RRFBs: A False Sense of Protection

When Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacons (RRFBs) started appearing in Bloomington and Edina I thought they would be a huge improvement for pedestrian safety, but having used them numerous times I’ve realized they’re a compromise on safety and neither motorists or pedestrians are the winners. RRFBs are a safety device used at crosswalks in which a pedestrian or biker pushes a button to activate them. When activated there are yellow lights that flash rapidly to warn drivers that a pedestrian is trying to cross, and there are several problems with these devices.

Yellow is Not a Replacement for Red

The first issue with RRFBs is the lights are yellow, so motorists assume it means slow down or proceed with caution, but not come to a complete stop. Only when a pedestrian is in the street are motorists required to fully stop, and on busy roads its too much to ask for a pedestrian to step out into the road even if they don’t feel safe to begin crossing. For motorists who aren’t paying attention on county roads where there are almost no obstacles to look out for, it can be surprising to suddenly see flashing yellow lights, and they may proceed through the crosswalk or slam on the brakes when they suddenly realize a pedestrian is trying to cross. Just because motorists are required to stop when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk doesn’t mean they will when the lights are flashing yellow. When I’ve used RRFBs motorists don’t slow down, or they slow down but not to a speed where I feel comfortable crossing in front of them. Only a few have the courtesy of following the law and come to a complete stop.

Too Many Lanes to Cross, Too Little Time

The second issue are RRFBs on four-lane roads. You need all four lanes to stop, otherwise its not safe to cross. Just because one lane has stopped doesn’t mean all the lanes will stop at the same time, and motorists who have stopped may become impatient and keep going. Since you’re focused on making sure all the lanes have stopped, you’re less focused on checking to see if the lights are still flashing, and there is no way to tell how long the lights stay active.

Screen Shot 2018 10 16 At 8.18.57 Am

The RRFBs at Old Shakopee Road & Kell Avenue in Bloomington. Four lanes to cross with no refuge island and when traffic is busy and going 35 miles per hour (or higher, which is common), flashing yellow lights are not adequate protection for pedestrians.

Screen Shot 2018 10 16 At 9.39.33 Am

The RRFBs at York Avenue & Parklawn Avenue in Edina. There is a refuge island, but still not ideal considering you have to cross four through-lanes, one left-turn lane, and one lane for right-turn traffic and buses.

Screen Shot 2018 10 16 At 9.46.47 Am

Here’s a city that’s actually friendly to pedestrians. In Oslo, Norway where the roads are four or more lanes wide there are traffic signals at all crosswalks. The traffic engineers there realize they can’t expect pedestrians to cross without a solid red light.

Screen Shot 2018 10 16 At 9.55.57 Am

Even in suburban Oslo the pedestrian crossings are either grade-separated or protected with standard traffic signals on wide roads.

Walk in My Shoes Across this Dangerous Path

I attended a traffic management open house in Bloomington to complain about the RRFBs, but because the RRFBs I referred to are on county roads the city has little say. They did point out how much safer it is than before when it was just pedestrian signage, but RRFBs simply aren’t good enough. I’ve traveled through many Western European cities, and there was not one road with four lanes and a high amount of traffic going over 35 miles per hour where I had to cross at-grade and the only thing to show my presence was a sign or flashing yellow lights.

I would like the traffic engineers from Bloomington and Hennepin County to use these RRFBs themselves. Don’t tell me statistics about how great they are, if they’re so confident in these devices then they should use them to prove they’re effective. Here’s a task for them: Go to the RRFB at Old Shakopee Road & Kell Avenue, and use them five times for three periods. The first period is midday, when there is a high amount of traffic, but cars are still traveling at or above the speed limit. The second period is rush hour, when there is an extremely high level of traffic, people are rushing to get home, and crossing all four lanes in a single go is easier said than done. The third period is evening when the sun has set, but there is still plenty of traffic on Old Shakopee Road. Good luck crossing there in darkness. If they actually do this, and still stand by their stance that the RRFBs are good enough, then they clearly don’t care enough about pedestrian safety. If they actually realize how much of a wasted investment the RRFBs are, here’s what you replace them with:

-standard traffic signals; or

-HAWK (High-Intensity Activated crossWalK) signals

Screen Shot 2018 10 16 At 8.24.41 Am

Standard traffic signals, a proper device for crossing a busy four-lane road with no refuge island. These are located next to Olson Elementary School. If traffic engineers care so much about the safety of children crossing these types of roads, why don’t they care enough about every life? Just down the road at Jefferson High School the crosswalk is protected by RRFBs. I would not trust those devices to protect me when I’m crossing and school has let out.

