by Tamara Redmon, Ann Do, Rebecca T. Crowe, Darren Buck, and Michael S. Griffith

FHWA and other agencies across USDOT are continually addressing safety concerns for pedestrians by developing and researching effective tools and countermeasures and by coordinating projects, plans, and discussions with State and local officials and safety advocates.

A pedestrian crossing a street at midblock. The crossing has a pedestrian refuge island, high-visibility pavement markings, lighting, in-roadway signing, and reflective signs identifying the crosswalk. Source: FHWA.
This midblock crosswalk includes many STEP features including a high-visibility crosswalk, a pedestrian refuge island, lighting, and signage.

In 2019, pedestrian fatalities decreased by almost 3 percent from 2018 figures, according to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This is good news, particularly because pedestrian fatalities had risen in recent years, both in number and in percentage of all highway mortalities. In 2018, 6,283 pedestrians died from roadway crashes, the highest toll since 1990, and from 2009 to 2018, pedestrian fatalities in crashes increased 53 percent, and the pedestrian share of all highway fatalities increased 42 percent.

NHTSA will be working tirelessly to continue the recent downward trend, and pedestrian safety also remains a big concern of the Federal Highway Administration. FHWA’s Office of Safety; Office of Safety Research and Development (R&D); Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty; and Resource Center Safety and Design Team are undertaking a series of activities that will help increase pedestrian safety.

Collaborative Efforts: Office of Safety, Office of Safety R&D, and Resource Center

Pedestrian safety is a priority of FHWA and has been a focus area since 2004. One of the ways the agency is leveraging resources is by concentrating on the States and cities with the highest pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities. The 17 States and 34 cities that have the most pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities receive technical assistance with safe facility design, data analysis and action plan development, training, and support for a wide range of analysis tools and countermeasures. FHWA reviews and revises the focus areas and data every 5 years or so.

Map showing the focus States and cities.
 The Continuing Focus States are Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. 
The New Focus States are Indiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
The Continuing Focus cities are Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona; Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, in California; Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami-Dade, Orlando, St. Petersburg, and Tampa in Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; New Orleans in Louisiana; Detroit, Michigan; St. Louis, Missouri; Newark, New Jersey; Albuquerque, New Mexico; New York City, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio in Texas, as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The New Focus cities are Bakersfield, Fresno, San Jose, and Santa Ana in California; Indianapolis, Indiana; Baton Rouge in Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Memphis, Tennessee. Source: FHWA.
A midblock crossing in a suburban area that includes rectangular rapid flashing beacons, high-visibility crosswalks, signage, and a pedestrian refuge island. Source: FHWA.
A midblock crossing with rectangular rapid flashing beacons.

Technical Assistance

FHWA has developed a number of trainings, with well over 300 courses delivered and more than 6,000 people trained. In addition, FHWA offers popular quarterly webinars that consistently host 500 attendees. On top of providing training on the design of safe facilities, assisting with crash analysis, and extending specialized technical assistance, FHWA has helped many of the States and cities develop pedestrian safety action plans. Among other accomplishments, FHWA developed the New York State Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, which won the 2018 Governor’s Highway Safety Award and helped lead the State to a large drop in fatalities.

STEP Up to Safety

The FHWA Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian (STEP) program, an innovation of Every Day Counts, began in 2017 with a goal of helping State and local agencies reduce pedestrian fatalities at roadway crossings. The STEP program promotes the “spectacular seven” countermeasures to improve pedestrian safety at crossings: crosswalk visibility enhancements; raised crosswalks; pedestrian refuge islands; rectangular rapid flashing beacons; pedestrian hybrid beacons (PHBs); road diets; and leading pedestrian intervals. STEP has documented more than 30 case studies that highlight the safety benefits of each of the countermeasures.

PHBs constitute one of the most effective countermeasures for multilane and higher speed roads, as highlighted by case studies in Florida and North Carolina. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) installed multiple PHBs along a corridor in Tampa.

“The initial crash reduction we’ve seen on East Hillsborough Avenue has been very encouraging,” says Alex Henry of FDOT District 7. “I think it is proof positive that a combination of relatively inexpensive and easy-to-implement countermeasures can help to make an impact on even our most challenging corridors.”

