FDOT Pedestrian Project Named to AASHTO’s Sweet 16 Most Valuable Research

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) recently announced its annual “Sweet Sixteen” most high-value transportation research projects in the country, and FDOT was in the mix.

The winning projects were chosen by the AASHTO Research Advisory Committee and comprise four high-value research projects from each of the four AASHTO regions.

The FDOT research project, called Application of Demographic Analysis to Pedestrian Safety, developed a methodology that identifies relationships between pedestrian and severe-injury crashes and demographic, social, and road environmental factors; neighborhood land use attributes; and individual characteristics in low-income areas. The study was conducted through a partnership between FDOT and researchers at the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR).

It all started on a drive home.

Mark Plass, FDOT District 4 Traffic Operations Engineer and originator of the study, drove a segment of Florida State Road 838 several times a month. He noticed that, despite the traditional pedestrian safety measures that were installed, there was still a high number of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes.

“A portion of that road goes through a low-income area with relatively low car ownership,” Plass said. “I began to wonder if these crashes were partially a function of the demographics of the area.”

About the same time, Plass read an article in Governing magazine reporting that, between 2008 and 2012, pedestrians were killed at disproportionately higher rates in the nation’s poorer neighborhoods. That is when Plass proposed a formal demographic analysis of low-income neighborhoods in Florida’s major metro areas.

The CUTR research team used Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping technology to look for correlations between demographic, road environment, and land use factors, as well as individual characteristics in low-come areas, with pedestrian crashes and their severities.

Low Income Areas in Broward
Broward County, FL showing poverty distribution and five-year pedestrian crash clusters

“GIS is a very intuitive tool for showing relationships between demographic factors, road environment, land use characteristics, and pedestrian crashes,” said Dr. Pei-Sung Lin, Intelligent Transportation System, Traffic Operations and Safety Program Director at CUTR, and Principal Investigator for the project. “We generated maps that layered these characteristics and found pretty much the same thing everywhere we looked.”


Some of the common factors that correlate with pedestrian crashes in low-income areas include:

  • Higher-density, minority-dominated population
  • Zero-car ownership neighborhoods
  • More intersections, bus stops, and higher speed limits
  • Presence of big-box stores, fast food restaurants, convenience and grocery stores
  • Areas near bars and alcohol retail locations
  • Non-crosswalk locations, impaired pedestrians, and aggressive drivers
  • Poor lighting conditions

Knowing those pre-conditions helped the team research and recommend an integrated strategy to help reduce pedestrian crashes and their severities in low-income areas.

“For instance, we know that the vast majority of pedestrian fatalities occur at night. Many also happen along corridors, not at intersections,” Lin said. “So we recommended lighting improvements and treatments at non-intersection locations besides signalized intersections, among others.”

Lighting Before_After-01
One safety countermeasure the research team recommended for low-income areas was improved lighting along corridors. The photo on the left is a high-pressure sodium bulb; the right is light-emitting diode (LED). (Source: USF)

Other countermeasures recommended in the report were bus stop reallocation, installation of medians and crossing islands, and speed reduction treatments, including slow speed zones, road diets, and roundabouts.

Education, outreach, and enforcement were also part of the strategy. The team recommended social media campaigns, grassroots education, distribution of education tip cards, and law enforcement training.

According to the research, this multi-faceted approach has the best chance for success. Plass and Lin said it also provides an opportunity to help an underserved population.

“Pedestrians are killed at disproportionately higher rates in poorer neighborhoods,” Plass said. “And that population sometimes doesn’t have much political clout. We have a methodology now, a way of thinking, to help them.”

“We must pay extra attention to these factors,” Lin said. “If we don’t, it will be very difficult to reduce pedestrian fatalities statewide.”

For More Information

BDV25-977-30 Application of Demographic Analysis to Pedestrian Safety
Final Report | Summary

Visit the Sweet 16 poster session at the 2019 TRB Annual Meeting!