HAWK signals, another acceptable device for crossing busy four-lane roads with no refuge island. Unlike RRFBs, HAWK signals have a solid red, so motorists must stop. These signals also have a countdown for pedestrians, so they know how long they have to cross the road before the signals turn yellow.

Screen Shot 2018 10 16 At 10.32.26 Am

A 2006 study showed that solid red lights were more successful at getting motorists to yield than other pedestrian crossing devices.

Cutting Costs, Cutting Lives

So why aren’t there more HAWK or traffic signals for crosswalks? For Hennepin County the lives aren’t worth saving due to the cost of installing these devices and adding time to motorists’ commutes. In fact, the county has even been reluctant to install RRFBs including the one at Old Shakopee Road & Kell Avenue. Their traffic engineers, and most politicians in Hennepin County, are focused on moving vehicles as quickly and efficiently as possible. Pedestrian and biker safety is nowhere near a high priority despite the increase in pedestrians and bikers and more emphasis being put on exercising and using non-motorized transportation to get to places. There is also the fact that motorists are protected by thousands of pounds of metal that can reach speeds of 100+ miles per hour, while bikers and pedestrians only have their flesh and bone (helmets won’t save them getting hit by a car) and their chance of survival getting hit by a car operating over 35 miles per hour is slim to none.

Politicians and traffic engineers may see it as unfair to have motorists wait for pedestrians, but waiting for a pedestrian at a HAWK or traffic signal only adds thirty seconds to their commute. That sounds much better than shaving seconds off their commute, and costing pedestrians their limbs or their lives.

Our state invests hundreds of millions of dollars annually to make motorists’ commutes just a little bit faster, but by comparison only peanuts are spent making walking and biking in our cities safer. City and county politicians and traffic engineers in the Twin Cities region may convince themselves that their communities are pedestrian- and bike-friendlier, but what I have seen shows we haven’t done enough and we are not even close to designating ourselves bike and walk friendly communities. If people want to feel safe walking or biking, don’t vote or hire people who compromise safety to save motorists seconds of their time and pretend they’re doing pedestrians a favor.

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69 Responses to RRFBs: A False Sense of Protection

  1. Monte Castleman October 18, 2018 at 9:56 am #

    Some notes

    * Full RYG crossing signals are allowed for mid-block crossings only. They are not allowed to be used at intersections. HAWKs, RRFBs, and ordinary flashers are allowed at intersections. It’s unlikely we’ll see more full RYG crossing signals are HAWKs have essentially the same benefit at reduced congestion, construction, and maintenance costs.

    * There is the device that Minneapolis is conducting an authorized experiment with that go from yellow wig-wag flashing to red wig-wag flashing that seem to have most of the benefits of a HAWK at a reduced construction cost.

    * In my experience it’s just about impossible to get a meaningful response to issues or proposed improvement on Hennepin County roads in Bloomington as both agencies will point the finger at the other one as needing to initiate a project.

    • Eric Ecklund October 18, 2018 at 10:12 am #

      Then you move the crossing to mid-block if you’re going to install traffic signals.

      • Rosa October 28, 2018 at 10:06 pm #

        this is such a good idea anyway, if it’s placed usefully. Mid-block crossing with a safety island.

        I was driving down Lake street the other day noticing how many people cross from the YWCA/bus stop to the Aldi – that particular moment it was a fairly old man with a cane, but I cross there myself pretty regularly, dawdling child in tow – and how much safer it is than getting to the same place at the intersection to the east of it where all the cars are trying to turn either on to or off of Lake. It’s cars coming from half as many directions in the first place, and then the safety island means you only have to worry about one direction at a time. It’s not even designed for pedestrians, and has no stripes or signs, it just has the middle curb and we use it.

  2. Janne Flisrand October 18, 2018 at 9:58 am #

    A challenge using Oslo, Norway as a comparison is that there are strict at-fault laws in Norway, where pedestrians have the right of way. Norwegians are absolute rule-followers, culturally. And, traffic safety is taken seriously.

