HD23 - HB 1841 Working Group Crosswalk Design Report (Chapter 130, 2021 SSI)

Executive Summary:

HB 1841, introduced by Delegate Mark Keam, was enacted into law pursuant to the 2021 Special Session of the Virginia General Assembly (see Chapter 130 of the Acts of Assembly, 2021 Special Session 1). The legislation directs the Commissioner of Highways or his designee to convene a Working Group (WG) comprised of relevant stakeholders to determine if there should be model policies for the design and installation of crosswalks in Virginia. If the WG determines that model policies are needed, recommendations for content of the policies will be established by the WG with the goals of promoting statewide uniformity, maximizing pedestrian safety, all while considering the needs of people with disabilities that impair sight or mobility. Furthermore, the WG is directed to monitor and provide input to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as updates for crosswalk designs are considered in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD). HB 1841 requires that a report on the WG’s findings and recommendations be submitted to the Governor and the General Assembly by November 1, 2021.

According to the MUTCD, crosswalk markings provide guidance for pedestrians who are crossing roadways by defining and delineating paths on approaches to and within signalized intersections, and on approaches to other intersections where traffic stops. In conjunction with signs and other measures, crosswalk markings help to alert road users of a designated pedestrian crossing point across roadways at locations that are not controlled by traffic control signals or Stop or Yield signs. Finally, at non-intersection locations, crosswalk markings legally establish the crosswalk.

Establishing a crosswalk requires two decisions. The first decision is to determine the appropriate location for the crosswalk. The second decision is to determine what type of crosswalk markings to use. There are two classes of markings: basic/standard and high-visibility.

The WG represents a multitude of different organizations and perspectives, primarily the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT); transportation researchers; localities; advocacy organizations for persons with disabilities; constituents, including those with disabilities; and Delegate Keam. HB 1841 required that the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) and the Virginia Municipal League (VML) be included as part of the WG with the remainder composed of “relevant stakeholders."

These WG members represent a broad spectrum of advocacy, transportation, and other government agencies. Additionally, VDOT provided several technical advisors to the WG from Traffic Engineering Division, Transportation and Mobility Planning Division, Location and Design Division, Government and Legislative Affairs Division, and several contractors. These technical advisors assisted in the development of the WG’s deliverables, provided input and technical support for the WG’s activities, and provided logistical support for the WG process. The WG was intended to bring various stakeholders with diverse perspectives together to collaboratively respond to the topics within HB 1841.

The full WG met to collaborate on June 11, 2021 and August 24, 2021. During each of these meetings there was an open discussion to foster collaboration and allow the entire WG to provide input into this process. The purpose of the June 11, 2021 meeting was primarily to set the course for the WG’s activities and discuss how best to meet all HB 1841 requirements. The August 24, 2021 meeting’s purpose was to discuss and refine the model policy definition and formulate the WG’s response to the questions posed by the General Assembly in HB 1841. A straw poll was conducted at the second WG meeting and the results indicated support for a model crosswalk policy in Virginia.

Commonwealth Transportation System

VDOT maintains most roadways outside of cities within Virginia, with Arlington and Henrico Counties being the only counties that maintain their own roadways. In cities and larger towns, the localities maintain most roadways. Since VDOT maintains a large proportion of the roadways in Virginia, VDOT involvement is key to any statewide policy implementation. It is important to note that localities and other transportation agencies who are maintaining their own roads have autonomy over their roadways. While they are required to follow Federal traffic control device policies and requirements set by state law, they are free to develop their own business practices and policies for items left up to the individual transportation agency.

Literature Review on Crosswalks and Pedestrians with No/Low Vision

Virginia Transportation Research Council (VTRC) conducted a literature review that summarizes published studies, articles, and reports, along with research in progress, for several topics related to crosswalk design. The core topic of the literature review was on the effectiveness of high-visibility crosswalk marking styles compared to that of basic marking styles, and the full literature review can be found in Appendix G of this report.

Current Governing Requirements, Polices, and Practices in the Commonwealth

As mentioned above, there is a hierarchy of requirements applicable to a transportation agency. Federal requirements, including but not limited to the MUTCD, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, apply broadly across all roadways in the United States. Requirements set in the Code of Virginia and the Virginia Administrative Code also apply broadly across public roadways in Virginia, regardless of who maintains them. VDOT has its own policies that apply only to VDOT-maintained roadways in most cases, though they can apply to locality-maintained roadways when funding comes from or through VDOT. Localities maintaining their own roads have their own agency-level policies.

