Street Crossing Design

How can street crossing design be age-friendly?

Street crossings can be places of vulnerability for older adults and children since they are areas of potential conflicts with vehicles. Crossings can be more age-friendly when designers and engineers make upgrades at intersections and midblock crossings. Upgrades can include street infrastructure like longer pedestrian crossing intervals, leading pedestrian intervals, pedestrian refuges, midblock crossings, location and predictability of ADA amenities make intersections safer for children and older adults.

Signals

Long pedestrian waits due to signal cycle lengths, compounded over multiple intersections, can make crossing a street or walking even a short distance prohibitive and frustrating. This discourages walking and makes streets into barriers that separate destinations. Street signals can be timed for a walking pace or shorter waiting lengths could be prioritized in pedestrian-oriented areas.

Pedestrian countdown signals create a more predictable crossing environment and give adequate warning to pedestrians attempting to cross a roadway. Longer crossing times for pedestrians encourage walking. All new crosswalk signals should include pedestrian signals with countdowns. Leading pedestrian intervals get pedestrians moving into the intersection before vehicle traffic can move across the pedestrian crossing leg. This is gives pedestrians more time to cross the street as well as making pedestrians more visible to drivers, creating a safer environment for multiple ways of traveling.

Many crosswalks have been timed to allow pedestrians to cross at a speed of 4 feet per second, as recommended in the 1974 Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The speed of 4 feet per second excludes about 10% of young pedestrians on the basis of their crossing walking speed. SDOT is consistent with the current MUTCD recommendation that crosswalks be timed for 3.5 feet per second, but that slower speeds be considered if the crosswalk is in an area where slower pedestrians "routinely use the crosswalk."  This allows more flexibility, but requires that the appropriate crossing speed be determined with the use of site specific data. In the 2001 Federal Highway Administration's, Guidelines and Recommendations to Accommodate Older Drivers and Pedestrians, they recommend an assumed walking speed of 2.8 ft/s.

The length of a pedestrian crossing should be taken into account when using shorter pedestrian phases. In some instances, older adult pedestrians and children may be unable to cross in a single cycle. In these cases, in addition to consideration for leading pedestrian intervals, exclusive pedestrian phases, protected turns, split phasing, and hot response buttons should be assessed.

Pedestrian refuges and curb bulbs/extensions, and road diets

While short intersection cycle lengths are often desirable to minimize pedestrian and vehicular waiting time, it is critically important to ensure that pedestrian phase lengths are long enough for pedestrians to cross wide streets in a single signal cycle without getting stuck in the median or in the middle of an intersection, unless the median is a destination. In some cases, it may be necessary to add a pedestrian call button on a pedestrian island or median. 

Street design that shortens the pedestrian crossing distance at intersections creates a better opportunity for vehicles to see the pedestrian. For example, a pedestrian waiting to cross on a curb bulb is much easier for a driver to see and stop for than a pedestrian waiting at an unmarked intersection. Curb bulbs/curb extensions and street rechannelizations give pedestrians a shortened crossing distance across vehicular roadways.

Three seniors cross the street on Pine Street in downtown Seattle.

Where should age-friendly street crossing design be prioritized?

Crossing at schools, senior centers, community centers, hospitals, parks, at intersections, in urban centers and villages, and near transit hubs.

Street crossings are assessed, modified, and created by

  • Seattle Department of Transportation
  • Washington State Department of Transportation

Estimated cost*

$-$$$

* Cost levels:
$ = Under $100,000
$$ = $100,001-$500,000
$$$ = $500,001-$1,000,000
$$$$= Over $1,000,001

Resources

Streets Illustrated Pedestrian Crossing Design Standards
Streets Illustrated Intelligent Transportation Systems and Pedestrian Crossing
MUTCD Recommendated pedestrian crossing times