    • Eric Ecklund October 18, 2018 at 10:10 am #

      True. And that needs to change as well, not just the infrastructure. In driving school we’re just told to yield to pedestrians, but people would rather cut their commute times than follow the law. Unless you have a cop sitting at these crossings 24/7 motorists aren’t going to care.

  3. Brian October 18, 2018 at 10:04 am #

    European countries have a lot more tax money to spend on things like traffic signals for pedestrians. Taxes in general are higher, and for vehicles taxes tend to be even higher in most European countries.

    A county commissioner who states they want to spend road construction money on traffic signals instead of repaving roads is probably only going to last one term in office. We should be spending more money on transportation of all forms, but in today’s world hardly anyone wants to pay more taxes.

    • Eric Ecklund October 18, 2018 at 10:21 am #

      How much does it cost to build each pork chop (right turn slip lane) at an intersection? How much time does that save a driver, despite adding an extra barrier to pedestrians? If we’re willing to pay for those, we can pay for signals that have a good chance at keeping pedestrians safe.

      • Brian October 18, 2018 at 10:32 am #

        A right turn lane is significantly less expensive than the cost of installing a set of signals for a pedestrian crosswalk.

        I’m all in favor of spending more money on all forms of transportation. However, the county commissioner or city council person who votes to stop paving roads to pay for pedestrian signals probably won’t last more than one term in office. Unfortunately, they likely face the same outcome if they vote to raise taxes for better transportation.

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary October 18, 2018 at 11:33 am #

          I don’t think this is right. HAWKs cost between 75-150k. RRFBs are less.

          Adding a channelized right turn lane, especially as a retrofit, is potentially very expensive. Looking at an example in Bloomington with an acceleration lane — adding it alone requires about 12,000 square feet of right-of-way (over a quarter acre). It requires two extra sets of curb ramps to install and maintain. Rather than simple plowing, it likely requires expensive snow removal. (Heavy snow can’t just be pushed to the side, because there are roadways on all sides.)

          If done as a retrofit, the signal post and foundation must also be moved.

          There is no way all of that — and right-of-way acquisition — gets done for 75k.

          In fact, in some cases, agencies don’t have the luxury of purchasing just the minimum land needed. Across the street from the one I measured, Bloomington spent over two million dollars buying out an entire row of homes to create free rights at 82nd and at American, and auxiliary lanes in between. That’s just the cost to buy out the homes — not the cost to tear them down, build the wide roadway, maintain the remnant land in perpetuity, or account for the modest lost tax base.

          • Brian October 18, 2018 at 3:12 pm #

            My bad. I was thinking of an ordinary right turn lane that shouldn’t cost that much to install.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke October 18, 2018 at 10:43 am #

        That is a great point. Pork chops are expensive! It’s not a matter of money, it’s a priority thing.

    • Rosa October 18, 2018 at 11:33 am #

      then we should go with strict enforcement, which is a revenue generator for cities. Just sit a cop there and write tickets all day.

      Of course you’ll need to get a pedestrian to volunteer to risk their life using the crossings and playing chicken with the drivers, to do that.

  4. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele October 18, 2018 at 10:31 am #

    More reason why multi-lane streets should just never be allowed in the first place.

    Though I love RRFBs or other devices on calmed streets with refuge islands. Here’s a project I helped design, 46th St including the new median at Oakland Ave: https://goo.gl/maps/bhCf39Yi8h22 It had a flashing yellow light back when it was a Four Lane Death Road, and it was an awful place to cross even then. Calming this street with a road diet + refuge island has been a huge change for crossing the intersection on foot.

    I think RRFBs can work in the right context, but our money is far better spent on putting a big ol’ island in the middle and compartmentalizing the crossing into getting across one lane of traffic at a time. This works great without lights, as evidenced by the full refuge island at 42nd St and 17th Ave S. https://goo.gl/maps/TXZbkVqzNKG2

    Refuge islands can usually be installed cheaper than RRFBs, too. And they can work at intersections with right-in-right-out side streets, or they can work mid-block on long blocks.

