Best planning and implementation toolbox


Purpose of Tool:
A highway grade crossing (also called a highway at-grade crossing) is the point of interBenefits of Using Tooletween a highway and any other type of transportation mode, including rail, which differs both in design and operational characteristics. These differences can result in conflict between the various modes, which can sometimes result in accidents. Given the high number of fatalities and injuries at highway intersections, it is essential to develop plans and programs to improve intersection safety.

Benefits of Using Tool:
Designing safe crossing through an intersection is complex and involves multiple potential conflicts between various modes of transportation. The cost of intersection-related crashes is approximately $96 billion every year1. In 2002, there were more than 3.2 million intersection-related crashes, representing 50 percent of all reported crashes. Approximately 9,612 fatalities (22.4 percent of total fatalities) and almost one million injury crashes occurred at or within an intersection2. Highway crossing safety measures can reduce accident costs, improve intersection reliability, and reduce driver confusion.

Steps Involved to Use Tool:
Highway grade crossings are usually implemented as part of a long-range transportation plan and coordinated with appropriate planning agencies, such as the local metropolitan planning organization or the state department of transportation. The following elements are included in the process:

Unsignalized Intersection Safety Improvements3
  • Improve access management
  • Reduce conflicts through roadway design improvements
  • Improve visibility
  • Improve driver awareness

    Signalized Intersection Safety Improvements4
  • Traffic control and operational improvements
  • Reduce conflicts through roadway design improvements
  • Improve visibility
  • Improve driver awareness
  • Improve access management near intersections
  • Improve safety through other infrastructure improvements

    Special Requirements to Use Tool:
    The following are special requirements and considerations for implementation of highway grade crossings:
  • Perform a safety improvement study for pedestrian and bicycle crossings. The Pedestrian and Bicycle Intersection Safety Indices (Ped ISI and Bike ISI)5 can be used to identify intersections that should have the greatest priority to undergo pedestrian and safety improvements.
  • When evaluating railroad crossing intersections, analyze the visibility, warning signs and locations, location of the crossing arms and flashing signals, etc.6
  • Special attention needs to be given to private railroad crossings and high-speed rail crossings.

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
    The following resources are needed to properly design highway grade crossings:
    1.  Create an independent audit team to conduct “Road Safety Audits” (RSA) to examine the safety performance of an existing or future road intersection. The benefits of RSAs are that they:

    • May help produce designs that reduce the number and severity of crashes,
    • May reduce costs by identifying safety issues and correcting them before projects are built,
    • Promote awareness of safe design practices,
    • Integrate multimodal safety concerns, and
    • Consider human factors in all facets of design.

    2.  Education and enforcement are important components to include when planning and implementing intersection safety improvements.

    Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
    Communities and agencies that have successfully used this process include:
    City of Seattle, Washington, Curb Radii/Curb Revisions
    Peter Lagerwey, Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Coordinator
    Seattle Department of Transportation
    700 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3768, P.O. Box 34996
    Seattle, WA 98124-4996
    (206) 684-5108

    North Carolina State University, Share the Road Sign Initiative
    Mary Paul Meletiou, Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager
    Institute for Transportation Research and Education
    North Carolina State University
    Centennial Campus, Box 8601
    Raleigh, NC 27695-8601
    (919) 515-8771

    Portland, Oregon, Spring Water Corridor-Path and Roadway Intersections
    Mia Birk, Principal, Alta Planning + Design
    3604 SE Lincoln St
    Portland, OR 97214
    (503) 230-9862
    More online case studies list here:

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:
    The experience of Dayton, OH with implementing highway grade crossings demonstrates how this strategy has helped meet community goals and objectives, improve quality of life and, most notably, improve pedestrian safety.
  • At 3rd Street, south of the SR16 entrance (ranked as the 90th worst intersection in the state), a total of 184 crashes were observed in the three years before safety improvements were implemented. The crashes were reduced to a total of eight in the three years following the implementation of the at-grade improvements.

    List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:
    See the following sources for more information:
    1. Introduction: Intersection Safety Issue Briefs, FHWA & ITE
    2. Brochure-Intersection Safety Strategies, FHWA.
    3. Pedestrian and Bicyclist Intersection Safety Indices-User Guide, Pub No FHWA-HRT-06-130, April 2007
    4. Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook-Second Edition, Pub No FHWA-TS-86-215
    5. 56th Annual Traffic Engineering and Safety Conference-Intersection Safety Improvements, Oct 18, 2007, Fred Rank, FHWA contact:
    6. For Intersection Safety Information see online:


    1 Introduction: Intersection Safety Issue Briefs, FHWA & ITE
    2 Introduction: Intersection Safety Issue Briefs, FHWA & ITE
    3 Brochure-Intersection Safety Strategies, FHWA.
    4 Brochure-Intersection Safety Strategies, FHWA.
    5 Pedestrian and Bicyclist Intersection Safety Indices-User Guide, Pub No FHWA-HRT-06-130, April 2007.
    6 Railroad-Highway Grade crossing Handbook-Second Edition, Pub No FHWA-TS-86-215.