Pedestrian Safety Research

More than 6,000 pedestrians are killed every year on American streets. Portland State University researchers have worked on hundreds of local, regional and statewide pedestrian and bicycle policy, planning, and design initiatives to address this nationwide issue. At the forefront of this work is a recognition that social inequity plays a strong role in putting people at risk, so equity must be an integral part of any tools developed that are aimed at solving the pedestrian safety crisis.

Learn more about some of our most impactful research on designing for pedestrian safety and comfort below, or see all our projects on pedestrians here.

Enhancing Pedestrian Volume Estimation and Developing HCM Pedestrian Methodologies for Safe and Sustainable Communities (2022)

The objective of this project, NCHRP 17-87 funded by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program and led by Kittelson & Associates with PSU as a partner, is to help jurisdictions identify techniques for efficient and accurate estimation of pedestrian volume and exposure. The research determined field-observed factors affecting pedestrian flow at the facility levels and integrated those factors into the Highway Capacity Manual (HCM) pedestrian level-of-service (LOS) methodology. In addition to developing new and updated HCM-compatible methodologies to evaluate the quality of networks of pedestrian facilities, the research team also created several practical tools: a new NCHRP 992 Guide to Pedestrian Analysis, documenting the state-of-the-practice for pedestrian volume counting, pedestrian safety analysis, and pedestrian operations analysis; two spreadsheet-based computational engines for implementing the new and updated analysis methods; several presentations which were shared in a peer exchange workshop; and an implementation plan for putting the research into practice.

Learn more about Enhancing Pedestrian Volume Estimation and Developing HCM Pedestrian Methodologies for Safe and Sustainable Communities.

Active Transportation Research Roadmap (2021)

Funded by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), a team of researchers from the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State University and Toole Design prepared the Research Roadmap for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Council on Active Transportation (CAT). The Roadmap was created to steer research that will address important active transportation needs at the state DOT level and beyond. Researchers reviewed existing and ongoing active transportation research, identified key research needs from a wide range of sources, and held outreach activities with practitioners to refine and prioritize those needs. The project offers guidance on where active transportation research has been and where it should go next: developing speed management strategies to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety on arterial roadways; determining context-driven optimal spacing between marked crosswalks; addressing racial and economic disparities in safety improvements; refining guidance on bicycle signal timing; overcoming barriers to implementing active transportation in planning and engineering practice; and many more research questions.

Learn more about the Research Roadmap for the AASHTO Council on Active Transportation.

Addressing Oregon’s Rise in Deaths and Serious Injuries for Senior Drivers and Pedestrians (2021)

This Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) project set out to identify best practices and countermeasures to mitigate serious crashes involving older pedestrians. The research, and a workshop of key stakeholders and experts, resulted in recommendations for three systemic treatments. The first is Improving Pedestrian Visibility and Illumination. Lighting is a significant factor in older pedestrian fatal and serious injury crashes. Crash data analysis showed that 20% of the crashes occurred in the dark with no street lighting, and an additional 8% and 5% of the crashes occurred during dawn and dusk, respectively, where the ambient lighting is low. The second recommendation is Treatments for Left Turns. Vehicles turning left accounted for 19% of the older pedestrian fatal and serious injury crashes. Eliminating the use of permissive left turns and increasing the use of protected left turns can improve older pedestrian safety, as drivers often focus on the oncoming traffic looking for gaps and thereby miss the crossing pedestrians during permissive left turns. Finally, the team recommended Shortened Crossing Distances. Shortening the crossing distance for pedestrians will decrease the amount of time they are exposed to auto traffic, thus increasing their safety. These strategies will be included in Oregon's next State Strategic Highway Safety Plan update.

Learn more about Addressing Oregon’s Rise in Deaths and Serious Injuries for Senior Drivers and Pedestrians.

A Comprehensive Examination of Electronic Wayfinding Technology for Visually Impaired Travelers in an Urban Environment (2019)

With the explosion of mobile technology that has affected all other areas of life, it would seem to be a golden age for people living with visual impairments. Like never before in history, blind, deaf-blind, and low-vision individuals can access a plethora of mobile apps offering a range of services to aid in navigation and wayfinding. However, the multitude of apps each address only a segment of mobility needs. This research catalogued the available apps and surveyed users about their needs and experiences, then synthesized the findings to help improve the quality of life for people who experience disproportionate impediments to their mobility. Results stand to help make pedestrian navigation in urban environments a more inclusive experience. The next phase of this project is funded and underway: “Seamless Wayfinding by Individuals with Functional Disability in Indoor and Outdoor Spaces: An Investigation into Lived Experiences, Data Needs, and Technology Requirements.” (due out in 2021)

Learn more about A Comprehensive Examination of Electronic Wayfinding Technology for Visually Impaired Travelers in an Urban Environment.

Improved Safety and Efficiency of Protected / Permitted Right Turns in Oregon (2018)

This research aimed to develop an understanding of the safety and operational implications of using the flashing yellow arrow (FYA) in permitted and protected/permitted right turn (PPRT) operations to maximize safety and efficiency. This report includes a review of more than 50 scientific and technical articles on the selection of right turn phasing alternatives and a review of Oregon crash data at intersections with exclusive right-turning lanes from 2011-2013. The study had three phases: 1) a web-based survey, 2) a microsimulation model, and 3) and a driving simulator study. The survey measured Oregon driver’s comprehension of right-turn signal display. Analysis revealed a general misunderstanding of the required driver response for the steady red arrow signal indication, but comprehension of the FYA for right turns was high.better understand the value of this type of data.

Learn more about Improved Safety and Efficiency of Protected / Permitted Right Turns in Oregon.

Transferability & Forecasting of the Pedestrian Index Environment (PIE) for Modeling Applications (2018)

Researchers had previously created the MoPeD pedestrian demand model as well as a pedestrian index of the environment (PIE) for forecasting pedestrian travel. The PIE index improved the sensitivity of walk trip models by incorporating contextual features of the built environment that affect walking behavior in the Portland, Oregon region. Useful for academic researchers in transportation, this latest research provides a framework for incorporating pedestrian travel behavior forecasts into traditional four-step travel demand models. Since the method was based on Portland, the next step was to adapt the tools for wider use. Researchers tested the walkability measure in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Learn more about Transferability & Forecasting of the Pedestrian Index Environment (PIE) for Modeling Applications.

Walking While Black: Racial Bias At the Crosswalk (2017)

The research team conducted a field experiment where black and white male and female pedestrians wore identical clothing and repeatedly crossed the same intersection in Portland, Oregon, with coders in the field marking drivers’ behaviors. The initial study found that black male pedestrians were passed by twice as many cars and waited nearly a third longer to cross than white male pedestrians. The second phase of the research examines how additional factors, such as gender, affect drivers’ stopping behaviors at crosswalks. Based on these results, researchers came up with a set of recommendations for crosswalk design and enforcement to increase drivers’ compliance with crosswalk laws in order to ensure equitable access to a safe pedestrian experience for all.

Learn more about Walking While Black: Racial Bias At the Crosswalk.

Improving Walkability Through Control Strategies at Signalized Intersections (2017)

Pedestrians often have to wait longer than drivers for the light to change. Increased delay for pedestrians can lead to noncompliance, which can have a negative impact on safety. Most planning efforts geared toward those on foot have tended to focus on safety, but pedestrian efficiency is also important. Researchers looked at different strategies for efficiency and identified what the impacts of each strategy were to all users: pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles and heavy vehicles. Using that knowledge, they came up with a scale and a guidebook for practitioners on which measures would be best used when, and what sorts of delays to expect for vehicles and pedestrians. They also came up with a new algorithm, a pedestrian priority algorithm.

Learn more about Improving Walkability Through Control Strategies at Signalized Intersections and download the Guidbook on Signal Control Strategies for Pedestrians (PDF).

The People

Meet the experts behind many of the projects listed above:

  • Kelly Clifton, Interim Associate Vice President of Research and Graduate Studies, Portland State University
  • Kimberly Kahn, Associate Professor of Psychology, Portland State University
  • Sirisha Kothuri, Senior Research Associate, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Portland State University
  • Nathan McNeil, Research Associate, Urban Studies and Planning, Portland State University
  • Christopher Monsere, Professor and Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Portland State University
  • Amy Parker, Assistant Professor of Special Education; Coordinator of Orientation & Mobility Program, Portland State University
  • Martin Swobodzinski, Assistant Professor of Geography, Portland State University

Online Education

We have presented a variety of webinars and online seminars focused on this topic, and are always adding more. See the YouTube playlist of our online education in pedestrian safety.