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Using Passive Pedestrian Detection for Trail and Roadway Crossings

Date:
September 17, 2020
Topics:
ITS, Resources

The Florida DOT District 7 office, working in coordination with regional agencies, is piloting the use of passive pedestrian detection at the intersection of one of the state’s long-distance, multi-use trails, the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, and Skinner Boulevard (S.R. 580) in Pinellas County. The multi-month project will test how technology can serve the dual purpose of improving pedestrian and bicyclist mobility and safety as well as collect pedestrian and cyclist counts.

Four agencies are partnering to conduct the pilot: City of Dunedin, Florida DOT, Forward Pinellas (the Metropolitan Planning Organization), and Pinellas County. Each organization took on a role in project planning and implementation. Florida DOT proposed the detection sensor system and connected technology vendors to the local agencies. In addition, Florida DOT has the responsibility of conducting a before and after evaluation.  Forward Pinellas had the role of coordinating planning and engineering among the project parties. Pinellas County financed the purchase of a new Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB) and provided the personnel to install the equipment, including the camera detector purchased by the City of Dunedin.   

Project Purposes

As background, the first segment of the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail opened in 1990. Federal and state funds, along with funding from a local option sales tax, have supported completion of the trail. As of 2019, the facility is approximately 50 miles long, running north-south along former CSX railroad right-of-way.[i]

Skinner Boulevard (S.R. 580), a principal arterial, is currently two lanes each direction with striped on-street bicycle lanes. The Pinellas Trail crossing at the pilot location includes a ladder crosswalk, a median refuge area, and push button signals. According to trail counts, the average daily crossings consist of 65 percent pedestrians and 32 percent bicyclists, yet, a higher percent of pedestrians than cyclists (80 percent) actuate the signal at the Skinner Boulevard crossing. The location was selected in part because of the bicycle and pedestrian crossing volumes, and the solar power conducted at the crossing had inadequate battery storage capacity for the passive detection system and flashing lights integral to a RRFB planned for the crossing.[ii]

New crossing detection system in place at Pinellas Trail and Skinner Boulevard. Image courtesy Whit Blanton, Forward Pinellas

Passive detection does not require trail users to push a crossing button. Detectors track movement and are linked to signal timing. In addition to facilitating crossings, detectors can be used to conduct counts, clock speed, and identify direction of travel. Thermal energy emitted from cyclists and pedestrians trigger sensors linked to an installed RRFB that includes yellow rectangular lights that flash. According to the FHWA’s Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian (STEP) Countermeasures, RRFBs can reduce pedestrian crashes by 47 percent. RRFB installation ranges from $4,500 to $52,000 with an average installation cost of $22,250 per site.[iii]    

Florida has the nation’s highest levels of pedestrian fatalities, and the state is focusing on efforts to reduce pedestrian risks. Florida DOT’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan includes emphasis on using a “…systematic approach to identify locations and behaviors prone to pedestrian and bicycle crashes and implement multi-disciplinary countermeasures” and creating “urban and rural built environments to support and encourage safe bicycling and walking.”[iv] In the case of the Pinellas Trail and Skinner Boulevard crossing, the location was the site of 11 bicycle crashes and six pedestrian crashes between 2011 and 2019, making it a key location for the state’s safety improvement plans. Funding support for the cyclist and pedestrian detection system came through a combination of city and county funds with other agencies providing personnel support for installation, maintenance, and evaluation. Pinellas County will maintain the camera detection and RRFB system according to a master agreement signed between the county and Florida DOT. Florida DOT arranged for the technology vendors to provide installation and usage training during project implementation.[v]      

Passive detection tracks bicyclist and pedestrian movements. Detectors are capable of adjusting signal timing. Image courtesy Florida DOT District 7 presentation

Outcomes

As the Pinellas Trail crossing is part of a pilot test, results and evaluation of the new crossing detection have not yet been finalized. An evaluation report is expected to be available in early 2020. According to Florida DOT district engineering staff, initial results have been positive per trail user feedback.


[i] Pinellas County, Florida (nd) Parks & Conservation Resources, https://www.pinellascounty.org/trailgd/

[ii] Florida DOT presentation (2019). Forward Pinellas Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee Meeting – June 17, 2019, http://forwardpinellas.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/BPAC-June-17-2019-Agenda.pdf

[iii] U.S. DOT (2018). Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian Countermeasure Tech Sheet, https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/step/docs/TechSheet_RRFB_508compliant.pdf

[iv] Florida DOT (2016). Florida Strategic Highway Safety Plan,  https://fdotwww.blob.core.windows.net/sitefinity/docs/default-source/safety/safety/shsp2016/fdot_2016shsp_final.pdf?sfvrsn=3c118f35_0

[v] Personal communication with Peter Hsu and Whit Blanton, October 2019

This report was delivered to the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2020. It was primarily authored by NADO Program Manager Rachel Beyerle and NADO Associate Director Carrie Kissel. Many transportation agency staff and others assisted with this project in a variety of ways. We offer deep and heartfelt thanks to all the individuals who have provided information and images, consented to be interviewed, and offered editorial guidance in support of this research. This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation under requisition number HOIT190194PR. Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. DOT or the NADO Research Foundation.