As a recent transplant to the Twin Cities, I find myself in conversations where people claim things about the self-identified culture in this state like: “Minnesotans are law abiding.” Really? I thought, wondering who all those drivers are in vehicles with Minnesota plates flying by my speed-limit-abiding self on the highway or who don’t stop for me as I’m trying to cross a street.
If we were all so law abiding here, we would know that Minnesota’s crosswalk law requires drivers to stop for pedestrians in marked crosswalks or at intersections, whether or not crosswalks are marked. And every driver would stop. But that behavior is not yet ingrained in the state’s culture in the same way that hot dish or the State Fair seem to be, so a coalition of volunteers in the capital is working to change that with a new grassroots city-wide pedestrian safety campaign, St. Paul Walks.
At St. Paul’s first Open Streets event, which you should go to this Sunday, September 15 on University Avenue, volunteers for St. Paul Walks will distribute “I Stop for People” car magnets and information about the state’s pedestrian laws and ask people to sign a pledge to stop for pedestrians at every intersection. To take the pledge and get your magnet, stop by the St. Paul Walks booth on University Avenue between Hamline Avenue and Syndicate Street during the Open Streets hours of 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you miss Open Streets this Sunday, you can sign the pledge online and stop by the Flavors of Macalester-Groveland event on September 22 to get a magnet.
The grassroots campaign grew out of concerns in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood in 2012 after two pedestrian fatalities prompted the Community Council to hold a public meeting on pedestrian safety. Residents and business owners thought that a combination of increased education, engineering, and enforcement would be needed to improve pedestrian safety. Since then, volunteers from other neighborhoods across the city have joined with district councils, Saint Paul Smart Trips, Transit for Livable Communities, and city representatives to start St. Paul Walks. The group plans to attend other events in the future to continue to raise awareness about pedestrian safety and the state law, and it will also work to develop resources for other community groups to help change the driving culture in the capital.
Safer infrastructure is critical for making it safer to walk, enforcement isn’t done consistently yet, and education alone won’t cut it. But we have to start somewhere, and our own cars – for those of us who drive them – are the quickest place. Everyone is a pedestrian at some point, whether you walk, drive, bike, or ride transit. It’s Minnesota Nice to stop for people. Start now, and let other drivers know why you’re stopping.