    Let’s significantly increase the presence of full refuge islands in our city, and then upgrade them with RRFBs over time if there’s still a need for improvement.

    • Brian October 18, 2018 at 10:39 am #

      Apparently your ideal world is one in which everyone lives in a four square mile area where retail stores, jobs, churches, and schools all exist within walking distance. Nobody ever leaves that area because there are no roads or highways to drive on.

      How do people get around without highways or roads? We don’t have the type of transit system that can completely replaces the need to have a vehicle for the majority of residents. I suppose we can all live downtown in 100 story Soviet style high rises.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke October 18, 2018 at 10:44 am #

        Sounds pretty ideal to me.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke October 18, 2018 at 11:17 am #

          To expand on my point, yes, there are many cities in the world where most necessary things are close at hand and you can walk or take transit to reach them. It’s not just in Europe either, but cities on every continent where this is possible. It’s not far-fetched to imagine such a place.

          • Adam Miller
            Adam Miller October 18, 2018 at 12:34 pm #

            Heck, we have neighborhoods like that right here in river city.

        • Brian October 18, 2018 at 3:03 pm #

          You apparently have no desire to ever leave your little part of the world. I happen to have hobbies that take me outside of the metro and like to go on vacation occasionally. It would be impossible for me to do my hobbies or vacation trips without a vehicle.

          • Adam Miller
            Adam Miller October 18, 2018 at 3:19 pm #

            Cars are great for hobbies and vacation trips. Totally appropriate tool for those uses. We should have infrastructure that facilitates those uses.

            Cars are an absolutely terrible tool for transporting people to and from work during rush hour. We should be maximizing other, more efficient transportation tools for that use.

            • Brian October 18, 2018 at 7:30 pm #

              Single lane roads everywhere and no highways would make it pretty hard to drive much of anywhere for hobbies or vacation.

              • Matt Steele
                Matt Steele October 19, 2018 at 1:12 pm #

                Strange, since most of Minneapolis lives in neighborhoods full of single-lane-each-way streets and we get around just fine. In fact, there’s lots of evidence that a grid of regular old two lane streets get the job done better than the hierarchical road network of the suburbs. I’m not sure why suburbanite motorists are such masochists with their road design.

                • Monte Castleman October 19, 2018 at 3:02 pm #

                  I wouldn’t describe how slow it is to drive anywhere on surface streets in Minneapolis, nor having non-neighborhood traffic going past your front yard as “just fine”. The newer suburbs are taking advantage of higher speed, higher volume collectors to get people in cars to where they’re going much more efficiently, and keep them away from people’s front yards.

                  • Matt Steele
                    Matt Steele October 19, 2018 at 4:09 pm #

                    Are you sure about that? I posit the average person in Minneapolis can get to far more destinations by car in less time than the average person in a newer suburb. That’s the great thing about having a chaotic-yet-smart distributed approach to land use where we have amenities right in our own neighborhood, and a short drive to other amenities in adjacent neighborhoods. I visited friends in south Bloomington last weekend and was amazed at how they were over a mile from the closest place to get a bite to eat or buy something (Old Shakopee and France)

                    • Monte Castleman October 19, 2018 at 6:00 pm #

                      That would be an interesting experiment: pick a couple of random places in Minneapolis, Bloomington, and Eden Prairie and measure travel time between them during peak and nonpeak times.

                • commissar October 21, 2018 at 9:28 pm #

                  you NEED a hierarchy of roads. i don’t know what BS evidence you’re looking at, but safety wise, you need to push though collectors and arterials to the highways and freeeways. otherwise, you have no way of dealing with traffic sewage appropriately, not to mention basic routefinding, etc.

                  https://metrocouncil.org/Transportation/Planning-2/Transit-Plans,-Studies-Reports/Highways-Roads/Functional-Roadway-Classification.aspx

                  “most of Minneapolis lives in neighborhoods full of single-lane-each-way streets and we get around just fine” uh, what? in s/SWmpls, you got hennepin, lyndale, nicollet as arterials, SE, you got portland/park, hiawatha foir a highway.

                  https://giswebsite.metc.state.mn.us/mapgallery/pdfs/large_reference_fun_class.pdf is the map iof the metro functional classification

                  • Walker Angell
                    Walker Angell October 25, 2018 at 11:11 am #

                    To add to this… A road hierarchy is critical to the sustainable safety programs in The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and elsewhere that have resulted in their having less than 1/3 the overall road fatalities as we do and about 1/12 the pedestrian and bicycle fatalities.

