A woman walking across a street.

Crosswalk safety for pedestrians

CSE researchers target driver behavior, improve pedestrian safety

Pedestrian-car crashes have been on the rise across the United States—a trend that has manifested in the Twin Cities. In St. Paul alone, 835 pedestrians have been struck by motor vehicles over the past five years.

In hopes of preventing these crashes, researchers from the HumanFIRST Laboratory in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Mechanical Engineering have been collaborating with city and state officials on a project aimed at reminding drivers to watch out for pedestrians.

“The main premise of the study is to measure and enhance the efficacy of high-visibility enforcement for driver compliance to the crosswalk law in Saint Paul,” said principal investigator Nichole Morris.

Morris is lab director and adjunct professor of industrial and systems engineering at the College of Science and Engineering.

The researchers began collecting data in September 2017 with the original intention of evaluating the effectiveness of the “Stop for Me” campaign, an existing pedestrian safety program in Saint Paul.

With the help of Roadway Safety Institute researcher Ron Van Houten, Morris decided to take the study to another level.

“Instead of just measuring whether the Stop for Me campaign was effective, we wanted to ask, ‘Is it effective and can we improve it?’” Morris said.

Tickets at the crosswalk

The HumanFIRST Lab—with funding from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and in conjunction with the City of Saint Paul—began working on a multi-step study exploring the effects of increased education, high-visibility police enforcement, and low-cost engineering on driving behavior.

Curtis Craig, a research associate in the College of Science and Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, is a co-investigator.

The project started with the distribution of educational flyers warning pedestrians about what Morris calls “multiple-threat crashes,” in which one car will stop for a pedestrian at a crosswalk only to be passed by another car from behind.

In the fall of 2017, the researchers began collecting data at 16 crosswalks twice a week across the city. In May 2018, St. Paul police began stationing themselves near eight of those crosswalks to catch and warn drivers who failed to stop for pedestrians. In June, they began giving out tickets.

At the same time, the University of Minnesota's HumanFIRST researchers put up “feedback signs” on major corridors—approximately 25,000 or greater average daily traffic for high exposure—across the city that displayed the weekly percentage of drivers who stopped for pedestrians.

In August and October, the researchers and city of Saint Paul added another layer.

They strategically placed low-cost, in-street signs at the treated crosswalks—drawing attention to the possibility of crossing pedestrians and reminding them of the Minnesota crosswalk law to stop for them.

Positive results

Data collection continued through the end of October 2018, and findings so far have been positive.

Since September 2017, the average compliance rate of drivers at the eight “treated” sites—or those with police-enforcement and signs—jumped from 32 to 77 percent. Results were less dramatic at the eight untreated sites, but compliance rose to as high as 61 percent.

“This project will provide a template for successful implementation of a multi-faceted program that will increase pedestrian safety within communities of many different sizes,” said Melissa Barnes, former MnDOT pedestrian and bicycle safety engineer (now Metro District north area engineer).

“I would encourage communities to consider using [this University of Minnesota-led study] if they have pedestrian safety concerns,” Barnes said.

Moving forward, University of Minnesota researchers need to further analyze the data to determine the influence of various characteristics of each crosswalk, the sustainability of the results, and which countermeasures (engineering, enforcement, and education) were most effective.

A final report, including the findings from this analysis, will be published this year.

One paper, with with information about the first half of the study is available online; read “Pedestrian Safety and Driver Yielding Near Public Transit Stops.

“We see this demonstration project is a great success,” Morris said, “but really is a first step in measuring how the long-term efficacy of the program and how it can be deployed more widely across that state of Minnesota”

Adapted from CTS Catalyst, Center for Transportation Studies newsletter.

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