For uncontrolled pedestrian crossings (i.e. no traffic signal or stop sign is present), is it safer to have a marked or unmarked crosswalk?

Factors such as traffic volume, speed limit, number of lanes, median type, and pedestrian exposure affect the safety of marked and unmarked crosswalks. In most cases, a marked crosswalk alone is no safer - and in some cases, even less safe - than an unmarked crosswalk at the same location. However, installing marked crosswalks combined with other improvements can increase the safety of unmarked crosswalks in some locations.

A national study on this topic for the Federal Highway Administration involved analysis of 5 years of pedestrian crashes at 1,000 marked crosswalks and 1,000 matched unmarked comparison sites. All sites in this study were uncontrolled crossings (they had no traffic signal or stop sign on the approaches). Detailed data were collected on traffic volume, pedestrian exposure, number of lanes, median type, speed limit, and other site variables. Appropriate statistical analysis methods were used (Poisson and negative binomial regressive models).

The study results revealed that on two-lane roads, the presence of a marked crosswalk alone at an uncontrolled location was associated with no difference in pedestrian crash rate, compared to an unmarked crosswalk. Further, on multi-lane roads with traffic volumes above about 12,000 vehicles per day, having a marked crosswalk alone (without other substantial improvements) was associated with a higher pedestrian crash rate (after controlling for other site factors) compared to an unmarked crosswalk. This trend was consistent both for intersections and mid-block locations. However, on multi-lane roads, raised medians provided significantly lower pedestrian crash rates, compared to roads with no raised median. The study also found that older pedestrians had crashes that were high relative to their crossing exposure.

More substantial improvements, such as adding traffic signals with pedestrian signals (when warranted), providing raised medians, and speed-reducing measures, are recommended to provide for safer pedestrian crossings, especially high-speed, high-volume roads. Recommendations and guidelines are provided in the engineering section of our website.

For a more detailed answer, please consult our report for FHWA entitled "Safety Effects of Marked Versus Unmarked Crosswalks at Uncontrolled Locations" (FHWA Publication Number HRT-04-100).