                    The cost to make a grid of distributed traffic safe for people walking and bicycling will be massively greater than the cost to do so on a targeted basis with a good road hierarchy.

          • Bill Lindeke
            Bill Lindeke October 19, 2018 at 11:10 am #

            Moderators: try to keep comments to the topic at hand, rather than personal asides or insinuations.

      • Urs-banist October 18, 2018 at 11:15 am #

        And your ideal world is one where hierarchical streets and heavily regulated, blocky land-use patterns force you to drive six miles (to a store two miles away) every time you get a hankering for a snack. Top-down regulation driving highly inefficient spending patterns… isn’t this supposed to be everything that folks in (mostly-conservative) suburbia hate?

        • Brian October 18, 2018 at 12:14 pm #

          My ideal world is one where all forms of transportation co-exist without robbing Peter to pay Paul. There will never be a time in the foreseeable future when I don’t own a vehicle, even if I lived a block from everything. I would walk the block to everything, but I also have hobbies where I drive 40 miles once or more per month.

          I’m all for building protected bikeways and signals for pedestrians, but don’t narrow the roadway to do so. Find a way to increase the right of way instead. I’m for increasing taxes to pay for all forms of transportation.

          I hate those suburban subdivisions where there is only one or two ways to access a huge subdivision. I have lived in the suburbs for all but two years, but never in one of those big subdivisions with one or two ways in and out.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary October 18, 2018 at 12:36 pm #

            My issue with this perspective is that it presupposes we have allocated the correct amount of space to cars. In many cases, we have allocated too much. (And in fewer cases, we have allocated too little.)

            Engineers are pretty conservative about when to reduce lanes. Even things like a car having to wait through two light cycle, during 10 of the 168 hours of a week are usually a dealbreaker to doing a 4-to-3.

            There are many voices and institutions looking out for the regional motorist. It is OK to have voices look out for everyone else.

            I was a bike/transit-only person for my first year after college, but now drive a pretty typical amount. The reality is that in almost all cases, driving is still the most convenient, dignified way to get anywhere. A friend of mine who mainly rides transit was shocked to discover that it was only 10 minutes to drive from his house in inner-south Minneapolis to Southdale — a destination that is effectively an hour away by transit.

            Despite increasing congestion, despite a few 4-to-3 conversions, despite new bikeways, cars are still winning the commuting competition by a landslide.

            • Bill Lindeke
              Bill Lindeke October 19, 2018 at 11:11 am #

              I appreciate your inclusion of “dignity” in here. It’s something I think about a fair bit.

          • Adam Miller
            Adam Miller October 18, 2018 at 12:36 pm #

            We’ve robbed everyone else to pay cars for around 70 years. Let’s stop robbing the city to force everyone to live like the suburbs.

            • Brian October 18, 2018 at 2:49 pm #

              I’m willing to spend money on biking and walking so long as we aren’t forcing everyone out of their cars by making car travel as painful as possible. Raise taxes to pay for it instead of taking away from repaving roads.

              • Adam Miller
                Adam Miller October 18, 2018 at 3:16 pm #

                Space is finite. If we aren’t taking space from cars, which is already laughably overbuilt in every American city and most definitely ours, we’re taking it from something else. I see no reason to take space from housing or retail or parks or green space so that cars can continue to have way more space than they need.

                Also, we need policies that discourage driving. Driving is killing our cities (that space thing again) and our planet.

          • Rosa October 19, 2018 at 2:35 pm #

            the way to do it without narrowing the roadway is for people to drive differently. So they don’t bully everyone else out of the roadways. So how do we do that?

            People build subdivisions that way because they want to drive fast and recklessly whenever they leave home, but have safe places to walk, run, ride bikes, and even just exist in the front yard or living room without worrying that a car will hit them. But what it does is eliminate those safe spaces for anyone who can’t afford their lollipop subdivisions and make them drive through other people’s homes and neighborhoods (like mine) as if nobody there should be able to use the road – including other, noncommuting drivers, who want to do things like turn into a local business or cross a “major” street from a side street.

