October 18


Pedestrian Beacons: Placement Recommendations and Resources

By Mike Spack

October 18, 2016

Crossing beacons, HAWKS, MnDOT, pedestrian crossing, Pedestrian Safety, RRFB

Guest Post by Max Moreland, PE, Director of Operations at Traffic Data Inc.

Crossing a busy street as a pedestrian can be a challenge. And with more and more attention in the traffic engineering world being given to pedestrian access, new pedestrian facilities to help make crossing the road less of a dangerous endeavor are popping up. One type of pedestrian crossing facility that is becoming more common is the pedestrian activated warning device, or pedestrian beacon.

RRFB pedestrian crossing example. Image provided by FHWA.
RRFB pedestrian crossing example. Image provided by FHWA.

These pedestrian beacons can be in the form of rapid rectangular flashing beacons (RRFBs) on the pedestrian crossing signs, overhead high intensity activated crosswalks (HAWKs), or pedestal or overhead flashing signal beacons (abbreviated here as PFSB and OFSB). The state of Minnesota published Minnesota’s Best Practices for Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety which provides general information on a number of these pedestrian beacons. With these types of treatments being rather new, knowing where they should be placed is important. What follows are placement recommendations and resources we actively use when preparing studies for our clients.

In June of 2014, the Local Road Research Board (LRRB), along with  the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and engineering firm Bolton & Menk, released a study evaluating uncontrolled pedestrian crossings, which you can read here:  Uncontrolled Pedestrian Crossing Evaluation Incorporating Highway Capacity Manual Unsignalized Pedestrian Crossing Analysis Methodology. This study produced a guidebook which we shared in our article New Guidebook: Pedestrian Crossings at Uncontrolled Locations. It gives an 11-step process on how to evaluate a pedestrian crossing to determine what, if any, treatment options should be considered for individual crossings.

hawk-source-fhwacroppedAdditionally, in January of 2015, MnDOT distributed a technical memorandum intended to serve as guidance on the topic of pedestrian crossing facilitation. This memo goes into discussion about where to place curb ramps and pedestrian crossing facilities as well as what types, if any, of enhancements those facilities should include.

Included in the options of pedestrian crossing enhancements in both of these write-ups were the use of pedestrian beacons. Each of these two write-ups include general recommendations on where to consider including pedestrian beacons, each with a different approach to the recommendation.

The 2014 LRRB guidebook lists general conditions where it is recommended that different types of beacons be considered. Those are summarized in the table below:



The final page of the 2015 MnDOT tech memo provides a table on where to consider different pedestrian crossing treatments based on roadway configuration, vehicle average daily traffic (ADT) and the speed limit of the road being crossed. Looking at that table, MnDOT’s recommendations for where it would be prudent to install pedestrian beacons are summarized below. It should be noted that MnDOT recommends the installation of a raised median refuge island as well as a marked crosswalk with appropriate signing with any pedestrian beacon.



Though not strictly enforced regulations, each of these guidelines provides good recommendations for anyone considering pedestrian beacons, or pedestrian crossing facilities of any kind and it is recommended that they be considered.

  • In Gillette, WY we have been having exceptional results using RRFB’s on our crossings. But as we get more I worry as to when we over use this method and the effectiveness will decrease.

    Another issue is the location of the flasher and ADA warnings when using neckdowns at parallel parking zones. Since we maintain the old ramps and create the bump out curb as protection FHWA has instructed us to install the flasher at the landing, which is up to 14′ from where you enter the street. Buses block the flasher even though they stop back of the stop bar, 30 behind the crosswalk.

  • There’s an intersection in Seattle with yellow flags in a bin on each side of a crossing which users of the crossing pick up on one side and wave as they walk across and leave on the other side. Fewer die.

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    Mike Spack

    My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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