Research finds R1-6 gateway treatment can rival RFFB and PHB lights at pedestrian crossings

By Robbie Webber
Research in Michigan has shown that in-street, yield-to-pedestrian signs can affect both yielding behavior and driver speeds approaching crosswalks to the same degree as installation of a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RFFB) or Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon (PHB.) This is good news for communities that want to improve pedestrian safety and access but that are seeking a lower-cost alternative to installed beacons. In addition, the R1-6 signs used can be quickly installed and require no electrical power. The research also examined the durability of the signs and whether speed and yielding behavior were reduced when one of the signs was damaged or missing.

R1-6 sign

The study, conducted in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, MI, tested a variety of R1-6 sign types as well as different methods of sign placement. All locations were four-lane roads (two-lanes in each direction), some with medians or pedestrian-refuge islands, and some without. Signs were placed in varying configurations of curb- or median-mounted, gutter placement, and mounting on the center-line or lane markings.
All configurations showed significant improvements, compared to pre-installation results, in yielding behavior and speed reduction approaching a crosswalk. The improvements persisted even after the elements had been in place for several months or when one of the signs was damaged or destroyed. Speed reduction is important because it indicates that drivers have increased potential to see and yield to pedestrians and that any pedestrian crashes will result in less severe injuries.
The researchers noted that there was virtually no instance of hard braking, indicating that drivers had already reacted to the signs and did not need to quickly reduce speed. Lack of hard breaking is also important to reduce the potential for rear-end collisions.
The study also looked at using R1-6 signs in traffic circles and roundabouts, and found improved yielding and speed improvements, but to a lesser degree than on roads. They attributed this to a reduced line of sight at these types of intersections.
Many communities are eager to improve pedestrian safety and facilitate crossings, but installation of hybrid beacons and RFFBs can be both costly and take more time. In addition, these treatments require a signal box. Placement of R1-6 signs can be done quickly and cheaply and accommodates  experimental placement.
The full study, including methodology, the durability of different types of signs and sign placement, and the full results of speed and yielding behavior was published in the March 2018 ITE Journal.
Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.