FHWA recently released STEP Studio, a toolbox for selecting and implementing countermeasures for improving pedestrian crossing safety. STEP Studio is a visual and interactive resource that follows the steps outlined in FHWA’s Guide for Improving Pedestrian Safety at Uncontrolled Crossing Locations (FHWA-SA-17-072) to identify potential countermeasures for a variety of contexts.

A midblock trail crossing in a rural area that has a pedestrian hybrid beacon installed. Source: FHWA.
A pedestrian uses a pedestrian hybrid beacon at a midblock trail crossing.

FHWA is challenging agencies to “STEP UP” to implement proven safety countermeasures at pedestrian crossings. FHWA kicked off the STEP UP campaign in summer 2020—focusing on pedestrian crossing safety in dark conditions, between intersections, and involving older pedestrians. The STEP program recently learned that the city of Roanoke, VA, installed leading pedestrian intervals across its downtown area in summer 2020.

The STEP program provides technical assistance to agencies across the United States and has produced a variety of educational resources, such as tech sheets and videos, to promote the “spectacular seven” countermeasures. The STEP team has worked with dozens of States to develop near-term action plans and conduct road safety audits. The STEP team continues to work on additional videos to explain the relationship between speed, visibility, and pedestrian safety, and the team developed a set of lesson plans for youth between kindergarten and eighth grade that will help students learn about pedestrian safety through STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

For the latest on the STEP program, visit

A pedestrian crossing sign with embedded LEDs at midblock crossing. © Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
Pedestrian crossing sign with embedded LEDs.

Global Benchmarking

FHWA is undertaking a global benchmarking study on reducing pedestrian fatalities though planning and application of safety strategies on principal (nonfreeway) and minor arterials. The goal of the study is to identify successful practices, policies, and innovations that could be applied in the United States to make existing and planned urban signalized arterials safer for pedestrians, as most U.S. pedestrian fatalities occur on arterials, especially under dark conditions.

The primary function of an urban arterial is to deliver traffic from collector roads to freeways or expressways, and between urban areas at the highest level of service possible. These roads generally have faster moving traffic and more vehicle lanes. They prioritize vehicle movement over pedestrian mobility and often lack convenient crossing opportunities.

FHWA’s global benchmarking study is very timely to address the pedestrian safety crisis by (1) learning from the success of other countries that have been successful in reducing pedestrian fatalities on urban arterials; (2) identifying practices and policies that could be applied in the United States to achieve similar results; and (3) systemically implementing the findings throughout the transportation cycle within State and local highway agencies and metropolitan planning organizations.

Strategic Planning

Finally, the FHWA Office of Safety recently completed a project to develop a Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety Strategic Plan. The plan is an update to the 2010 Pedestrian Safety Strategic Plan (FHWA-SA-10-035) to provide FHWA’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety program direction for the next 5 to 10 years. The plan augments the initial program and plan to include the bicycle mode and integrate the latest state of practice on multimodal safety into a “big picture” guiding vision with the ultimate objective of reducing pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities in the United States, while also increasing accessibility. The updated strategic plan is (1) data driven, taking advantage of existing national resources and databases on multimodal safety trends; (2) anchored in the state of the practice of vast national knowledge on multimodal safety, design, and policy research; and (3) focused on directly implementable countermeasures and strategies.

Office of Safety R&D

The Office of Safety R&D’s primary activities reduce injuries and fatalities by better understanding the contributing factors and causes of pedestrian and bicyclist serious injuries and fatalities, identifying and evaluating potential safety improvement measures, fostering public awareness of pedestrian and bicycle safety matters, and providing resources for use at the national, State, and local levels. The Office of Safety R&D is currently undertaking several pedestrian and bicyclist safety-focused research projects.

The Safety Study on Pedestrian Crossing Warning MUTCD W11-2 Sign with Embedded Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) looks at a device being used that has LEDs embedded into the border of a crossing sign. The purpose of the study is to investigate the performance of pedestrian or school crossing warning signs that have embedded LEDs that are activated by the pedestrian (not flashing 24/7). The project will determine the effectiveness of the embedded LEDs in terms of whether drivers are appropriately yielding to pedestrians crossing the street.

A pedestrian crosses at an intersection corner with a vehicle turning right near him. © Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
The speed of right-turning vehicles can affect pedestrians crossing at an intersection, including whether they start to cross and how quickly they cross.