With respect to most standard traffic control devices (including crosswalks), federal and state requirements generally specify the design of the device, while transportation agencies decide when and where to apply a device. The agency’s decisions are based on its available resources, business practices, and location context, which can vary significantly across agencies. VDOT’s transportation-agency-level guidelines are based on significant research and data-analysis and direct the expenditure of funds where needs are the greatest. VDOT partners with localities often to achieve common goals, but it is important to note that VDOT’s business practices do not apply to other agencies outside of VDOT.

Determining the Need for a Model Policy

The first requirement in HB 1841 is for the WG to “determine whether there should be model policies for crosswalk design and installation in the Commonwealth." The WG’ consensus was that there should be such model policies.

The WG came to this consensus after carefully considering the definition of a model policy. For the purposes of HB 1841, the WG defined a model policy as:

A policy document outlining a consistent decision-making framework, established by each road-maintaining agency, for determining when and where to install marked crosswalks, what marking pattern to use for each crosswalk, and what other design elements to install in conjunction with the crosswalk. A model policy document also identifies who is authorized to make crosswalk decisions within the agency.

Furthermore, the WG determined that a road agency's policy should:

• Be clearly written and easily understandable by planners, designers, decision-makers, and the public.

• Be consistent with federal and state laws and regulations regarding crosswalks, including the federal MUTCD and applicable sections of the Code of Virginia.

• Be periodically updated as necessary to reflect changes in state/federal requirements, evolving national standards/best practices, and/or feedback from staff, consultants, or constituents, including those with disabilities that impair sight or mobility.

• Reflect and promote the application of engineering judgment in consideration of:

o Usability of the crosswalk by those with vision, mobility, or other impairments.

o Awareness of local context including geography, land-use, and community preferences.

o The practicality of available resources for crosswalk management and maintenance including workforce, funding, equipment, contracting, and scheduling.

o Location-specific factors such as traffic volumes, crossing distance, crossing vehicle speeds, and/or others as identified by the agency based on common practices, research, and experience.

• Be a subject of training and outreach to crosswalk decision makers to ensure the policy is correctly and consistently applied.

The following key factors affecting crosswalk decisions were identified:

• State and federal requirements

• Crash risk

• Usage and context

• Equity

• Placemaking

• Constraints

• Prioritization

• Modal emphasis

After carefully discussing the model policy definition in detail and WG members providing feedback and commentary, the WG’s consensus is that there should be a model crosswalk policy in Virginia.

Recommendations for a Model Policy in Virginia

The second requirement in HB 1841 is for the WG to “establish recommendations for such model policies" if it was determined that model policies for design and installation of crosswalks should be established. The WG recommended that the following items be included in any model policy developed in the future.

A model policy for design and installation of crosswalks must take into account different types of users of crosswalks and their specific needs, including:

• Children and Young Pedestrians
• Older Pedestrians
• Blind Pedestrians
• Pedestrians with Low Vision (whose needs are different than blind pedestrians)
• Pedestrians with Hearing Impairments
• Pedestrians with both Visual and Hearing Impairments
• Pedestrians with Mobility Impairments
• Pedestrians with Cognitive or Intellectual Impairments
• Impaired or Distracted Pedestrians
• Transit Users

In addition to pedestrians, vehicle drivers are also “users" of crosswalks to the extent that crosswalks impose legal requirements on them. To effectively serve this function, a crosswalk must be visible to drivers sufficiently far in advance for them to stop if a pedestrian is present in the crosswalk. Thus, enhanced measures (e.g. high-visibility marking patterns, signs, advance warning, pedestrian signals) are often appropriate as traffic volumes, roadway speeds, and roadway widths increase.

Operators of bicycles, scooters, and other small mobility devices are another road user group that must be considered. Sometimes they operate like pedestrians (e.g. riding on a trail or walking or riding a bike across a crosswalk), while at other times they operate like motor vehicles (e.g. when riding in the street, a cyclist is required to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk).

