MNDot Launches Pedestrian Safety Campaign

Hey drunkies, walk safe.

Years after the semi-successful Share the Road campaign for bikes, MNDot is launching a new edition — Share the Road Pedestrians. The new program has some pluses, and some head-shaking moments:

Every corner is a crosswalk

  • Yay: MNDot asserts that “Pedestrians and motorists are equally responsible for pedestrian safety.”
  • Boo: Site does not mention the cases in which a bicyclist is legally considered a pedestrian. (it’s covered both in the core pedestrian statute, 169.21, as well as the core bicycle statute, 169.222)
  • Yay: They suggest everyone hang up and drive/walk/etc.
  • Boo: Site warns drunks to use extra caution while walking.

The idea that everyone has to make some effort to avoid being run over, or running over others, is not novel. In fact, campaigns against distracted walking are cropping up everywhere alongside distracted driving campaigns — New York City is even doing special crosswalk paint to suggest people get their noses out of their smartphones and watch for vehicles.

Still, it is concerning that MNDot felt a special call out had to be made for drunk pedestrians — true caution would be to ensure you aren’t too drunk to make it home, regardless of your means of transport. Crash statistics say that more than 1/3 of pedestrians tested in fatal crashes are drunk. (Similar stats are not offered for motorists.) A disproportionate percentage of the materials for the upcoming campaign seem to focus on drunken pedestrians, which may make those materials of limited utility in many educational environments. (I, for one, hope that the proportionality of drunk pedestrian second graders is low.)

MNDot plan to amp up the communications around this campaign in October, as October is typically the month with the greatest number of pedestrian-motorist collisions. Why? Might be the short daylight. Might be the one-handed driving as people clutch pumpkin lattes in their other hand. Maybe people are drunker in October. Might just be coincidence.

These kinds of awareness programs are nice. They’re fairly cheap to run. But they don’t replace planning that allows for pedestrian safety — be it median islands on busy streets to provide some shelter for younger and older pedestrians who may not be able to make it across on a reasonably-timed crossing, limiting turn opportunities at some intersections to encourage biking and walkers, or even a few sidewalks and sidepaths in residential areas to provide greater ability for citizens to get out and meet their neighbors (or choose non-vehicular transport at all). Many fatalities occur when pedestrians are crossing at points without a crosswalk or signal, and some of these occur because there is no proximate crossing meeting those specifications.

But building better and reasonable crossings and reengineering many dangerous intersections is expensive, and go through series of public hearings in which people get up in arms about sharing space, slowing down, right of way, and even get all Lorax for the trees.

Plenty of statistics are available that measure the impact of ad campaigns on retail sales or other spending of money (like tourism campaigns). Most traffic “awareness” campaigns for which I can find measurement data are not comparable — for instance, most DWI campaigns are linked to rigorous enforcement programs, and as such cannot be used as any kind of metric for “Does putting up signs in bus shelters to remind drunk people to walk carefully really work?” Some limited area campaigns have had some impact, such as the effort several years ago to remind students at Macalester College and the University of St. Thomas that crossing between intersections was a scenario in which pedestrians lack right of way. But those mini-campaigns were highly targeted to specific crossings and populations, and thus also not equivalent to this campaign. If people are already impairing their judgement with excessive drinking, will a poster make them rethink things, or give them the ability to make good (drunken) decisions?

MNDot’s posters are cute, though. Good design, although some are text heavy for some outdoor applications (lots of words = distracting when a motorist tries to read it). In a pre-launch event on Tuesday, signs were waved in intersections in several cities, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Cloud, Rochester and Duluth. (Which seems more distracting than helpful, but what do I know.) Outdoor media is planned, including bus ads, billboards, and other outdoor (think benches and bus shelters). There are even to be radio spots.

And don’t forget: Be careful, drunky.

About Julie Kosbab

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005, and is no longer lonely in that calling. A past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association, she has 2 children and a garage full of bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations, or read her (seldom updated) blog at Ride Boldly!