For the FHWA research project Development of Pedestrian Intersection Crash Modification Factor (CMF), the research team has been tasked with analyzing the relationships between right-turn operations and pedestrian-vehicle crashes at signalized intersections. The team aims to develop a CMF for signalized intersection corner radius and to investigate how turning speeds vary as a function of the design at the intersection corner. The crash analysis is currently ongoing. The final selected model from the speed study can be used to predict the average and 85th percentile turning speeds for a given corner radius. The anticipated CMF can be used to consider the effects of signalized intersection corner radius on crashes.

FHWA recently started a project entitled Evaluation of Aesthetically Treated Crosswalks, which will use a series of closed-course studies to investigate behavior associated with aesthetic treatments of crosswalks. Crosswalk pavement markings provide guidance for pedestrians crossing streets by defining and delineating the path. In recent years, some State and local jurisdictions have added color, patterns, and artwork to crossings within the space between crosswalk markings. The objective of the study is to determine if and how the aesthetically treated crosswalks impact road users’ recognition of and behavior at the crosswalk. The outcomes of this project can help FHWA continue to refine the standards and guidance on the design and use of crosswalk markings.

Finally, the study Investigating How Multimodal Environments Affect Multitasking Driving Behaviors will examine multitasking behaviors when drivers are in environments that include large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists. Multitasking behavior refers to any secondary activity not related to the primary driving task, such as engagement on mobile devices, eating, drinking, and talking to passengers. Naturalistic driving data are critical to achieve the objectives of this study, as they offer detailed and objective information about the type and frequency of driver distracting behaviors in everyday driving situations. They also provide a broader context of contributing factors (environment, weather, traffic, season) given a driver’s sociodemographic characteristics and vehicle information (type, speed, etc.).

“The Office of Safety R&D is supporting the USDOT’s and FHWA’s first strategic objective of safety and reducing transportation-related fatalities and serious injuries, particularly for pedestrians,” says Brian Cronin, director of the Office of Safety R&D and the Office of Operations R&D. “As one can see from the projects included here, our work focuses on studying countermeasures, road geometries, [and] traffic control devices, as well as evaluating behavior. We are adding technology to our Smart Intersection [at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center], expanding our simulator capabilities, and developing new virtual reality research tools. Feedback received from the USDOT Summit on Pedestrian Safety and the update of the FHWA Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategic Plan will guide the direction of our future pedestrian safety research.”

Office of Human Environment

FHWA’s Office of Human Environment, part of the Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty, promotes safe, comfortable, and convenient walking and bicycling for people of all ages and abilities. The office supports pedestrian and bicycle transportation through planning, programmatic support, funding, policy guidance, program management, and resource development. In partnership with NHTSA, the Office of Human Environment supports the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, which develops and disseminates resources vital to advancing mobility, access, equity, and safety. Through its website ( and monthly newsletters, the center provides timely and relevant pedestrian and bicycle safety research for practitioners.

FHWA’s Multimodal Network Connectivity Pilot grant program supported eight communities in their efforts to define and analyze where and why people walk and bike on their transportation networks. Multimodal network analyses like these can assist safety practitioners in predicting where pedestrian- and bicyclist-involved crashes may occur.

The East Central Florida Regional Planning Council and MetroPlan Orlando used this grant to create the Land Overlaid on Transportation Information System (LOTIS), which combines land-use and transportation attribute data into a geodata-base that can be used for a variety of purposes, including safe system analysis. Using the system, the agencies were able to analyze the entire regional transportation network and create a safety score rating for every road segment that estimates pedestrian and bicycle crash risk. The public can browse the system’s analysis products at, and the Office of Human Environment expects to post a summary report on the Multimodal Network Connectivity Pilot grant program in early 2021.

In response to a stated need from practitioners for quick, practice-ready research in pedestrian and bicycle transportation, the Office of Human Environment established the Fostering Innovation in Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation pooled fund study in 2017. With participation from 14 State department of transportation partners and other FHWA offices, this pooled fund has conducted research into green pavement markings for bicyclists, crosswalk marking designs, and curb extensions for pedestrians.


Read the full article at FHWA’s Public Roads Magazine