Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets


This report addresses the safety and operating experience of light rail transit (LRT) systems operating in shared (on-street or mall) rights-of-way at speeds that do not exceed 35 mph. It is based on agency interviews, field observations, and accident analyses of 10 LRT systems in the United States and Canada. These systems—in Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Calgary, Los Angeles, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose—provide a broad range of current LRT operating practices and problems.

The report provides information to facilitate the safe, orderly, and integrated movement of all traffic, including light rail, throughout the public highway system, and it provides guidance for the safe and informed operation of individual elements of the transportation network. It is intended to assist those involved in the planning, design, and operation of LRT systems by providing a consistent set of guidelines and standards for LRT operations at low to moderate speeds.

The research presented herein verifies the primary research assumption that traffic control treatments for LRT grade crossings vary from system to system, as well as within individual LRT systems. America is a nation of mobility, however, so it is essential that uniformity be established throughout the United States. Because retrofitting entire LRT systems to achieve uniformity may be cost prohibitive, it is vital that essential elements be retrofitted to achieve uniformity between and among existing systems, and that extensions to existing systems and new LRT systems provide that uniformity throughout the nation.

Thus, this report includes a description and analysis of the operating practices, safety concerns, accident experiences, innovative features, and state-of-the-art enforcement and safety education programs at each of the 10 LRT systems surveyed. It contains traffic and pedestrian planning and control device guidelines, and, because traffic control devices currently used by various LRT properties vary from system to system as well as within individual systems, the report proposes a new part (Traffic Control Systems for Light RailHighway Grade Crossings) for the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Further, it suggests methods to assess the safety benefits and accident reductions of traffic engineering treatments by means of laboratory research and field investigation; such methods include risky behavior analysis techniques to complement traditional accidentbased methodologies. (Because traffic and pedestrian accidents at any LRT grade crossing occur infrequently, accident reduction as a result of the installation of a traffic 2 control system may be of limited statistical significance. Risky behaviors, on the other hand, occur much more often and can be treated as a surrogate for before-and-after effectiveness comparisons.) Finally, the report summarizes the results of the study and sets forth recommendations for needed actions.

Publication date: 
January 1, 1996
Publication type: 
Technical Report