Best Practices for Traffic Control at Regional Trail Crossings

I’m short on time today, and writing from northeastern Nevada (where the big news today is that the entire county is having issues accessing the internet). So please forgive me if this post seems a bit hurried.

Paul Bunyan State Trail

Paul Bunyan State Trail

I’ve uploaded a document called Best Practices for Traffic Control at Regional Trail Crossings. The document tries to establish some consistency in how trail crossings are marked and signed throughout the Twin Cities area. You can download the document here:

SafeCrossingsDocument FinalDraft

I received the document back in 2011 from Joe Gustafson, a dedicated and  well respected traffic engineer with a local agency, who I understand was one of the authors of the document. He provided a copy of the document to the NCITE Pedestrian & Traffic Safety Committee, of which I am a member. To the best of my understanding, the document was prepared by a committee of representatives from various local agencies who recognized a need for greater consistency across the regional trail system and decided to informally create a document to provide a guidance resource. It is presented without any sort of branding or agency logos because it has not been formally adopted by any agency in particular, nor did the group of professionals that created the document have any formal authority to create a cross-jurisdictional guidance document. So, for the time being, the document remains as an informal and unbinding set of recommendations, and exists primarily as a resource for practicing transportation professionals.

At the time that I first saw the document, I made note of a dozen or so of my immediate reactions, one of which I will paste below for the sake of discussion.

4. The document outlines many circumstances where it is not advisable to mark crosswalks at intersections because studies have shown a higher pedestrian crash rate when a marked crosswalk is present. While I agree with the recommendations of the document – that crosswalks should not be marked at these locations – I think the greater policy implications of this decision deserve some discussion. The likely outcome of an engineering decision to not mark a crosswalk at uncontrolled intersection approaches is that pedestrians will choose to forfeit the right‐of‐way to motorists. This solution, while more desirable than pedestrians being hit by motorists, is not consistent with the intent of state statutes, which clearly direct motorists to yield to pedestrians at all marked and unmarked crosswalks. This solution may reduce the pedestrian crash rate, but it does so by asking pedestrians to shoulder the full burden (additional delay). We know that driver compliance with correctly yielding to pedestrians is very low, which is a problem we haven’t yet figured out how to effectively influence. This solution, while justifiable in the immediate interests of reducing pedestrian crash rates, should be identified as a pragmatic compromise ‐ a less‐desirable solution than actually improving driver compliance.

I hope you’ll also take a moment to review the document and post any reactions you may have in the comments below. And to reiterate one final time, the document was created by informal committee, and thus does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Joe Gustafson, his employer, or any other agency or professional that may have been involved in drafting the document.

4 thoughts on “Best Practices for Traffic Control at Regional Trail Crossings

  1. pedro

    Thanks for posting the document and sharing your thoughts. This issue is one of my biggest as a cyclist as it affects me daily. In cycling between my home in NE Minneapolis and my office in Minnetonka, I cross five busy intersections on the trails: Cedar Lake Parkway on the Kenilworth Trail and Beltline Road and Wooddale Ave along the Greenway (or whatever it’s called in St. Louis Park), plus Blake Rd.and Excelsior Blvd. in Hopkins.

    While I’m extremely grateful to only have these very few crossings along the 9 or so miles of trails I’m on during this ride, the crossings at Beltline and Wooddale in particular are terrible. Neither is an arterial, but they have relatively high traffic since they are among the few crossings over the railroad tracks. Thankfully, St Louis Park did a minor reconstruction at Beltline last fall to implement traffic calming, both for cyclists who dangerously zipped through the intersection without stopping and for motorists who often do the same.

    Wooddale is far worse. the trail crosses adjacent to a railroad, a frontage road, and access ramps for Hwy 7. Bicyclists and walkers contend with turning traffic and speeding vehicles at this unmarked crossing. I occasionally witness and expeience the phenomenon of cars in one of the 4 lanes stopping to let me and others pass, while motorists in the remaining 3 lanes continue to move, Because the intent of the motorists is ambiguous, I often stop until there is a clear opening or until cars in all 4 lanes stop (a rarity).

    I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this issue in the future.

    p.s. Congrat on the new job position.

  2. hokan

    The City of Minneapolis’ Public Works department has a document for internal use on dealing with crossings. It seems to be well thought-out; Any limits are the result of issues with state traffic regulations.

  3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    My impression was that a publicly constructed trail was a legal highway, constructed for the use of only particular users. The authors of this document seem to disagree, since they claim that without crosswalk markings of traffic control on the cross street, pedestrian trail users do not have right-of-way. Of course, at any unmarked intersection of two highways, regardless of presence of stop or yield signs, pedestrians have right of way.

    I very much agree with your comment, Reuben, and it’s a comment that applies to the issue of marking crosswalks everywhere. Engineers frequently expect pedestrians to shoulder 100% of the burden to avoid interfering with traffic flow, and to “enhance safety”.

    For the foreseeable future, I think the solution is using a better combination of the “midblock” treatments shown in Figure 7. The Dakota Rail trail is an example of an extreme one-size-fits-all approach. Originally, it was built with both marked crosswalks and stop signs for trail users. The crosswalks became controversial, so every last one was scraped off. But the reality is that the streets that are being crossed vary widely in speed, traffic volume, and width. Where it crosses four-lane Shoreline Dr/CSAH 15 in downtown Mound, I can see the reluctance to mark a crosswalk. A HAWK crossing or other traffic signal would be best, but leaving it unmarked is not unreasonable. But between Mound and Wayzata, the trail crosses at least half a dozen minor residential streets, where a marked crosswalk could easily be used — or better yet, stop signs for the residential street.

    The Southwest LRT trail has a similar problem, with stop signs and “cross traffic does not stop” posted at basically every crossing point.

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