            • Frank Phelan October 30, 2018 at 7:51 am #

              What is a “lollipop subdivision”?

              Is that condescending? It sure sounds like it to me. Condescension is usually not respectful or helpful.

              What other types of subdivisions are there? M & M subdivisions? Skittles subdivisions? Are there pot roast subdivisions? Kale subdivisions?

              • Adam Miller
                Adam Miller October 30, 2018 at 11:16 am #

                It’s a description of how the streets are arranged. I guess if you’re really looking to be offended, you could wish for a less infantile object to compare the same physical shapes too, but you’re have to be looking pretty hard for something to complain about.

                • Frank Phelan October 31, 2018 at 9:32 am #

                  Thanks Adam. It was a genuine question.

                  But I still have no idea what a lollipop subdivision is. Is it a straight street (like the stick of a lolly) and then a cul de sac?

                  As I’ve pointed out before, a regular schmoe could really use a streets.mn glossary to read these posts and comments.

                  • Julie Kosbab October 31, 2018 at 10:09 am #

                    Hey Frank. A Glossary has been something we’ve played with off and on, but need to get a certain level of critical mass to launch. We’re hoping to do some redesign work that is visible to users soon, and this may come into play then.

                    • Frank Phelan October 31, 2018 at 6:19 pm #

                      Cool. In the mean time, maybe terms that aren’t used in daily conversation could be spelled out. Especially in the posts, editors could maybe do this?

                      But I’d still like to know whya lollipop subdivision is so named.

  5. Eric Ecklund October 18, 2018 at 11:15 am #

    Also right after I submitted this, I decided to go back to the York Avenue RRFBs and test them (and the motorists) again. I crossed six times. A few times there were no cars approaching or they were far off, but I got lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) a couple times and had a wave of cars coming. Sure enough quite a few cars passed before someone was kind enough to stop. One van stopped, but I noticed a pickup in the other lane that didn’t look like it was slowing down. I walked in front of the van and watched the truck swerve a little and blow past. A left turning car from the side street blew their horn at them. If I wasn’t paying attention or assumed that truck would stop then who knows what the outcome would’ve been, but it further proves my point that these signals do a terrible job at protecting pedestrians

  6. David Markle
    David Markle October 18, 2018 at 11:31 am #

    The pedestrian-activated flashing yellow lights at Cedar Avenue and vacated 5th Street in Minneapolis (on the West Bank ) seem to work quite well (one of the few recent streets innovations around here that do). But suburban streets and suburban drivers may be another matter.

    Apropos, check out Mike Mullen’s column in this week’s City Pages, about street crossing dangers in NE Minneapolis.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller October 18, 2018 at 12:39 pm #

      Is it the flashing yellow lights or the pedestrian island and road narrowing (or both)?

  7. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary October 18, 2018 at 12:30 pm #

    I agree that the crossings that are shown are bad, but I don’t think the color of the lights is to blame. The roadway design is to blame.

    I’d add to that list 64th & Xerxes in Richfield, which was done at the same as the Parklawn/York one. (Both are on CSAH 31.) It’s 105 feet to cross, with a small refuge island. Would this really be a better crossing with a HAWK? Or are other improvements needed? I’d rather see:

    1. Bumpouts on both sides to the edge of the travel lane
    2. Square out the nose of the refuge island.
    3. If feasible, drop one travel lane in each direction
    4. Create clear, setback stop bars for the crosswalk, so that an approaching motorist can clearly see the pedestrian in the crosswalk if another vehicle is stopped

    RRFBs installed in situations like that are pretty effective and pretty low-stress to cross at. Here’s a nice one at Richfield Pkwy and 16th Ave S. Cedar/5th that David mentions and Oakland/46th are also nicely done.

    • Eric Ecklund October 18, 2018 at 3:49 pm #

      I’m going under the assumption that the county won’t build bumpouts or drop a lane considering they were reluctant to install RRFBs at some (or all) of these crossings. So if they won’t make traffic calming measures, then they need a red light so all lanes of traffic come to a complete stop at the same time and allow sufficient time for the pedestrian to cross.

