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Warnings and Behavior: A Study

of Pedestrian Behavior at Grade


Gavin Huntley-Fenner, Ph.D.

Managing Scientist
Exponent, Inc.
May, 2008

• Introduction

• Case Study

• Implications
Basic grade crossing taxonomy is

1996 FRA data 2004 FRA data

Current distribution of active
devices at public crossings



% of public grade crossings

2004 FRA data

Decrease in highway rail incidents
is a familiar story (e.g., fatalities)
Counter-trend: Pedestrian incidents
have increased markedly

• Pedestrian incidents
have increased by
In the same time frame
MV incidents fell
• Constitute between
by about 6%
10% and 20% of all
Pattern of pedestrian incidents is
counter intuitive
2005 FRA data; Y axis is in log scale – PUBLIC & PRIVATE crossings combined

1000 905 865

Crossbucks only
Gates • Similar numbers of
123 motor vehicle
# of incidents

incidents at gates &


10 • 10x more pedestrian

10 incidents with gated
crossings than with
Motor Pedestrians
Federal Railroad Administration. (December 2006). Railroad Safety Statistics 2005 Final Report . U.S. Department of Transportation. Washington, D.C.
Pedestrian specific factors are
acknowledged as important …

• “Railroads often act as physical dividers

between important, interrelated elements of
• “ … Railroads have always attracted juveniles
as ‘play areas’”
• “ … passengers frequently use short cuts
before or after boarding a train.”
• “… some people are prone to vandalism .”

Source: 2007 Railroad Grade Crossing Handbook Revised Second Edition

… but historically the approach to
influencing behavior is similar
Motorists and pedestrians have
different mindsets

• Pedestrians have minimal

threat of law enforcement

• Pedestrians may trespass Pedestrians interpret

– easy to travel off signs and signals at
roadway crossings differently

• Many pedestrians have a

sense of control over the
… and multiple interpretations of
signals are possible
Stop sign?

Red light?

State Drivers’ Manual

“Bells or other audible warning devices

may be included … to provide
additional warning for pedestrians and
FHWA Railroad Grade
MUTCD 8D.01 Crossing Handbook
Some interpretations may be at odds

Stimulus Two interpretations Behavior

Information about a possible Train approaching do
negative consequence – a not enter crossing
message that something
undesirable may occur

Information useful in Train approaching
Lights flashing guiding behavior toward an soon get into boarding
Alarm sounding
optimal desired outcome position on platform
Case Study: Evidence for “signal”
interpretation of active warnings
Location Method Data

• Suburban commuter • Surveillance was covert • # of trains

rail station in the US
• 3 days of recording • # of people crossing
between 7am and 9am
• Timing of crossing
• Directly at crosswalk
• Manner of crossing
• Recorded data only
while bell sounded &
lights flashed
Schematic layout of the station

Northbound view


Data summary

• 60 pedestrians in crosswalk
• 28 female and 32 male

Train Day 1 Day 2 Day 3

07:30 NB Local ; SB Express - - 4 • 87% crossed while bell
07:40 NB Local ; 7:43 SB Local - 6 6
07:52 SB Express - - -
- 8 people crossed pre-
07:58 NB Local ; 8:01 SB Local 5 9 7
08:10 SB Express 2 - - train, 2 of them ran
08:17 NB Local 5 3 2
08:22 SB Local - - - • 13% waited until bell
08:40 SB Local 1 2 - stopped and train left
Summary of case study results

• Pedestrians were willing to enter crosswalks

even while bells are sounding

• Some crossed just before the train arrived

• Most crossed after a train had left the station

• A few pedestrians waited for the bells to stop

even after the train had departed
Results of the study echo findings of
FRA panel

“ … Observations of pedestrian
behavior often reveal that many
pedestrians do not think of
themselves as part of the overall
traffic stream, and therefore not
really subject to traffic control
devices ...”

“… effective devices are a

necessary complement to law
enforcement initiatives and public
outreach and education efforts in
the enhancement of pedestrian
safety at grade crossings.”
• Auditory alarms warn AND reduce

• Pedestrians use the safety information

provided together with other information
about when/whether to cross
- Perceptual factors (looming, monocular
parallax )
- Timing of alarm bell
- Physical layout
- Visual Signs?
- Threat of enforcement?
Rules differ but behavior is similar
Rule Right of Way guiding behavior

Enter crosswalk Drivers always yield

only on walk signal to pedestrians
What manner of
Do not enter if don’t crossing is
walk is flashing or possible?
solidly lit
• Is hazard

• How fast can I

Do not enter Trains yield for
crossing while gate no one • When can I
is down begin to cross?

When lights are

flashing stop before
proceeding into
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