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Wayne Parsons
Wayne Parsons
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Hawaii Pedestrian Crosswalk Injuries: Should Mid-Block Crosswalks Be Eliminated

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A jury trial is beginning on 07 October 2009 against the City & County of Honolulu involving a pedestrian injured by a car at a mid-block crosswalk. We have had a rash of crosswalk injury and dietary cases on Oahu going back 10 years. I have written many articles the subject trying to raise public awareness and perhaps get ideas that will prevent pedestrian injury and death at crosswalks.

Mid-block crosswalks are dangerous. I represent a lady who was struck full force at a King Street crosswalk by an elderly driver. It was mid-day, bright and dry. Why do these terrible collisions happen? Hood to hip. The pedestrian always loses.

Here is what the traffic engineering safety experts have to say about mid-block cross walks:

It has been argued that providing signs and markings at crossing locations gives pedestrians a false sense of security.

Transportation Research Board

National authorities recommend against their use at all:

The traditional consensus among traffic engineers is that at-grade mid-block crosswalks are typically undesirable. However, both pedestrian walking behaviors and public demand can create pressures for the installation of a mid-block pedestrian crossing. Grade separated pedestrian crossings, can be costly and are often under utilized after construction.

According to Walking Info studies using National Highway Traffic Safety Administration methods in the early 1970s, and improved in the early 1990s, was refined and used to determine the crash types for more than 5,000 pedestrian crashes in six states.

The results showed that the mid-block events were the second major grouping of crash types and accounted for 26.5 percent of all crashes. Among this group, the most commonly crash type (1/3 of all) was the “mid-block dash” where a pedestrian would run into the street and the motorist’s view was not obstructed. Another 17 percent of these crashes were “dart-outs,” where the pedestrian ran or walked into the street, but the motorist’s view was obstructed until just before the impact.

According to “Law Enforcement, Pedestrian Safety, and Driver Compliance with Crosswalk Laws,” Transportation Research Record 1485.

Although not targeted solely at mid-block crossings, a Seattle study found enforcement was rather ineffective in getting vehicles to stop for pedestrians.

Those are the conclusions, and here are some engineering facts that explain the problem as an engineer sees it:

Even when a mid-block crosswalk is noticed by the driver, proper visual scanning of the crosswalk requires the driver to check both ends of the crosswalk for pedestrians about to cross the road. Even assuming very short glances, on the order of 1 second to each side of the crosswalk and a half second glance back to forward traffic in between, at 11 m/s (25 mph), the vehicle would travel 27 m while the driver was scanning the crosswalk, and it would need another 9-12 m of distance under modest to hard braking to stop the vehicle should a pedestrian be spotted. This means that the driver would theoretically need to notice the mid-block crosswalk 38 m (124 ft) before reaching it, and have a clear view of both sides of crosswalk from that distance to effectively scan for pedestrians. With parked cars blocking the view and in high pedestrian areas, this becomes even more challenging, as the driver needs to pick out pedestrians waiting or headed toward the crosswalk from those walking past the crosswalk on the sidewalk.

Fortunately, mid-block crosswalks provide for the easiest countermeasures such as in-pavement LED systems (IRWL) to highlight the existence of a mid-block crosswalk and pedestrian. Since all the vehicles on the road need to stop, simply illuminating the crosswalk using one of the pedestrian activated in-pavement LED systems has been shown to dramatically increase the visibility of the mid-block crosswalk and the likelihood that drivers will stop for pedestrians (Hakkert, Gitelman, and Ben-Shabat, 2002).

Pedestrian Warning Human Factors Considerations – Christopher Nowakowski

December 2005

My prior articles provide background on the problem in Hawaii. The Hawaii Pedestrian Crosswalk Safety Chronicles: Innovative Solution for Crosswalk Safety - by Wayne Parsons

In the future, cars will carry a warning system that includes forward collision warning, side collision warning, navigation, stopped traffic warnings, and intersection/pedestrian warnings. One topic for future research is how to format these new ITS messages and warnings. Last-second warnings are most effective when they direct what action should be taken.

Thus, for a mid-block crosswalk with a pedestrian present, the most effective warning would be simply “stop” because this tells the driver exactly what needs to be done, but it does not necessarily tell the driver why. However, in order to use this type of warning, the false alarm rate must be extremely low or the warnings will be considered a nuisance and disregarded. When more uncertainty exists and the warnings are able to be given sooner, then the warning format may focus on highlighting the threat.

One advantage of in-vehicle warnings is the potential to use sound. Sound is processed no matter where the driver is looking, but since the driver can’t tune them out, they should be used sparingly. A Driver would be overloaded by beeping and buzzing at every intersection.

Research continues on th subject but as for today should the mid-block crosswalks on Oahu be eliminated? What do you say?