    • commissar October 21, 2018 at 9:45 pm #

      amber is very overused, to the point where drivers are becoming blind to flashign amber

  8. Josh October 18, 2018 at 1:05 pm #

    This quote “I would like the traffic engineers from Bloomington and Hennepin County to use these RRFBs themselves.”

    This is how I feel about bike lanes on busy roads. I want to say, “if you think these are sufficiently safe, have your children ride their bikes to school in them. Tell me if you still think they are safe.”

  9. Monte Castleman October 18, 2018 at 5:18 pm #

    Also of note, RRFBs aren’t included in the chart but have about a 75% compliance rate. Given that we can put up several RRFBs for the cost of a HAWK with a 97% compliance rate, which would be a better use of resources? (I ask in good faith, I have no opinion on this).

    • Eric Ecklund October 18, 2018 at 8:54 pm #

      Are they not considered “beacon activated” in the chart?

      Regardless, unless the streets are calm 2- or 3-lane roads, then HAWKs or traffic signals are the answer. As I’ve already pointed out, if we can afford infrastructure that shaves seconds off motorists’ commutes like pork chops then we can afford HAWKs.

      • Monte Castleman October 18, 2018 at 10:20 pm #

        That chart was from a 2007 thesis. RRFBs didn’t get interim approval until 2008 after favorable results from a study by the city of St. Petersburg, which resulted in compliance in the 80-100% range. Long term effectiveness with more data seems to be in the 75-85% range. An “activated beacon” in the chart would be a single yellow light on a pedestrian crossing sign.

        • Eric Ecklund October 18, 2018 at 10:45 pm #

          What’s the source of your data?

  10. Monte Castleman October 18, 2018 at 5:27 pm #

    A side note, approval for RRFBs was yanked by the FHWA last winter for reasons other than technical merit. Seems that they were patented and traffic control devices that communicate with road users are not allowed to be patented. You can say patent a new traffic signal housing but not the idea of a red light meaning “stop”. Reason being is that the FHWA is not allowed to show favoritism, so they’d be obligated to approve a similar device intended to send the same message that bypassed patents and say showed a purple light for stop instead of a red light for stop, and doing so would violate the uniformity desired for traffic control devices.

    RRFBs were always patented but the FHWA liked them so they didn’t look to hard to find that out, but plausible deniability ended when the company that invented them sued a competitor, and the competitor complained to the FHWA. Ultimately what happened is the competitor bought out the original company and disclaimed the patents, and approval was reinstated after a few months.

    • commissar October 21, 2018 at 10:39 pm #

      they reappoved them

  11. John October 19, 2018 at 8:26 am #

    If the the study referenced in this post is from 2006, that would be before RRFBs could be used. I hope this is just ignorance and not willful manipulation of facts.

    https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/conventional/unsignalized/tech_sum/fhwasa09009/

    • Eric Ecklund October 19, 2018 at 10:12 am #

      There’s a couple links above your comment showing more recent compliance rates of RRFBs. They’re still lower than HAWKs.

  12. Monte Castleman October 19, 2018 at 9:33 am #

    Some of the RRFBs in Bloomington:

    Johnson Ave at Jefferson High School: Already a two lane road

    102nd St at Johnson Ave, near Jefferson High School. The road was studied and a decision was made to keep the four lane death road configuration, likely due to peak traffic volumes associated with the high school.

    Old Shakopee Road at Kell Ave: four lane death road, at 24100 AADT there’s no way a road diet would work here.

    Bush Lake Road and Maryland Rd: four lane death road converted to two lanes with a refuge island at the time of conversion.

    France Ave at Heritage Hills, four lane death road, no modifications planned that I know of.

    Portland Ave at 88th: four lane death road converted to 3 lanes in an unrelated project several years after the beacon installation over the strenuous objections of a number of residents.

    Nicollet Ave at Kennedy High school. A full RYG intersection signal is available immediately south of here, but students were crossing in the middle of the block anyway. AADT does not justify the 4 + turn lanes section but I don’t see Hennepin County moving curb lines any time soon even though a traffic study is underway to see if a 4-3 conversion farther north is workable.

    Lyndale Ave at 96th: 4 lane + turn and aux lanes, Traffic volume possibly requires five lanes but the aux lane is superflous

    American Blvd and Bloomington Ave; four plus turn lanes. Traffic volume is right at 15,000, but American was deliberately overbuilt to try to induce local trips off the freeway and to serve as an alternate route.

