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Rapid Flashing Beacons Enhance Crosswalk Safety at the Push of a Button

Picture of rapid flashing beacons

In an ongoing effort to improve pedestrian safety, the University has installed a new kind of crosswalk light warning system, called Rapid Flashing Beacons (RFBs), at 16 crosswalks in and around the University.  Several crosswalks are in new locations, but the majority of RFBs replace the former in-road LED flashing light system. The reliability problems and repair challenges associated with the in-road system prompted the University to consider alternative pedestrian alerts.

The RFB system was selected based on research by the Federal Highway Administration determining that they are highly effective in prompting drivers to yield to pedestrians.  The University piloted an RFB crosswalk in 2014 at the intersection of University Avenue and Culbreth Road.  Based on positive feedback, U.Va. expanded RFBs to crosswalks identified as the most challenging for pedestrians.  The City of Charlottesville is also making the transition to RFBs, which will help provide consistency in the greater University area.

A typical RFB system includes a push button that activates rapid, irregularly flashing lights mounted on each side of the crosswalk, and sometimes in the center island.  The lights are combined with a prominent yellow pedestrian sign.  Because RFBs do not require in-pavement wiring or light modules, they are cheaper to install and maintain, and less likely to malfunction or fail.      

 “Rapid Flashing Beacons allow the University to put more lights in more locations across Grounds in ways that are less invasive, easier to maintain, and less disruptive to traffic.  Most importantly, RFBs are very reliable.  All of this points to increased pedestrian safety if used correctly,” said Director of Safety and Emergency Preparedness Marge Sidebottom.

Because these lights are above ground at approximately eye level, it’s easy for pedestrians to check that lights are flashing before entering the crosswalk. Drivers should be aware that flashing lights means that a pedestrian is near.  Unfortunately, though, not everyone pushes the button.  

“The key to safety is that pedestrians must activate the lights,” Sidebottom said.  “Studies have shown that the rapid flashing lights are effective in getting drivers' attention, but pedestrians need to push the button. Then, they need make sure that cars have stopped before entering the road.  Pedestrians always face the greatest danger in a run-in with a car, regardless of who has the legal right-of-way.”

The installation of RFBs at 16 crosswalks is part of the University’s infrastructure safety improvement program, which included a total commitment of $2.5 million to increase lighting on primary and secondary pathways, at crosswalks/intersections and under railroad bridges.

U.Va.’s in-road flasher systems proved to be unreliable due to frequent failures caused by mechanical damage from snowplows and normal traffic, corrosion from salt and sand, water penetration into the conduit containing the electrical lines, and asphalt failure around the fixtures.  In addition, there were control board failures.  

RFB crosswalks have been installed at these locations:

  • Leonard Sandridge Road
  • University Avenue at Elliewood Avenue
  • Emmet Street at Sprigg Lane
  • University Avenue at Madison Lane
  • Emmet Street at Central Grounds Parking
  • University Avenue at Newcomb Road
  • Whitehead Road Crosswalk at Rice Hall
  • Emmet Street at Stadium Road Triangle
  • University Avenue at Hospital Drive
  • Copley Road at Lannigan/Klockner Entrance
  • Alderman Road at Gilmer Drive 
  • Massie Road at JPJ West End 
  • Massie Road at JPJ East End
  • Lee Street at the Hospital Entrance 
  • Lee Street at the Emergency Room 
  • Jefferson Park Avenue at Jordan Hall