Crosswalk Tripping Hazards Expert Article

Crosswalk safety traditionally focuses on access within ramp areas and efforts to reduce pedestrian vs. vehicle collisions. However, slip, trip, and fall hazards also represent a substantial risk within these designated pedestrian walkways.

This article will introduce attorneys to crosswalk design and maintenance issues related to walkway safety.

Crosswalk Tripping Hazard Expert Witness Investigations

Does Your Case Involve a Crosswalk?

Crosswalks are generally located immediately adjacent to a road intersection or mid-block to facilitate a desired location for crossing a roadway. It is an area of the road designated for pedestrians to cross safely and, therefore, demands specific attention in that regard.

While laws and design standards vary from state to state, crosswalks are often delineated with white lines (or yellow for some school crossings). However, not all crosswalks are marked or required to be.

Additional features can be installed to improve both the intersection and mid-block crosswalk safety, where hybrid pedestrian warning signs, pedestrian signal, or traffic signal can control traffic.

A critical element of laying out a crosswalk is to consult the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The MUTCD is the governing document for all traffic control devices and sets the national minimum crosswalk markings and signage standards.

Crosswalk Design Considerations

Proper planning and design are the first steps in providing a safe pedestrian crossing. The design must consider many factors, including the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and best practices identified in the Public Right of Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG), guidelines that assist transportation in ADA implementation.

The designer must never forget that all ramps and crosswalks are considered an ADA “path of travel," as defined:

An identifiable, accessible route within an existing site or facility by means of which a particular area may be approached, entered and existed, and which connects a particular area with an exterior approach (including sidewalks, streets, and parking areas), an entrance to the facility and other parts of the facility.

The designer must give extra consideration when considering a pedestrian crossing, especially for traffic signal features for pedestrian crossings, sidewalk and crossing geometrics, and pavement texturing both within and approaching a crosswalk area.

Issues that often factor into crosswalk slip, trip, and fall cases include:

  • Change in Grade Between Slopes and Counter Slopes – Roads are often built with a crown, curb, and gutter to facilitate water runoff/drainage. An access ramp within the sidewalk has a maximum 8.33% slope to the gutter, whereas a road can have a counter slope of 5% to the gutter. The location where these slopes come together can be an issue where the differential of slopes is greater than 13.33%. If the 13.33% is exceeded, a 24” flush transition with a maximum slope of 2.1% and a cross that matches the crosswalk’s cross slope is needed.
  • Cross Slopes – Within the crosswalk, between the ramps, the allowable cross slope ranges from 2% to 5% depending on the type of intersection right of way controls.
  • Flush Transitions – Surface transitions should be reasonably flush, not exceeding the maximum allowable height differential, and free of excessive elevation changes that may cause tripping incidents. This includes the transition from the ramp to the roadway.
  • Width – Minimum crosswalk width is 6’ but should be as wide or wider than the sidewalk it serves. ADA access onto a crosswalk from an access ramp must lead to and be fully contained within the crosswalk width.
  • Slip Resistant Striping – Lines within crosswalks should be painted using a slip-resistant coating or treated to provide adequate slip resistance in wet and dry conditions.
  • Lighting – Lighting requirements vary across state/localities, but adequate lighting is essential for pedestrians to detect and avoid potential hazards and for the visibility of the pedestrians to motorists.

Construction Considerations

The MUTCD states that during the use of temporary traffic control, one cannot close, deviate, or relocate a safe crossing without consideration for providing the same safe access that existed before construction.

Further, if the existing pavement, sidewalk, or ramp for the crosswalk is altered by new construction, all facilities remaining that provide ADA access must be brought up to current standards, mitigating potential trip and fall hazards.

The remaining items for consideration would be things such as the width of the crosswalk, which needs to be 6' wide minimum, and the type of striping to include anti-slip materials. Still, they should target being as wide or wider than the sidewalk it serves.

Other issues such as street lighting requirements for crosswalks, (which is usually a state or local requirement), and whether there is a need for crossing features such as a median island should be considered.

Examples of Hazards in a Crosswalk

Proper design and construction are a good start, but adequate maintenance is critical to crosswalk safety. Crosswalks and the associated warning devices are exposed to a litany of forces that contribute to their degradation, including:

  • Extreme weather
  • Vehicle crashes
  • Roadway maintenance/utility work
  • Snow plowing
  • Vandalism

Many things adversely affect the adequacy of crosswalk elements and develop into dangerous conditions.

Potholes: Alligator cracking and other surface imperfections can allow water infiltration, leading to further deterioration and the formation of surface defects such as potholes.

Inadequate Friction on Pavement Striping: The crosswalk strip (pavement marking) can get very slippery when wet, which is especially hazardous for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Many states and local jurisdictions have established standards to ensure roughness coefficient requirements are met during the placement of traffic striping. Continual inspection and maintenance are required to provide adequate friction levels to maintain a sure footing when walking across these markings.

Manholes & Utility Covers: Improperly seated utility covers are a significant tripping hazard. Where utility covers and manholes exist within the crosswalk, the pavement deteriorates, creating surface defects around the cover/frame. Improperly sized rings can also create a tripping hazard. Like pavement striping and markings, manhole lids and utility covers can become very slippery when wet. Covers should be designed for pedestrian areas.

Improper/Insufficient Lighting: Most jurisdictions have minimum crosswalk lighting requirements, especially on busier arterial roadways or state highways. Inadequate lighting may inhibit people from detecting and avoiding potential hazards and reduce the visibility of pedestrians within the crosswalk to approaching motorists.

Trench Lines and/or Utility Work:  Construction activities can also damage pavement markings, and the failure to properly restore those markings can reduce the effectiveness of the message that these pavement markings are meant to convey to motorists, bicycles, and/or pedestrians.

Temporary Traffic Control: The Manual of Uniform Traffic Devices, Section 6 contains detailed plans for proper traffic control setup. Failure to follow the MUTCD can create confusion, route pedestrians to unsafe areas, and potentially violate ADA requirements.

Poorly Placed Curb Inlet:  If not adequately protected, inlet grates and slotted pipe openings can present a tripping hazard to pedestrians, cyclists, and individuals in wheelchairs. Roadway slopes directing flow to the inlet must meet applicable requirements, including those promulgated by the ADA.

Pedestrian Crosswalk Injury Expert Investigations

The experts at Robson Forensics are fully versed in the intricacies of both the MUTCD and PROWAG. They are frequently retained to determine if the design, construction, or maintenance operations of crosswalks and other roadway systems contributed to the cause of motor vehicle collisions, pedestrian strikes, or other injuries.

For more information, submit an inquiry or call 800.813.6736.

Featured Expert

Richard Tippett, Civil Engineer & Traffic Engineering Expert

Richard Tippett, P.E., T.E.

Civil Engineer & Traffic Engineering Expert
Richard Tippett is a Civil and Traffic Engineer with 30+ years of experience in public works infrastructure projects for roadways, utilities, airports, and building construction. Rick applies his… read more.

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