    106th and Oak Grove School. Four lane death road. A traffic study confirmed the need for two eastbound lanes due to PM peak volumes of traffic heading towards the freeway entrance and the FHWA is requiring two westbound lanes should a double left turn lane off the northbound off ramp be required. In my opinion there should have been a discussion with the neighborhood about the idea of simply permanently closing the south ramps which would take a lot of the traffic off 106th which goes through a very residential area and by the school.

    • Eric Ecklund October 19, 2018 at 10:26 am #

      There’s also one at American & Fremont (in front of the BMW dealership). Speed limit is 35, but of course there are motorists traveling 40-45. Again, terrible place to install RRFBs.

      Another RRFB crossing is at Bush Lake Road in front of the entrance to Bush Lake Beach. This is a 2-lane road, but traffic is going around 35 miles per hour and there’s a little bit of a blind spot looking for cars coming from the south, but they were smart enough to install flashers approaching the crossing.

  13. Lewis Johnson October 19, 2018 at 1:57 pm #

    We need to re-evaluate our road transit rules especially when there is such a high incidence of death by car accidents.

  14. Eric Ecklund October 19, 2018 at 5:13 pm #

    Wish I could include this in the article, but oh well. I went to the HAWK signals at Chaska Blvd. & Pine Street with my bike during the afternoon rush hour to test them and the motorists. Crossing Chaska Blvd., there are four through-lanes and a left turn lane. Crossed eight times (each time consisting of pressing the button, signals activate, I cross, I wait about a minute and then cross again). Moderate traffic including semis going 30-40 miles per hour. There were a few red light runners, but they went through the second I got the walk signal to proceed unlike RRFBs where even after five seconds of the lights flashing motorists still go through without slowing down. It also helps that the HAWK crossing in Chaska has a median. I definitely have a lot more confidence in HAWK signals to get motorists to stop. Besides the few red light runners every car stopped where they were supposed to at the same time, while my experience with RRFBs is cars slowing or stopping in random places and its sometimes difficult to tell if the driver is slowing down enough where I feel comfortable crossing in front of them.

    • Eric Ecklund October 19, 2018 at 5:17 pm #

      Also the fact that HAWK signals have the hand signals like what you see at traffic signals, so I know when I can cross and low long I have to cross. RRFBs don’t have that, so I don’t know how long the signals will stay active.

  15. Nicole Salica
    Nicole Salica October 22, 2018 at 7:53 am #

    I have to wonder if part of the issue is the designers and/or approvers of crosswalks aren’t walking enough. Do they live in the communities they work for? Walk there?

    • Eric Ecklund October 22, 2018 at 8:19 am #

      If the traffic engineers are Hennepin County then I highly doubt they live in the areas I specified in my original post. Have they used these crosswalks? Again I doubt it, which is why I invite them to use these RRFBs if they think they’re good enough. Are they walkers themselves? I don’t know, but if they were I feel like they would have empathy towards pedestrians and bikers instead of focusing on how to get as many cars through a city/suburb as possible.

  16. Frank Phelan October 27, 2018 at 12:13 pm #

    This site can be so unwelcome to outsiders it’s ridiculous. There is often a message sent that this site is for insiders and insiders only.

    RRFB??? Are you kidding me? What in the Sam Hill is an RRFB? And telling me it’s a Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon is worthless. I still have no idea what it is. I have only read the first two paragraphs, and there is no reason to read any more. Apparently this site is for civil engineers, and not for folks like me just trying to get to work and get groceries.

    Sheesh. Try not to red lined in the IJM. You know, the Insider Jargon Meter.

  17. James Frese November 2, 2018 at 3:06 pm #

    A similar debate is playing out in St. Paul/Ramsey County. Put Rice Street on a road diet, or leave it as a 4-lane wannabe-highway and add flashing lights for pedestrian crossings? Many locals believe the flashing lights will offer sufficient protection, so it’s interesting to see your real life experience that proves otherwise.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 2, 2018 at 3:12 pm #

      Rice Street is in desperate need of a 4-3 conversion. I am hoping that Trista MatasCastillo becomes the new County Commissioner next week, and that she’ll support basic safety on Rice.

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