You can’t see what you can’t see. That was the case with a crosswalk in…
Three new signals go live on stretch of U.S. 441 known for crashes involving pedestrians and bicycles
Have you noticed the new flashing lights along Orlando’s South Orange Blossom Trail (U.S. 441)? They’re the new pedestrian hybrid beacons, or PHBs, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) installed to help keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe when crossing one of the busiest sections of that road.
FDOT recently finished construction on the third PHB built along South Orange Blossom Trail (OBT). This latest specialized signal is now active at a mid-block crosswalk near Holden Avenue, between Walgreens and the Southgate Shopping Center. Between 2015 and 2019, there were 28 crashes between I-4 and Holden Avenue involving pedestrians crossing South OBT. In those 28 crashes, 10 people lost their lives.
With this third signal turned on, FDOTs Alert Today Florida joined forces with Orange County Sheriff’s deputies at this spot on Thursday, October 7, educating drivers and pedestrians on how this new technology lights up to alert drivers whenever someone is crossing the street.
Because the beacons stay dark until activated, they help increase the awareness of drivers to stop for pedestrians and help reduce rear-end collisions. PHBs are shown to reduce pedestrian crashes and increase the compliance rate of drivers stopping for pedestrians. A study published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published in 2010 found PHBs can reduce crashes involving pedestrians by 69% and total crashes by 29%.
Lynx is also helping to bring awareness to this special type of beacon by using talking buses along this route, letting riders know about the PHBs and how to use them when arriving at this and the other two South OBT locations: on the south side of 37th, between a car sales business and a pawn shop and between 44th and 42nd St., between a Chevron gas station and a motel.
These three mid-block crossings already existed. But for those who used them, their odds of safely arriving on the other side of the street were little better than if they had crossed at any random point along this stretch. In fact, in 2016, Best Foot Forward data collectors measured that only about three of every 100 drivers were yielding to people trying to cross at the marked crosswalk on OBT, north of Holden Ave. Drivers were not yielding for people using the mid-block crosswalks – and they still don’t.
Over the years, local governments and FDOT have worked to make South OBT safer for people on foot. They’ve installed medians, placed bus shelters along the roadway and widened sidewalks in some places. But the fact remains that South OBT is a busy place. It’s a six lane U.S. Highway, and traffic is heavy. FDOT’s latest average daily traffic count shows more than 58,000 vehicles a day use the section of OBT that extends from Holden Avenue to Interstate 4 (I-4).
According to FDOT, PHBs have been proven most effective in locations that don’t warrant a full traffic signal, but where crosswalk signs and markings aren’t improving conditions, which they determined was the case in this particular area. With the high volume of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, factored in with the number of pedestrian/bike-related crashes, the Department recommended that PHBs be installed to help improve safety and control traffic along this busy corridor.
You can expect to see more PHBs installed throughout Central Florida. FDOT recently activated one in Daytona Beach on U.S 92 in front of Mainland High School and Daytona State College and more are set for construction on U.S. 17-92 in Sanford just south of Airport Boulevard.
How does it work for pedestrians?
When a pedestrian reaches the crosswalk, the PHB will display a solid “don’t walk” hand, like other crosswalks. The user presses the button, and the PHB goes through its sequencing to stop traffic. Once activated, the solid red hand will change to a walk sign.
Even though the sign indicates it’s their turn to cross, pedestrians should still always check for oncoming cars. Like a regular crosswalk, pedestrians should finish crossing when the walk sign becomes a flashing red hand. The signal will remain on “don’t walk” until another person activates the button again.
For drivers, the signal begins and ends its cycle completely dark. When a pedestrian presses the button, the triangular signal will start flashing yellow, followed by a solid yellow. This tells drivers they must prepare to stop. Next, drivers will see a solid red light, which means drivers must stop.
After a while, the signal will flash, alternating between two red lights. Drivers may proceed if the pedestrian is no longer in the crosswalk. All drivers should treat the flashing red lights like a stop sign, pulling up to the bar and stopping completely, checking that the intersection is clear, and then continuing through the intersection.
When the signal goes dark again, drivers can continue through the intersection until it is activated by the next pedestrian.
Cities throughout the country are beginning to implement new technology like the pedestrian hybrid beacons. With them, the hope is to keep more pedestrians safe and increase their confidence in using marked crosswalks while maintaining efficiency for drivers.
The key here is buy-in and education. Drivers must obey the lights, and pedestrians need to use the crosswalks. All transportation users will benefit learning more about pedestrian hybrid beacons. These videos are a good place to start: New Pedestrian Safety Signals and Understanding The Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon.