WalkSafe at Home: Virtual Education

Our virtual lesson includes five simple activities about sidewalks, crosswalks, and street design. These lessons are designed for youths from 5-14 years of age.

These videos and activities can be self-taught at home or integrated into your school's online learning.

A short quiz will follow based on the content of these modules. If your teacher(s) require you to submit your responses as part of your virtual homework, you will be able to print and/or directly forward a copy of your quiz results to them.

WalkSafe: Introduction
A group of friends in their neighborhood, waving
Hi there!

In case you haven't guessed, we're all for walking, rolling, and all forms of self-propelled outdoor transportation.

Why? Well, walking is the one form of transportation we can do on our own. It is how our bodies were designed to get around.

The outdoor experience is equally important if we roll, use a walking cane, or any other assistance. The important thing is that we all have an equitable opportunity to get outside, move our bodies, and enjoy nature while getting where we need to go.

We miss all of this when we ride in a car. Instead of taking in all the things we could experience on foot, we zoom by them. The green of the trees. The rustle of the leaves. The stimulation of the minds as we work our bodies.
A group of children walk down a sidewalk as a child in a car looks out the window, wishing they were outside with their friends
For some, walking or rolling is a privilege - something done for recreation. For others, getting around by these modes is a necessity. Car ownership, parking, and upkeep is expensive. Schedules conflict. Even if we use a car for many trips, at some point, we must walk or roll on our own.

Whatever the case, everyone should have an equal opportunity to get around their neighborhood, to their school, or anywhere across their city - without the need for a car.

But even though walking is wonderful, automobile traffic often makes crossing the street - or even being on the sidewalk - more dangerous than it should be.

In these lessons, we will show you how our streets work, why some are dangerous, and how they can be improved for our safety and those around us. There will be some quizzes and interactive games along the way too.

Plus, you'll get a chance unleash all your creativity in our Art Contest, where you can show us how dangerous streets can be fixed.

Remember: While you may still be young enough to be walking or rolling to school with your parents, street safety is a topic with no age boundaries. Everyone has something to offer.

So how about it? Let's get started.




A note for adults
Roads and crosswalks are more complicated than many realize.

Though WalkSafe's conceptualization in 2001 was originally for elementary children, some of the concepts discussed in our Virtual Education lessons may be difficult for our youngest readers to fully comprehend.

This is intentional.

Street design affects us all in a very similar manner, regardless of our age or ability. Unfortunately, US streets and crosswalks are often designed with pedestrian safety as a last, not first, priority. Thus, even though the safety of our children is directly affected by these design nuances, it is not always possible to simplify these details.

If we were to oversimplify this reality, we would mislead our youths three times over: First, by making streets seem safer than they are; secondly, by not giving them an opportunity to brainstorm solutions to the safety issues that directly affect them; and finally, by failing to indicate that pedestrian facilities must equitably serve people of all ages who use white canes, mobility aids, and wheelchairs.

This happens to be a major issue with the way safety is approached in the United States and Canada. As the Vision Zero Network puts it, "...the vast amount of the burden of safety [is put on] on individual road users, rather than the system in which those individuals are moving in, including the built environment, appropriate speed limits, and policies and regulations. This sends the message that the most effective way to improve safety is to somehow reach every individual on the road and convince them — individually — to make sure their behavior is perfect 100% of the time. Good luck with that!"

While we are aware that a child of age five will not necessarily have the cognitive ability to avoid all dangerous situations, that same child deserves the opportunity to learn about the complexity of street safety to the best of their ability. Even if full comprehension is not possible, they'll have an exposure to foundational principles that they will eventually understand as they grow up.

As AICP planner Don Kostelec explains: "It’s unfair to engineer a road so it sets the driver, the bicyclist, the pedestrian up for tragic results due to the most minor mistake." Indeed, this is the reality of our roads today. Leading our children and parents to believe that kids can navigate such a system by "simply stopping and looking left right left," only maintains the myth that our pedestrian environments are safe so long as we behave safely within them.

We highly suggest that you read through the Crosswalk Conundrums Lesson to get an idea of how right turns on red and unprotected left turns can make simple crosswalks dangerous to navigate - even for adults. These overcomplicated solutions set both drivers and pedestrians up for avoidable crashes.

This is why we have included an entire Lesson, Better Streets for Kids, which introduces children to examples of innovative street designs that prioritize the safety of people walking, rolling, or riding bicycles first.

While safe streets are becoming more and more commonplace in US cities, not every child has the opportunity to see these designs in their hometown. Sharing these designs ensures that our youth realizes that our streets aren't inflexible.

We also believe many children are already aware of lapses in street safety and have the ability to bring ideas to the table on their own. Case in point, Mikael Colville-Andersen (of The Life-Sized City and the Copenhagenize Design Co.) documented in 2013 how his son's third-grade class reimagined the roundabout around their school in a simple craft project. In the US, a 2nd grade class in Ft. Lupton, Colorado showed their spirit of civic engagement by asking their city council for safe bike lanes to their school. Don't underestimate the power and innovation of the child.

This said, we do support the recommendation made by the National Center for Safe Routes to School and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that children, in general, should not cross a street alone until age 10. Nevertheless, children should still be aware of - and involved in - street safety long before that age.
Comments and Feedback
WalkSafe's content is continually refined from input from advocates, planners, and parents worldwide.

If you have a comment or idea, please send us an email and share your thoughts.
Crosswalk Basics
A child begins to walk at a crosswalk
So what do we know about walking to school and around our city?

It can be fun.

It can be good exercise.

...and it can be a bit tricky.

But why is that?
A big truck has parked itself on a crosswalk, while a child waiting to cross angrily points to it
Cars (and trucks)

Some adults drive cars to get around. But drivers don’t always pay attention to things outside of their cars, including other people.

You've probably heard that this is the reason why we cross at a crosswalk.

Crosswalks
Crosswalks are places in the street where people driving are expected to yield to people walking or rolling across the street.

They can be striped or marked in a number of different ways:

This picture shows four different crosswalk paint treatments

Sometimes - particularly in neighborhoods or rural areas - crosswalks may not be marked, even though they are legally places to cross the street.
Crosswalks are usually located at intersections - where two or more directions of traffic meet - but not always:

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Not every intersection or crosswalk is marked the same though. There are various signs and signals used to indicate who can go, and when:

Traffic lights
These signals tell drivers when to go and when to stop.

A red traffic light
A red light means STOP.
A yellow traffic light
A yellow light means "Slow down, this light is about to turn red."
A green traffic light
A green light means "GO."

Stop signs
Some smaller intersections have stop signs instead of traffic signals.

Drivers are expected to wait at this sign when someone is crossing the street.

A stop sign
Pedestrian signals
These signals let us know when it is our turn to cross the street.

A pedestrian signal with a red hand
"DON'T WALK."
A pedestrian signal with a flashing red hand
Drivers will get a green light soon. Don't enter the crosswalk.
A pedestrian signal with a flashing red hand and a countdown
A signal with a countdown timer indicates how much time is left to cross.
A pedestrian signal with a person walking
"WALK."

Note: This signal doesn't mean it is absolutely safe to walk. Yet.
There are also provisions built into sidewalks to make mobility easier for people using wheelchairs and for those who are blind or have low vision:
Curb ramps
At most crosswalks, the curb flattens into a curb ramp. This allows people using wheelchairs and mobility scooters to roll onto the crosswalk with ease.

A child using a wheelchair, using a curb ramp

Most ramps look like this one, with the ramp on a curved surface. However, ramps should exit parallel with the sidewalk so the rider isn't tipped to the side while waiting.
Tactile pavers
The yellow or dark red bumpy surfaces at the edge of a crosswalk are called tactile pavers.

A child locating the tactile pavers with a white cane

People who are blind or have low vision use these as an aid to locate the edge of the curb.

Tactile pavers are also found at railroad crossings and on train platforms.

Yet, even with marked crosswalks, accessibility provisions, and an assortment of signs, lights, and warnings, not all drivers stop or yield as they should.

This is why many schools have crossing guards.
A child waves to a crossing guard as they cross the street
Crossing Guards
Crossing guards are special traffic officers. They have the authority to stop traffic and keep an eye on drivers in school zones.

Crossing guards stop drivers and shield people crossing - especially children - from potential dangers.

But not every crosswalk has crossing guards to provide this extra protection.

There are many ways our streets are evolving so drivers are more attentive and cautious. We'll learn about that in Lesson 5.

In the meantime, let's review what we've learned so far.


Lesson 1 in review:
  • Drivers can be unpredictable. They don't always yield to you.
  • Crossing guards stop traffic and keep an eye on drivers in school zones to protect us.
  • Intersections are where two directions of the road - and traffic - meet.
  • Traffic lights tell drivers when to go and when to stop.
  • Stop signs tell drivers to stop before continuing. Drivers are expected to wait at a stop sign if someone is crossing the street in front of them.
  • Pedestrian signals indicate when it is pedestrians' turn to cross the street.
  • Places to cross include:
    • Intersections with marked crosswalks and traffic lights
    • Intersections with unmarked crosswalks and stop signals
    • Mid-block crosswalks with traffic lights
  • Curb ramps make it possible for people who use wheelchairs or mobility scooters to cross the street.
  • Tactile pavers make it possible for people who are blind or have low vision to locate the crosswalk.


Left, Right, Left
A car speeds by as a child waiting to cross waves their hand disapprovingly
It's time for a reality check.

Even though drivers are supposed to stop for us, some of them try to beat the lights.

Others roll over the crosswalk before stopping.

Either way, we pay the price for their mistakes. They're in a 3,000+ pound metal box with a motor. We're not.
Back in the 1890's when the automobile was becoming popular, paved streets existed primarily for pedestrians and bicycle riders - in fact, bicycle enthusiasts were the first to advocate for paved roads. Automobiles basically shared the streets.

Eventually, as automobiles became faster, sidewalks were created. Crosswalks, stop signs, and the traffic signal followed suit.

But with more automobiles on the road and faster speeds came more conflicts - and the inevitable close calls and crashes.

Eventually, this phrase was invented for those crossing the street:

"Stop - and look left-right-left."

This little ditty has become what every child in the US learns to this day. It goes something like this:
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"Stop and look left, then right, then left" works for intersections with stop signs, and it can help avoid a close call with a reckless driver.

However, left-right-left has outgrown the complexities of the modern intersection. You can stop, look left-right-left, cross on a "WALK" signal and still find yourself in trouble.
Two paramedics look over a child sitting down in the middle of an intersection. A car with a damaged bumper is nearby.

Many more drivers have come to the roads since this phrase was first invented. Automobiles have become much more powerful too, and exceptions - like right turn on reds - have changed how intersections work.

Because of this, crossing the street, even for adults, is a lot more complex - and the venerable phrase fails to account for the needs of those with low vision.

In the next lesson, we'll explain these additional hazards.

Lesson 2 in review:
  • Stopping and looking left right left means:
    1. Stop before the curb.
    2. If there's a traffic signal, we wait for the "WALK" signal.
    3. When the "WALK" signal turns on, we look left, then right, then left, to make sure drivers are stopped.
    4. If it appears safe, we can consider crossing.
  • Stopping and looking left right left is not a guarantee of safety.


Crosswalk Conundrums
We've stopped.

We've looked left-right-left.

The walk signal is on.

And we're still in danger? Yes. This is why:
A No Turn on Red When Pedestrians In Crosswalk Sign is seen next to a traffic signal
The right turn on red

As you can see, this sign tells drivers they cannot "turn on red." But only when pedestrians are in the crosswalk.

This means drivers can turn right, even with a red light, provided no one is crossing.

Though drivers are expected to stop before the crosswalk to check for pedestrians, they don't always do so.
A driver turing right is violating the crosswalk space for a child trying to cross on a WALK signal
Right turns on red are confusing. They create an unnecessary exception to two basic rules:

  • Red lights are supposed to mean a driver should stop.
  • "WALK" signals are supposed to mean a crosswalk is clear.

Yet, a right turn on red allows a driver to go on a red, and a crosswalk to be unsafe on a "WALK."

Confusing rules like these create dangerous situations.

There are two places - in a single crosswalk - that you may encounter someone turning right on red:

An overhead view showing the two places at each end of the crosswalk where someone turning right on red could hit a pedestrian
That's what it looks from a bird's eye view.

This is what it looks like at the curb:

The nearest driver making a right turn on red will always be to your left.

A scene showing how a pedestrian waiting to cross always has a car turning right on red to their left
The farthest driver making a right turn on red will always be to your right.

A scene showing how a pedestrian waiting to cross always has a car turning right on red to their right as well
Unfortunately, it is not easy to know when a driver will give you the right of way.

Obviously, we have to wait for a driver who brings their car to a complete stop before the crosswalk.

Still, this is not a guarantee that they will yield to you, even if you get their attention and make eye contact (though that's always a good idea).

And guess what? There is another place a driver can come from unexpectedly.


Unprotected left turns

At many intersections, traffic traveling parallel with you can turn left. Like this:
A scene showing how a driver making a left turn from a perpendicular street may cross the crosswalk on a WALK signal.
The driver in the yellow car, on a green light, can wait in the middle of the intersection to make a left turn. They must wait for a gap in oncoming traffic before turning.

In an ideal world, this driver would notice pedestrians crossing to their left before turning.

But this driver has to concentrate on oncoming traffic too. And on some streets, a driver may be concentrating on two, three, or four lanes of traffic coming towards them, all at once.
A driver's view of making a left turn on green. The pedestrian is barely visible to their left
This makes it very easy for a driver making this turn to overlook people in their peripheral vision.

This means that there are three places where drivers can come from with very little warning.

This all happens while the WALK signal is on and we have the right of way!
A birds eye view of the three locations that drivers turning right on red, or left on green, may violate a pedestrian's right of way during a WALK signal
See what we mean? Crossing the street can be a lot more complicated than "just stopping and looking left-right-left."

Thankfully, not every intersection is this complicated. Here's one that's a lot simpler:


Mid-block crosswalks

Remember these from Lesson 1?

Since drivers cannot turn mid-block, they approach from two directions only. When the mid-block crosswalk has traffic signals, they must stop on red. The same applies if there's a stop sign.

This makes stopping and looking left-right-left quite easy and safe.
A simple, mid-block crosswalk with traffic lights
But this only applies if a mid-block crosswalk has standard traffic lights. Some only have pedestrian signs, while others have "RRFB" signals instead:

RRFB signals
"RRFB" stands for Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons.

These beacons flash when a crosswalk button is pressed:

When lit, drivers must slow down and prepare to stop if possible.

RRFBs are better than pedestrian signs, but some street safety advocates note that the yellow flashing lights are more ambiguous than a red light.

A red light means stop. Always. Stopped drivers mean a safe crossing and fewer mistakes.


Unmarked crosswalks

We mentioned these earlier too. You might find an unmarked crosswalk in a neighborhood.

These may have a curb ramp and tactile surfaces, but no crosswalk markings at all.
A simple, unsignalized 4-way stop intersection with no crosswalk markings
An unmarked crosswalk usually has a stop sign for drivers - and that's it.

Without a crosswalk signal, you (or your guardian) must determine when it is safe to cross.

This may seem dangerous, but this is why we stop before looking left-right-left.

A child crosses the 4-way stop
A simple intersection like this can be a lot safer than a big street, even without signals.

Naturally, slower speed limits and less traffic help contribute to this safety.


So what can we learn from this?

For starters, crossing the street turns out to be a lot more complicated than it looks.

But it shouldn't be so difficult. These are only a few of the dangers presently built into our crosswalks. A lot of these dangers are preventable.

Soon, we'll learn all about how safer street design solves these problems.

Lesson 3 in review:
  • Crosswalks are not created equal - some can be more dangerous than others.
  • Being safe is good, but is not a cure-all for dangers when crossing the street.
  • Right turns on red can be dangerous, because not all drivers stop when they should.
  • Unprotected left turns can be dangerous, because drivers are not focused on you in their peripheral vision.


Railroad crossings
That previous lesson was difficult, wasn't it? Well, here's something really simple (and fun): Railroad crossings.

Railroad crossings are always marked with this crossbuck symbol.

A railroad crossing symbol and gate

Like intersections, railroad crossings can be unique and varied. Most of them have gates, lights, and warning bells.

A railroad crossing on a two-lane street, with four gates

The warning bells and lights turn on first, then the gates come down.

Though the bell may turn off when the gates are down, the lights will continue to flash.

Pretty soon, you should hear and see a familiar sight.

A child is waiting at the closed railroad crossing gates. A train approaches in the distance.

In more rural areas, there may be just a crossing sign with no gates and lights. At these, we must stop, look both ways, and listen to hear if a train is coming.

A child listening for trains at a rural crossing with no gates, warning bells, or lights

This is wise advice even when a crossing has gates and lights, as some cities have banned railroads from using horns in certain areas. Listen for the distant, metal-on-metal sound of steel wheels on steel rails.

At any rate, if we hear or think there's a train approaching, there's only one safe thing to do: Wait.

It's simple as that. Trains don't steer, they don't stop - not quickly, anyway - and they often travel as fast as cars on the highway.

There's no benefit to trying to beat a train and getting hit by one is almost always fatal.

And after all, who'd want to give up seeing a train anyway?

A child waves to the engineer of a passing train

One last thing is that some crossings have multiple rail lines, occasionally - but not always - marked below the crossbuck.
A railroad crossing with an additional sign denoting four tracks

At these locations, one train can clear the crossing, and surprise! - there's another train coming from the opposite (or the same) direction.
A four-track railroad crossing with the gates halfway up as a train exits - but another train is rapidly approaching in the opposite direction on another line

Also, once the way is clear, you'll want to cross the tracks quickly. Not quickly enough to fall, but don't stop or dawdle either.

Watch our for the grooves next to the rails too. This gap is sometimes large enough to catch your foot and cause you to trip.

A closeup of how a shoe can get stuck in the gap between the road and the rails

Lesson 4 in review:
  • Railroad crossings are not always the same, but if a train is approaching, we always wait for it to cross.
  • Multiple rail lines may span a single crossing, so even if one train has passed, wait until you're sure another one isn't on the way.
  • Look out for the gap between the rail and the road when walking across the tracks.


Better streets for kids
So far, we've learned all about some simple crosswalks and some very complicated ones.

You probably think a lot of them can be made simpler and safer.

But many adults might say "Well, that's the way things are and you can't change it." Others might say that police officers need to give more tickets.

But what happens when there are speeders or reckless drivers on another street? They can't be giving tickets everywhere.
A police officer hopelessly trying to corral all the reckless drivers on one street
It's a lot easier - and friendlier - to make our streets so that it is difficult to make a life-threatening mistake on them.

Also, when a mistake is made, that same street should be designed so that the error results in minimal injury, at worst.

But how can design change what people do?

To find out, let's look at a simple door. Yep, a door.

Have you ever tried to open a door by pulling on its handle, only to find that the door is marked “PUSH?” You are not alone:

Our roads are just like these doors. By using the science and psychology of design, we can create streets that automatically encourage safe driving.

Here are 10 things cities can do to make streets safer for people on the sidewalk or crossing the street. You might have seen some of these already:


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These are only a few examples. There may be some that haven’t even been invented yet. Perhaps you have a brilliant idea to add.

You’ll have every opportunity to do so as part of our WalkSafe Art Contest. But you've read a lot to get this far, so it's time for some fun. Next section is all about activities & challenges!

