Still Too Many Pedestrians Killed in the Twin Cities

person crossing the street

However you slice and dice the numbers, too many people are still dying just trying to cross the street on foot or in wheelchairs in the U.S., in Minnesota, and in the Twin Cities. The national Dangerous by Design 2014  report about pedestrian fatalities was released today by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition. From their release:

In the decade from 2003 through 2012, more than 47,000 people died while walking on our streets. That is 16 times the number of people who died in natural disasters during in the same ten years, but without the corresponding level of urgency.

In 2012, pedestrians accounted for nearly 15 percent of all traffic deaths, up 6 percent from 2011 and representing a five-year high.

And unsurprisingly for the home of Lake Wobegon, where everyone is above average, one of the local newspapers touted the area’s standing in the report as “safer than most” for pedestrians. Out of 51 large metro areas (based on Metropolitan Statistical Areas), Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI ranked 46 for its “Pedestrian Danger Index.” So yeah, 45 other large metros had higher Pedestrian Danger Index numbers than ours, or you might say we’re the sixth safest, according to this report. This index calculates the number of pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people divided by the percentage of commuters who walk to work.

Let’s look at the numbers in a slightly different, if off-the-cuff, way. The state’s Department of Public Safety helpfully publishes some crash statistics by county, including a three-year report of pedestrian and bicyclist crash data by county for 2010-2012. For this I looked at the seven-county region, which is the basis for regional planning done by the Metropolitan Council and includes seven of the eight counties in the MnDOT Metro District (minus Chisago County). In comparison, the Metropolitan Statistical Area used in this national report includes 16 counties for Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI.

Pedestrian Fatalities 2010-2012 in 7-County Region

Pedestrian FatalitiesAll Traffic FatalitiesPed % of Total
Region Total6532220.2%
Region % of MN56.0%27.4%-
State Total1161,1749.9%
Data source: MN Dept of Public Safety, Office of Traffic Safety


From 2010 through 2012, drivers in the seven-county region killed 65 pedestrians, who represented 56 percent of the total number of pedestrians killed in Minnesota. When looking at all traffic fatalities in these seven Twin Cities counties, pedestrians account for slightly over 20 percent of all traffic deaths. But pedestrians don’t account for over 20 percent of all trips here.

We know that commute trips, which is what this national report used in its index, make up only a fraction of all the trips we make while living our lives. The Met Council’s 2010 Travel Behavior Inventory showed that commutes to work are only 17% of why we travel. This study is done every 10 years by the Council to find out more about travel in the region. According to this study, 6% of all trips in the area are done by walking. Yet pedestrians account for 20% of our traffic fatalities.

Minnesota has a Toward Zero Deaths program, which is based on the idea that “even one traffic-related death on our roads is unacceptable.” As noted in Dangerous by Design 2014, cities such as New York City and San Francisco have started to use a “Vision Zero” approach to improving pedestrian safety. We might be among the safer metros in this national report, but the Twin Cities still have too many people dying just trying to cross the street. When will zero pedestrian deaths become our mission?

Heidi Schallberg

About Heidi Schallberg

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Heidi Schallberg tweets @laflaneuse more than she posts here. Her posts reflect only her opinion and not those of any organization.

16 thoughts on “Still Too Many Pedestrians Killed in the Twin Cities

  1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Great post Heidi. It does amaze me how concerned we get about some types of death like natural disasters and murder but not others that are likely more preventable like drivers killing pedestrians (and bicycle riders).

    Do you know how we compare to other countries?

  2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Great article. The Florida Massacre Twitter profile description does an excellent job of describing the severity of this issue:

    “Raising awareness of the structural violence against pedestrians & bicyclists in [MN] and our #dangerousbydesign roads. These deaths are preventable!!!”

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Also I was surprised when I was with a group that met with the Hennepin County Medical Examiner. During his presentation, he had charts that showed the causes of death they investigated, and suicide and drug use were clear problems (and clear public health concerns). But motor vehicle crashes/causes were high on the list yet people don’t see it for what it is- a massive public health concern. Where is the outcry?

