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PasCSC Explainer: Crosswalks

Posted by Jaclyn G on Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A view from a street corner of Colorado Blvd and De Lacey Ave toward a building at the diagonally opposite corner. Brick-colored crosswalks edged in white stretch horizontally and diagonally through the intersection, criss-crossing in the middle of the square. A handful of people are using each crosswalk while the traffic lights signal red in all directions.

The well-used brick-colored, decorated style, scramble crosswalks on Colorado Blvd are an iconic part of Old Pasadena. Photo source: City of Pasadena

Every once in awhile, we like to dig into the street design “things” we all see every day, and give our readers a deeper look into the story of how it got there, and what else might be possible. This month, we’re focusing on crosswalks - and Pasadena’s plan for (slowly) upgrading hundreds of them to the higher visibility ‘continental’ style that is already used by many cities across the world.

Know your crosswalks

If you take some time to look, you’ll notice that Pasadena currently uses a few different crosswalk styles:

Below are some examples of each crosswalk style in the city:

Aerial views of three intersections with different crosswalk styles are shown.

Satellite images compiled by the author.

If you’ve ever felt invisible while walking in a crosswalk, you might be interested in a fourth type: the continental style crosswalk.

What makes a continental crosswalk, and why are they so important?

In a continental crosswalk, a series of thick lines (thicker than the ladder style) are painted parallel to the flow of traffic. When the lines are painted in high visibility paint, especially over darker asphalt, the crosswalk really stands out!

Four men in a highly visible continental crosswalk walk across a two-lane street. The third is barefoot.

The iconic album cover from the Beatles' Abbey Road (1969) features a continental crosswalk (and four musicians). Photo by Iain Macmillan

The US government (Federal Highway Administration) has published a list of studies on the safety benefits of continental crosswalks. Drivers in some of these studies have noted that the continental crosswalks were the easiest to see from farther away – and indeed, intersections with these crosswalks were confirmed, with statistical significance, to have fewer crashes. What’s more, the continental crosswalk style is cheaper to maintain, since car wheels can roll between the markings, instead of rolling over and rubbing off the paint.

Continental crosswalks are cheaper to maintain, easier to see, and already used by hundreds of cities across the world.

This crosswalk style is far from new or cutting edge: you can see a continental style crosswalk from 1969 on the cover of the Beatles’ album “Abbey Road”! It’s already used by hundreds of cities across the world – so in fact, cities in the United States have been late adopters.

How does Pasadena compare to neighboring cities?

The continental crosswalk has already been adopted as the standard style for use in the City of Los Angeles in 2012. Though surrounding cities haven’t adopted them to the same extent (perhaps due to smaller budgets), South Pasadena has some that date back to before 2014, and Burbank has installed some going back to 2016.

How do we get more of these awesome crosswalks in Pasadena?

First, it has to be approved for Pasadena’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

The CIP is a list of projects for improving the city’s public infrastructure: such as streets, transportation issues, street lights, traffic signals, parks, public buildings, sewer and storm drains. It’s a five-year plan that’s updated every year. Every November, the Department of Public Works sends out a “Call for New Projects”. Anyone in the city – including City Councilmembers, Commission members, City employees, community groups, and members of the public – can formally (and easily!) submit new project ideas. (The continental crosswalks project came out of a request by several members of Pasadena CSC, among others!)

The Transportation Advisory Commission reviews and provide input on projects submitted in the Street and Streetscapes, Transportation, and Parking category (which would include crosswalks). This process recently took place on March 10. The project’s ideas are then reviewed and prioritized for possible addition to the CIP by City staff, and the list is finally approved by the City Manager and City Council. You can read more about the entire process here.

Here is the final list of projects that were approved for Pasadena’s FY 2021 - 2025 Capital Improvement Program.

The recommended FY 2021-2025 CIP calls for $5,100,000 to fund Citywide Continental Crosswalk Implementation. The CIP describes this as a project for the systematic replacement of the older crosswalk markings at 340 signalized intersections and 70 marked uncontrolled crosswalks, citywide.

It also depends on Measure M

After a project is added to the CIP, there’s the issue of money. The average cost per crosswalk is estimated to be around $2,500. At an average of four crosswalks per intersection at 340 intersections in the city, it’s easy to see how the price stacks up, and there will likely be additional costs for traffic control during construction, and for ‘grinding off’ the older crosswalk paint.

On May 4, 2020, Pasadena DOT presented a staff report where they recommended continental crosswalk conversion to be funded by the countywide Measure M initiative through their Multi-year Subregional Plan (MSP). Council approved this recommendation, which now will be decided by Metro if funding will be received.

Pasadena's continental crosswalk conversions are planned to start in 2021.

City of Pasadena staff indicate that these conversions will start in 2021. It would make sense to start at critical locations - places that often have dangerous pedestrian-driver collisions, locations near schools or senior centers, Gold Line stations, and areas where lots of people like to walk. But another strategy is to begin rolling out this new style as streets are repaved (providing a fresh, money-saving start for new markings). We do know that 340 is close to the number of signalized intersections in the city, so we hope to see this safer and more visible crosswalk style all over the city!

Tags: crosswalks, walking

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