Development of detailed policies and design standards for a model policy was beyond the scope of this project, however guiding principles that guide the development of a model policy have been developed by the WG. They are outlined below.

Pedestrian safety, equity, and accessibility should be the overarching objectives of a model policy.

There must be a holistic consideration of mobility and safety needs of pedestrians, drivers, and other road users in crosswalk design.

Complete uniformity in crosswalk design is neither necessary nor desirable, but uniformity in decision-making processes for crosswalk implementation is desirable.

o The crosswalk designs should be as consistent as possible within similar contexts.

o Monitor the results of ongoing research and potential future FHWA rulemaking changes regarding elements such as artistic or decorative designs.

Fiscal responsibility is important in order to provide the greatest benefit to the largest number of road users.

o Fiscal responsibility will likely involve some form of prioritization of improvement locations to keep other transportation agency initiatives moving forward while crosswalks are implemented.

o Transportation agencies must consider the full life-cycle costs of their crosswalks, including future maintenance, and ensure that there is sufficient funding for maintenance of existing crossings (including their accessibility features). Devices that are not sufficiently maintained are particularly challenging for users with disabilities.

• The model policy should be a recommendation for transportation agencies, not a requirement.

• Lastly, agencies should periodically reevaluate their policies in response to changing crash trends, changes in land use and demographics, in response to new research, to adapt to new technologies, and/or in response to feedback from planners, designers, maintenance staff, and constituents (including those with disabilities that impair vision and/or mobility).

Based on the guiding principles and user groups defined above, a model policy for crosswalk design and implementation should contain the following elements:

• An introduction stating the agency’s commitment to providing safe and equitable transportation options to various user groups of all ages and abilities.

• A designation of a specific position, office or entity within the agency that is responsible for consistent implementation of, and monitoring compliance with, the policy.

• A scope defining where, and to what crossing types, the policy applies. It is recommended that the policy apply to all signalized, uncontrolled, and mid-block crossing locations.

• A process defining criteria for selecting appropriate locations for crosswalks. This includes safety-based requirements such as minimum sight distance and current and potential pedestrian volumes, in addition to criteria to locate crosswalks along pedestrian desire lines. Context-based minimum and maximum distances from other crosswalks should be specified to avoid location of crosswalks too closely together such that there are traffic operational issues or too far from one another so as not to provide adequate crossing opportunities for pedestrians.

• Criteria for defining when high-visibility markings are used and when basic markings are used. These might include, but are not limited to, proximity to certain land use types, roadway characteristics such as speed limit, and traffic characteristics such as average daily volumes.

• Criteria for installation and maintenance of brick pavers, stamped patterns, or crosswalk art/decorative crosswalk that conform to MUTCD requirements and that will not result in a pattern that could be confusing or disorienting to those with partial vision impairment. Members of the WG articulated specific concerns regarding how crosswalk art/decorative crosswalk that is not compliant with the MUTCD may be detrimental to those with low vision.

• A toolbox of additional countermeasures that may be desirable or necessary for a given crosswalk, based on factors including roadway width, presence of a median, roadway speed limit, pedestrian volume, and traffic volume.

• List of accessibility features required, including accessible pedestrian signals, curb ramps, and/or detectable warning surfaces with references to any requirements associated with those devices.

• A list of specific effective dates for requirements located within the body of the policy.

• A protocol for citizens to request new crosswalks, request maintenance on existing crosswalks, and report concerns with crosswalks. This protocol should include procedures for keeping the citizen informed on the status of their request periodically until the request has been resolved. Many agencies have a standard system for this such as the 311 system in cities or the my.vdot.virginia.gov website.

Monitor and Provide Input to FHWA on the MUTCD

The third requirement in HB 1841 is for the WG to “monitor and provide input to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration as updates to crosswalk designs in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways [MUTCD] are considered."
FHWA published a new Notice of Proposed Amendments (NPA) in the Federal Register in December 2020 with a proposed draft of the 11th Edition of the MUTCD. This version was supplied for public comment with a formal comment process and comments due to FHWA by May 14, 2021. The requirements in HB 1841 did not take effect until after this comment deadline, but several stakeholders from the WG, including VDOT, performed very thorough reviews of the proposed new MUTCD content and provided comments to the FHWA comment docket.