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Wow, why is Ramsey County so much worse than the rest? Are the Hennepin county numbers skewed because the county is so much larger?

    I guess the point is that MNDOT should go past the usual “education PSA campaigns” and start funding safer street designs, especially in the core cities where these “accidents” are happening.

    1. Al DavisonAl Davison

      It’s the densest county, so I think due to inner-ring suburbs and Saint Paul having more pedestrians out and about versus exurban Carver County leads to a higher chance of a driver hitting a pedestrian. Even where I live, there are quite a few people that walk along Rice Street, but the pedestrian density lowers the farther north you go as the population density weakens.

  4. Jason Goray

    This report from 2002 lists the chances of pedestrian death based on the speed of the vehicle as:…/PedFacility_UserGuide2002.pdf

    40 mph = 85% chance of death
    30 mph = 45% chance of death
    20 mph = 5% chance of death

    The jump in fatality between 20 mph and 30 mph should really make a clear and compelling case for reducing the speed limits in residential areas.

    Minnesota law doesn’t permit localities to reduce the speed limit on many roads below 30 mph and any road other than school zones, alleys, mobile home parks, and park roads below 25 mph.

    Given the preponderance of speeding by 5mph or so, this makes cars MUCH more fatal in our residential areas than I feel they ought to be.

    If we want to make our streets safer in the neighborhoods we live in, it seems like we need to take two steps:

    1) Get Minnesota law changed to reduce the minimum speed limit.

    2) Have our local lawmakers reduce residential speed limits to an enforced 20mph or an unenforced 15mph.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        Exactly. An example: Hennepin County is stuck on a 35 MPH design speed for the county streets they are stroadifying in Richfield: 66th St, Portland Ave, etc. They won’t compromise on such a common sense solution, lowering the design speed to 30 MPH max at the time of a full rebuild. That’s because traffic engineers don’t share the same values as citizens when it comes to streets.

        1. Rosa

          the parts of Portland I use were changed to 30 mph when they changed the bike lanes, I think (either it was higher before, or nobody followed it at all) – where does the limit change?

          1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

            I believe it’s 35MPH south of 46th St, through Richfield. The section under discussion right now is south of 66th St in Richfield, although there may also be some work done between 62 and 66th.

            The speed limit prior to the restripe north of 46th St was 35 MPH and the signals were supposedly timed for a green wave at 38 MPH.

            It was interesting to hear so many whiners complain about bike lanes on Park/Portland taking away car lanes. But the reason for reducing the lanes wasn’t due to a bike lane, it was because Park & Portland had too many lanes. And car traffic still moves on Portland at OVER the speed limit during rush hour (usually 33-38 MPH) so I’m not sure why people were so upset over losing a lane. Must be a psychological thing.

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  6. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    I’ve visited cities that seem to be able to accommodate high volumes of traffic yet also display real concern for pedestrian safety. Moscow and Paris come to mind with their pedestrian unpasses. Moscow has some elaborate underpasses with vendors. Other cities like Montreal, San Francisco, and Honolulu have some intersections with four way pedestrian crossing, which allows one to cross diaganolly, speeding walking travel and clearly signals to auto traffic a pedestrian priority.

    Here, the only ideas that ever come to fruition are no right turns on red and traffic calming, including planted medians which make me as a pedestrian often feel even less visible.

    Even the laws here are interesting regarding hitting a pedestrian. I was once struck by a car, who rolled through a stop sign turning rightin St Paul. I had just started crossing, so noticing she was rolling through, I backed up and she only pinned my foot. No serious contusion. However, two weird things that I learned: 1. The responding officer said that this was not a reportable offense and 2. My own auto insurance, not hers, was required to pay the medical bills. WTF I thought. She was the one driving, but she doesn’t get a ticket or even a ding on her insurance???

  7. Keith Morris

    We need to frame this as bluntly as possible: this is sociopathic, anti-social violent behavior that is being encouraged, even legalized. There is no reason for 30 or 30+ areas dense with pedestrians and cyclists unless you want them to be killed, because that’s what is guaranteed to happen.

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