not be able to yield until it’s too late.
With pedestrian fatalities rising in recent years, communities nationwide are searching for solutions to better protect vulnerable road users. And enhanced visibility plays a vital role in getting there. Seventy-six percent of pedestrian fatalities occur at night, which means pedestrians can be difficult for approaching drivers to see without the proper countermeasures (FHWA). But how do you target visibility when it comes to pedestrian safety?
Crosswalks that include warning alerts, illuminate pedestrians and command driver attention have a higher likelihood of drivers yielding to allow pedestrians to cross. These systems are often activated by the pedestrian, minimizing false activations to ensure maximal effectiveness. In this case, the alert only begins to flash once a pedestrian enters the crosswalk, effectively warning drivers of their presence.
Treatment options that utilize Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFBs) have risen in popularity in recent years — particularly because of their highly-visible flash pattern and heightened yield rates. In fact, a Florida study conducted on multi-lane, uncontrolled crosswalks found that the installation of an RRFB crosswalk increased yield rates from 0-26% up to 72-96% (Federal Highway Association).
The RRFB warns drivers of pedestrians present at a crosswalk through rapid flashing amber light bars, increasing visibility distance and encouraging compliance. While the RRFB is considered an LED beacon, it’s differentiated from a standard flashing beacon through its unique shape, two rectangular-shaped indications, rapid-pulsing flash pattern and brighter light intensity.
Is an RRFB MUTCD-compliant?
The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is a guide that plays a vital role in traffic safety by setting national guidelines to improve the safety of all roadway users. MUTCD compliance is important when considering solution options — and this includes crosswalk safety measures.
While RRFB applications are not included in the current edition of the MUTCD, the FHWA has granted interim approval for the optional use of RRFBs.
The Interim Approval 21 (IA-21) allows for RRFB use, pending official rulemaking from the MUTCD; however, state and local agencies are still required to request permission for their use. If permission was previously granted by Interim Approval 11 (IA-11), communities must re-request permission from the MUTCD to continue using RRFBs.
Under the MUTCD’s IA-21, an RRFB is required to utilize the wig-wag plus simultaneous (WW+S) flash pattern and must have LED indications that are at least 5 inches wide by 2 inches tall. Currently, the MUTCD does not support RRFB use at controlled crosswalks (with the exception of roundabouts) and has only approved their supplemental use at uncontrolled crossings.
Why an RRFB Might Be the Right Choice for Your Crosswalks
Each community is unique, and the first step when assessing roadway safety improvements is identifying the issue — whether your roadways face constant flooding, excess speeds or a lack of pedestrian infrastructure. Perhaps your community has an excess of multilane roads that make crossing difficult for pedestrians.
Or, there’s a neighborhood that a trail system runs through, where drivers often fail to yield. It could even be a few reports of negative pedestrian/vehicle interactions at a problem roundabout. These scenarios are missing a key safety element: an RRFB.
RRFBs are proven to elevate pedestrian safety, with their highly visible LED warning lights and strobe-like flash pattern. While the beacons are typically the most effective in multilane applications with speed limits less than 40 mph, they can increase driver awareness in a number of uncontrolled crossing situations (FHWA). Other common applications include two-lane roads, mid-block crosswalks, school and trail crossings and roundabouts.
An RRFB is typically used to improve pedestrian safety in situations where existing infrastructure — such as a static sign and crosswalk markings — has not met safety expectations. The beacons can be added to supplement signage currently in place at pedestrian, trail and school crossings for a simple yet effective fix. As RRFBs are known for their ability to heighten visibility, they’re also used to target specific roadway concerns, such as urban crossings where speeding is common, poor compliance in school zones or areas ahead of a curve.
While RRFB crosswalks are a highly effective and versatile solution when it comes to pedestrian safety, the question of whether an RRFB is right for your community depends on your infrastructure and the current issue at hand. To learn more about RRFBs and pedestrian crosswalk systems, visit TAPCO’s dedicated RRFB page.
Think you’re ready to take the first steps in implementing RRFB crosswalks into your community? Check out our guide to requesting RRFB approval through the MUTCD or connect with a TAPCO representative to help you along the way.
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.