Lesson 5 in review:
  • Safety begins with street design that automatically encourages safe driving.
  • A safe street is one that is:
    • Easy to use.
    • Difficult to make a mistake on.
    • Not fatal if a driver does make a mistake.


WalkSafe Activities
Now that you've completed the WalkSafe lessons, try putting your new knowledge to work with these indoor and outdoor activities:

Safe Street Search

Go on a neighborhood scavenger hunt to find pedestrian-first streets and identify areas in need of improvement with this outdoor walking guide.

Distancing + masks required

Outdoors

Active physical exertion

A picture of the cover of the Safe Street Search activity booklet

Signs and Signals Challenge

Test your skill at matching street signs and traffic signals to their definitions with this interactive game.

Ideal for younger children.

At-home

Indoor activity

Low physical exertion

A picture of the loading screen of the Signs and Signals Challenge
Art Contest
You made it! High five!

Over these five lessons, you've learned all about crosswalks, traffic signals, and how better street design can make walking, rolling, and riding easier and safer people of all ages and abilities.

Now it's your opportunity to express ideas about how your neighborhood or city streets can be made safer for everyone.

Every year, we hold a yearly WalkSafe Art Contest for Florida elementary school students, but this year, we're opening it up to parents and youths participating in these Virtual Education lessons. The contest is still open to teacher entries, but we're now accepting parents submitting their child's own artwork.

We're seeking the greatest youth poster and craft projects about safe streets to share with the world.

Each contest begins in October. All entries must be received before the last Friday of November. All submissions must be made digitally. Mail-ins will not be accepted or returned.

Suggested themes:

  • What would your neighborhood look like if it were more kid-friendly?
  • What would your neighborhood look like if the streets were made safer to walk to school?
  • How would the area around your school look if it had a safe place for kids to walk, roll, or ride into school?
  • What would your city look like if you redesigned the streets to be kid-friendly?
  • Is there a dangerous crosswalk in your neighborhood? Show us how you'd fix it.


Entry requirements
All posters or craft projects must meet the following criteria.

NOTE: Messages that pass judgement on peer behavior is discouraged, as are fearsome/punitive messages, and messages that encourage safety myths.

  • Project must reflect one or more of the following themes:
    • Safer crosswalks and/or school zones
    • Slowing down drivers
    • Safer street designs (no turn on red, pedestrian refuge islands, pedestrian scrambles)
    • Healthy activities
  • Project must be 100% the work of the youth artist, with no adult assistance.
  • Posters are limited to the following standard paper sizes:
    • 8½” x 11”
    • 11" x 17"

Eligibility
These prerequisites are required for entries to be eligible:

  • Home submissions:
    • Child or child + parent completed all five WalkSafe Virtual Education lessons and quizzes
    • Child is between 5 and 10 years of age
    • Child most not have a concurrent school submission to the Art Contest
  • Student (class) submissions:
    • Student participated in the WalkSafe curriculum or all five Virtual Education lessons and quizzes
    • Student is in K-5th grade
    • Student most not have a concurrent home submission to the Art Contest
  • School Eligibility:
    • The WalkSafe Art Contest is open to all Florida schools that have implemented the WalkSafe Curriculum and have submitted a Curriculum Completion Form (CCF).
    • A completed CCF must be completed for your contest entries to be valid.

Judging
Winners are announced in the first quarter of the following year, as follows:

  • At the end of the submission period:
    • WalkSafe will select one winner (per grade category) per county
    • These countywide winners will become finalists in the Statewide Art Contest
    • One art project will be selected from each of the grade categories to be the Statewide winners for the school year.
  • Submissions will be judged based on the following criteria:
    • Relevance of message conveyed by art project to safety for pedestrians
    • Ability to encourage safe street design without victim blaming or criticism of other pedestrians
    • Creativity, originality, and artistic quality


Ready to enter the contest?

References


WalkSafe's Virtual Education portal has been made possible in part by a Transportation Alternatives Program grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization.

Logo of the United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration
Logo of the Florida Department of Transportation
Logo of the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization