Evaluation of a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon System at the Belmont Ridge Road and W&OD Trail Mid-Block Crosswalk

Report No: 15-R22

Published in 2015

About the report:

On April 8, 2013, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) installed a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB) system at Belmont Ridge Road in Loudoun County that included two units at the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail crossing in addition to advance warning units for the northbound and southbound travel directions. Recent studies have shown that the devices elicit a greater response from motorists and significantly increase driver yielding behavior at crosswalks when supplementing standard pedestrian crossing warning signs and markings. In July 2008, the Federal Highway Administration gave interim approval for optional use of RRFBs in limited circumstances. The interim approval allows for use as a warning beacon to supplement standard pedestrian warning signs and markings at a pedestrian or school crossing; where the crosswalk approach is not controlled by a yield sign, stop sign, or traffic-control signal; or at a crosswalk at a roundabout.

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the utility, effectiveness, and safety of the RRFB system at the intersection of the W&OD Trail and Belmont Ridge Road over a 1-year period. Of particular interest was (1) the percentage of trail users that pressed the push button to activate the RRFBs and whether this varied by mode (pedestrians vs. bicyclists); (2) motorist behavior when the RRFB system was activated versus not activated; and (3) trail user impressions of the system relating to perceptions of safety. Motorist and trail user data and interactions were collected in three separate video data collection efforts: 3 weeks, 5 months, and 1 year after the RRFB system installation. In addition, individual vehicle speed data were collected with a LIDAR gun, and on-site and online surveys were administered to obtain trail user opinions.

The results of the study indicated that the RRFB systems had a positive effect on motorist awareness. This was evidenced by the increased yield rates when the system was activated versus not activated; speed reductions when the system was activated; and trail user perspectives on increased opportunities to cross and increased safety at the crossing location. Additional conclusions were that the RRFB system is perceived by trail users as an enhancement to safety at the Belmont Ridge Road crossing; trail user perceptions of RRFB system benefits grow over time; there is a correlation between trail user activations and the presence of traffic; and trail users remain confused as to who has the right of way at the crossing location.

The study recommends the following: (1) VDOT’s Operations Regions should continue to pursue opportunities to install and evaluate RRFB systems; (2) VDOT’s Traffic Engineering Division should develop more specific guidance for RRFB system installations; and (3) the Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research should conduct a crash analysis at Belmont Ridge Road 3 years after installation of the RRFB system.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.

Last updated: November 12, 2023

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