Image by Mike Maguire licensed under Creative Commons.

Over the years, I've read about how my Advisory Neighborhood Commission has advocated for new crosswalks in Glover Park. I have also researched and written some GGWash posts about streets and sidewalks, lots of which have crosswalks. But I recently realized that I still had a lot of questions about why crosswalks go where they do and how they are maintained.

I asked DDOT Communications Specialist, Michelle Phipps-Evans, a bunch of questions about crosswalks, and she helped me understand the basics. Here are ten bits of crosswalk trivia I learned:

1. There are more crosswalks than you think there are

People generally think of crosswalks as the marked lines across the street. But crosswalks exist whether marked or not exist at every intersection of one or more streets according to the law in the District and all 50 states. DC's rules define a legal crosswalk occurring at the intersection of a roadways, even when there are no markings on the pavement.

While DDOT doesn’t have an exact count of crosswalks, on the maintenance side 1,225 crosswalks were installed and refreshed in the past five years.

Image by Mad African!: (Broken Sword) Follow licensed under Creative Commons.

2. Some new crosswalks are DDOT’s idea, yet many come from resident suggestions

Residents contact DDOT when an intersection is “missing” a crosswalk, meaning that there are no painted markings on the street at a specific intersection. Markings installed at intersections without traffic signals are referred to as uncontrolled crosswalks. In other cases, residents ask DDOT to consider installing a mid-block crossing, but the rule is that those must be at least 250 feet away from intersections with traffic signals.

DDOT also examines installing crosswalks during nearby DDOT projects and those completed by private developers.

3. Marked crosswalks aren’t appropriate everywhere people request them

The people who decide whether to paint a crosswalk first look at roadway width and vehicular traffic volumes. Phipps-Evans illustrated this point by adding, “for example, we do not want to install a new, uncontrolled crosswalk across a major arterial, like Connecticut Avenue NW, because of the width of roadway and heavy traffic volumes.”

For mid-block locations in particular, DDOT examines whether there are sufficient pedestrian generators such as bus stops, residences, commercial uses, recreational uses, and schools. If there are heavy left-hand turn volumes, DDOT might only install the marked crosswalk on the right side of the intersection to balance vehicular congestion with pedestrian connections.

4. Yet there are ways to make crosswalk locations more frequently-used, and safer

DDOT is working with WMATA to remove and consolidate bus stops when doing so means safer conditions for pedestrians. DDOT generally avoids uncontrolled crossings within 350’ of an intersection with a traffic signal because sometimes focus on the signal in the distance instead of people in the upcoming marked crosswalk.

But DDOT will consider a crosswalk across a major arterial roadway when the agency can make the crosswalk more visually noticeable to drivers than simple painted lines. These types of crosswalks are referred to as “enhanced control,” and examples include High-Intensity Activated crossWalK (HAWK) signals. In fact, DDOT installed enhanced control signals at a record pace in 2016 and now operates 15 HAWKs and 12 Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacons (RRFBs).

Image by Mike Maguire licensed under Creative Commons.

5. Crosswalks can only go in locations compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA, a law signed in 1990, ensures equal opportunity and access to people with disabilities. The US Department of Transportation sets federal accessibility standards that apply to curbs and sidewalks based on ADA. Any new crosswalk location must have ADA accommodations such as curb ramps with detectable warning strips.

DDOT will only install a crosswalk at a location where those features can be installed, and the agency avoids crossings that would potentially conflict with drainage, streetlights, or utility poles.

6. Crosswalks wear out and resident service requests prompt most repainting

Resident requests cause about 85 percent of crosswalk marking restriping, with DDOT inspectors identifying the rest. Older markings last two to five years on asphalt roadways. These markings fade even faster than normal on high volume traffic roadways and on concrete roadways where they may only last 18 months. Manufactures keep improving thermoplastic used for markings and the current technology can last up to five years, even in high traffic locations.

7. Crosswalk restriping is seasonal

DDOT inspections track missing and faded crosswalks during the winter months. Crosswalk repainting only happens in warmer months, even though residents and DDOT identify crosswalks for repainting year-round. Phipps-Evans noted that, “Crosswalk marking maintenance is seasonal as thermoplastic cannot be applied successfully in temps below about 50 degrees.”

8. Pedestrian pylons are relatively inexpensive ways to enhance unsignalized crosswalks

DDOT's Safety Team identifies locations for pedestrian pylons, also known as in-street stop for pedestrian, a sign at least 3’ high normally paced on double yellow centerlines or even center concrete islands. Pedestrian pylons cost $291 for materials and $50 for labor to install. For that modest investment, a pylon provides a visual reminder for drivers. DDOT has installed 500 pedestrian pylons and they last about a year… unless a driver runs over them.

9. Some crosswalks need to be removed to make streets safer for pedestrians

New research from the from the Federal Highway Administration shows that simply marking crosswalks on high volume, multi-lane streets dramatically increases the risk for pedestrians trying to cross. Pedestrians are safer in these locations only with other enhancements, such as HAWK signals or adding a traffic signals. DDOT will identify where HAWKs, RRFBs, refuge islands – a protected space in the middle of a street – and traffic signals can serve as enhancements at reasonable intervals along corridors. Safety research indicates that crosswalks should be removed when it can’t be substantially enhanced.

10. DDOT planning changes will lead to better decisions and safer pedestrian crossings

A crosswalk enhancement policy is one thing that's on the way following the 2009 Pedestrian Master Plan. DDOT is also formalizing a document to make its policy on high visibility crosswalks more transparent for residents. These crosswalk installation and maintenance efforts can improve safety infrastructure consistent with Vision Zero and the Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets.

Pedestrians can walk across several or even dozens of crosswalks each day without appreciating the complexity of crosswalk locations and maintenance. These top issues and their explanations may be useful to residents when making crosswalk-related requests in the District.

Tagged: pedestrians

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 30 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve.