Pick Up an Orange Flag and Cross a Street!

Pick up an orange flag and cross a street. That’s how revolutions get started. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

After injuries and deaths on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, pedestrians are fighting back. Members of a Macalaster College have placed flags in buckets to aid the crossing of this busy street. However, a grumpy man on a soapbox thinks that these flags are a “stupid” idea.

“Everyone, motorists and pedestrians, is safest under the old tried-and-true etiquette, which worked for 100 years. Why we are trading the safety of the historic etiquette for a reinvention of the rules can be traced to the progressive idea that it is more important to feel good about change to convention than it is to understand the consequences of the change. Pedestrians have foolproof safety by waiting until the coast is clear to cross the street. Foolproof. It is understandable that the demonization of the automobile has resulted in brainwashing.”

This quote summarizes every adversarial conversation I’ve had about changing our transportation system. That being, it’s not about any particular design, but a mindset. It’s our human nature to become set in our ways. This is why towns will oppose things as simple as roundabouts when it’s clearly in their best interest. They aren’t used to them and don’t see a problem with what’s already there. So, why change?

Let’s take the above mentioned dangerous road in St. Paul: Snelling Avenue.

It’s urban. It’s suburban. It’s a highway. It’s a local street. It’s a lot of things. It tries to appease everyone and therefore, appeases no one. This is precisely why there have been so many unfortunate collisions.

The question can boil down to: who is to blame?

Do we blame the engineers and planners? They were the ones who built the five lane road designed for highway speeds through a historic walkable neighborhood adjacent a college where literally thousands of students live car free.

Do we blame the standards? Those apparently unbreakable rules engineers are skittish to challenge. Those standards that are written into law for which acquiring a variance requires the moving of both Heaven and Earth. Do we blame the professional organizations? The institutions in place to maintain the status quo, whether that be boosting membership, profits, or employment over that of the public’s best interest?

Do we blame local politicians? Those who refuse to take a stance because they’re more interested in not dealing with it, or merely don’t have the political willpower. Or, do we blame state politicians who keep blindly allocating money into reconstruction projects that local governments often times don’t even want?

What about the citizens? Those who’ve fully dove into car culture, one which has existed and has been subsidized to such a degree that all other alternatives are either unpleasant or simply not feasible. What about those citizens who see nothing wrong with a highway through a neighborhood, in so much as it isn’t their neighborhood?

Do we blame the individual drivers? The ones who drive careless, distracted, or drunk. Those who have been classically conditioned to drive, drive, drive! But, who’s to blame them for driving? Have you tried to walk through our cities? They aren’t comfortable places, and it’s faster to drive. Plus, there’ll be free parking.

This brings me to the last question: what about the pedestrians?

To address the soapbox:

  • Why do they think orange flags will make a difference? They don’t have great expectations. What we’re seeing is one of the few responses that people can take in a systems that’s relegated them to second class citizens.
  • Why are they challenging a system that’s worked well for 100 years? The system hasn’t worked well. That’s the point. It’s deadly for drivers and pedestrians alike.
  • Why do the “virtuous’ hate cars more than they care about kids’ safety”? They don’t. They walk precisely because they do care about safety. Ironic, but yes, the  most dangerous and life-threatening thing you can do to your child is put them into a car [CDC].

If you’re curious how deep our cultural misunderstanding goes, look no further than billboards sponsored by the Minnesota DOT proclaiming, “Hey Walkers … Distracted Walking is Dangerous Walking”.

Meaning, someone thinks that distracted walkers – not distracted drivers – are causing all these deaths on our roadways. The clueless nature gets worse when you consider the platform for advertising (an auto-oriented billboard) is specifically designed to appeal to motorists, not pedestrians. By the way, this isn’t the work of an organization that doesn’t care. It’s the work of an organization that doesn’t get it.

In the end, asking who is to blame is an unfair question. It’s the structure of the system that’s created these outcomes and we’re all bit players; and it’s a tragedy that befalls the pedestrian. We’ve spent the better half of a century making all non-automobiles second-class citizens. This has seeped into our culture understanding of transportation so deeply that virtually nothing else matters.

We’ve created a vicious cycle. We changed our landscape to accommodate cars, but in doing so we made it inhospitable to be anything else. But now, why should we expand pedestrian facilities? Because, you know, nobody walks anymore.

Here’s the main difference between the two sides. One side doesn’t want to lose their ability to drive quickly and unobstructed throughout the city. The other side just doesn’t want people to die. What to do? I suggest starting small. Pick up an orange flag and cross a street. That’s how revolutions get started.

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61 Responses to Pick Up an Orange Flag and Cross a Street!

  1. Adam Froehlig
    Adam Froehlig August 14, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    IMO, there are better solutions than the flags. The flags are only treating a symptom, not the disease.

    • Michael August 14, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

      I agree the flags seem to be a really lazy, “lipstick-on-a-pig” solution. Instead of actually fixing the design of the street to make it safer for pedestrians, we’ll just give them flags to wave around and wish them luck.

    • Mike Sonn
      mikesonn August 14, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

      Sadly, the next ped hit by a distracted impatient driver will be judged by “using a flag or not”. At least it’ll give the newspaper an excuse to ignore the driver’s behavior when the whole column can center around whether or not the ped was waving a flag – much like all driver v cyclist columns focus on the helmet usage.

      And yeah, screw these flags – fix the damn road design.

      • Nathaniel M Hood
        Nathaniel August 14, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

        There are better ways to go about it, but the flags are a good start. I believe it comes down to street design. I don’t think anyone has great expectations for the flags. What we’re seeing is one of the few responses that people can take in a systems that’s relegated them [pedestrians] to second class citizens.

        • Matty Lang
          Matty Lang August 14, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

          This.

          Tom Welna and others have been tirelessly working for years to get Snelling redesigned. Folks should be assured that neither he nor Macalester College see the flags as any sort of solution to the problem.

          • Mike Sonn
            mikesonn August 15, 2014 at 8:23 am #

            Macalester doesn’t really care about pedestrians or transit users. Look no further than them fighting the BRT to keep 3 (rarely used) parking spaces at the NE corner of Snelling at Grand.

            But again, what happens if I cross an intersection not carrying a flag and am hit by an inattentive driver? Is it my fault? I’ll damn well guarantee you that the paper will slander me. I’d put money on the police blaming me as well.

            • Bill Lindeke
              Bill Lindeke August 15, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

              You’re half right Mike. Macalester (and Snelling businesses) need to fully embrace a future that places pedestrians (and sidewalks, and street life) in the forefront. Macalester should be welcoming the BRT stop (that brings traffic calming benefits and masses of pedestrian feet), not fighting to keep it at arms length.

  2. David August 14, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    “lipstick” on the pig is prettier than none! perhaps a hokey idea, the flags, but something to garner a bit of visibility, respect as a pedestrian. as to the “grumpy” columnist, he’s known for it, can’t tell if his pessimism is that real, or seasoned with sarcasm and why-bother-changing…to get us to read the same ol’ cranky columns albeit on his topic of the day.

    • Nathaniel M Hood
      Nathaniel August 14, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

      Re: grumpy columnist – I was thinking about not linking to his page. I wasn’t excited about driving traffic in that direction. Nonetheless, thought it would help if people knew what I was talking about.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke August 15, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

      (OK you make out with it then.)

  3. T August 14, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    I’m sure the flags won’t get stolen or anything, especially with drunk college students nearby. But in all seriousness, maybe a good idea in theory, but it has been tried in other areas and ruined by people who think it would be funny to have one as a decoration. And what about when all the flags end up on one side? Does someone go out everyday to make sure they’re balanced?

    I saw a researcher who installed signs telling pedestrians to put their hand up in the air and make eye contact with drivers. Eventually turned into waving and smiling at drivers, and drivers would wave back ( I think this was in a school area… Who doesn’t like getting waved at by a little kid?). Built a little bit of community and reminded everyone that even though it is a huge metal missile, there’s still a person driving it. Beat down the us-vs-them mentality. Anyways here’s the link if anyone want’s to check it out, its actually pretty good.
    http://mediasite.uvs.umn.edu/Mediasite/Viewer/?peid=2c6de4854df645c88d320152629a3818

    • Nathaniel M Hood
      Nathaniel August 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

      As you mention, there are certainly some shortcomings to the flags. Not a perfect alternative to a good street. And, that’s an awesome story. I’m going to try to cross traffic like that.

    • Stacy August 15, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

      Flaggers on construction sites are trained to try and make eye contact with oncoming traffic. If you can make eye contact, you know the driver sees you. If the driver doesn’t make eye contact, he/she may not have seen you, so you know to be careful. I’ve always thought it was excellent advice for anyone crossing the street.

      The addition of a wave is even better!

      • Rosa August 23, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

        except that too many drivers think “great! That pedestrian saw me! I can safely speed through here because they won’t try to walk in front of me!”

        It’s different for people who are working as construction flaggers, they have some authority.

  4. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell August 14, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    These, just like the florescent green Safety Sam dudes, to me scream design failure.

  5. JBL August 15, 2014 at 9:59 am #

    While I agree that the ad you mention is irritating, I think the sentence
    “someone thinks that distracted walkers – not distracted drivers – are causing all these deaths on our roadways”
    is unfair — this ad is part of a campaign that includes slogans targeted at drivers, like
    “stop for pedestrians at every corner. Seriously, it’s the law.”

    (One could have all sorts of conversations about whether moralistic ad campaigns like this have any value at all, or about the relative responsibilities of drivers and pedestrians and what this implies about the balance of ads of this sort. I’m not trying to do so, but rather just to point out that the views imputed here are obviously not accurate representations of the thinking going on in this ad campaign.)

  6. Keith Morris August 15, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    The curious point I see here is that St Paul has no qualms about slowing down LRT trains claiming that they can’t give signal priority to the trains because it’s for pedestrian safety. Meanwhile, people are getting mowed down on a regular basis on Snelling, but there’s no effort whatsoever to slow traffic there. What was that about pedestrian safety? Oh wait, that’s only if it’s not the holy automobile, buses and trains are fair game.Someone needs to explain to the City of St Paul what a “double standard” is.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke August 15, 2014 at 11:03 pm #

      I agree with your point, Keith, but a more subtle analysis would place more blame on MNDOT, as Snelling is a state highway. Saint Paul has been trying (fruitlessly) to get the state DOT to make Snelling safer for many years. Any changes to the design of the street have to go through MNDOT approval, which is like trying to get an orangutan to play the piccolo.

      • Keith Morris August 16, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

        But they did, I just noticed yesterday biking to Snelling on the Charles Ave bike boulevard, allow a bikes-only crossing which blocks cars from continuing across Snelling (why isn’t this done on Bryant at Lake?) and so I’m guessing the state did sign off on that by some miracle.

        • Matty Lang
          Matty Lang August 16, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

          MnDOT was fine with the Charles Ave median because it actually makes Snelling more highway like because the median eliminates left turns and cross traffic at the intersection. My bet is that MnDOT would be fine with a median running the entire length of Snelling with no gaps except for the connection to I-94.

  7. Matty Lang
    Matty Lang August 15, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

    I agree with Walker and the other critics that the obvious problem is a design failure on our streets. I did, however, want to share a personal story about these flags.

    On many Fridays my family and I bicycle over to the Macalester neighborhood to have pizza at the Italian Pie Shoppe. They have some decent beers on tap and a great kids pizza option so my 4 year old daughter can have her own meal (and gelato for desert if she eats half of the pizza). Of course, we totally avoid Snelling Ave on our trip outside of the fact that we have to cross it once to get there and once to get home. We choose to cross it on bikes on Charles Ave and then head south on Aldine across the freeway and through Merriam Park to the Macalester area. We park the bikes on the north side of Grand next to the middle school and finish the trip walking which takes us across Grand Ave where there are flags stationed at the cross walk.

    I’m sharing this for two reasons. First, my daughter loves the flags. She runs up to grab a flag and cars stop before she even gets her hands on one. It works better on Grand because it’s not a 4 lane road. The second reason I wanted to share was the question about how the flags get redistributed. My daughter took the last one on our way to the Pie Shoppe so we each took one (totaling three) on the way back after we ate, thus redistributing the flags. Sure I felt a little foolish waving a flag and it should be completely unnecessary to do in order to cross a street in urban Saint Paul. On the other hand, the flags did make my daughter happy so there’s that.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke August 15, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

      School crossing guards are cute too.

  8. Paul Udstrand August 16, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    Distracted walking is certainly a factor in a significant number of these accidents. For one thing, pedestrians get run over all the place, not just around the Macalaster campus, so THAT road design can’t be the major factor, although it certainly plays a role.

    I see pedestrians walking around clueless all the time when I’m driving and riding my bike. They ARE distracted, often times never even bothering to look up from their devices for a even a moment to see if it’s actually safe to enter a crosswalk or cross a road. Young people in particular seem to assume that if it’s a crosswalk, it’s safe to cross. Pedestrians even manage to get run over by trains and streetcars. The penalty for bad assumptions shouldn’t be death, but we don’t live in a universe of proportionate consequences.

    Engineers tend to think that they can design their way out a lot of things. Certainly some designs are better than others but what I’m not seeing here is any data, who’s doing this better than we are? I’ve walked all over the world and all over the nation and from Paris to Seattle I didn’t notice a significant difference. In Paris they built tunnels so pedestrians don’t have to cross five lanes of round-about traffic to the Arc De Triomphe but aside from that, I’ve noticed any city being better for pedestians than any other.

    People moving is by definition a chaotic environment. We have individuals moving independently in cars, bikes, walking, busses, etc. and this is by definition chaotic. Chaotic environments aren’t easily modified by design or engineering solutions, you can design an environment, but you can’t control how people behave in that environment. You can have the best designed crosswalk in the world but for want of a quick glance both ways before walking people will still get run over. And no matter how well designed signals are, drivers will run through them on occasion.

    There seems to be an odd assumption here that drivers who see pedestrians are the ones running them over. Bikers make the same assumption when they try to modify traffic with “bike-driving” techniques. Listen, I’m guessing 9 times our of 10 the driver that runs someone over didn’t see the pedestrian in the first place, so whether that pedestrian was holding a flag or not doesn’t matter, all that will mean is that the pedestrian they didn’t see was carrying a flag… that they didn’t see.

    My experience wearing hi-vis bike gear tells me that when people don’t see you, they don’t see you or your hi-vis attire.

    I’m not trying to be defeatist, but people collide, they collide when the walk and run, and when speeds increase and more and more modes of transit are added to the mix those collisions become more injurious, it’s physics, no politics that’s to blame.

    • Keith Morris August 16, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

      But when you slow down traffic speeds enough, both drivers and pedestrians have more reaction time and injuries sustained are much less life-threatening (for the latter, of course).

      • Paul Udstrand August 19, 2014 at 8:22 am #

        Yeah but how slow? I think 20 MPH or above can be fatal for a pedestrian.

        • Mike Sonn
          mikesonn August 19, 2014 at 8:28 am #

          You think? Well, you are wrong. 30 mph is when things start getting exponentially worse.
          http://humantransport.org/sidewalks/SpeedKills.htm

          And traffic actually flows better at lower speeds because you take out the hard acceleration/deceleration and subsequent rolling “shock wave”.

          • Paul Udstrand August 19, 2014 at 9:36 am #

            We’re talking about injury and fatality, not traffic flow. The question isn’t whether or not traffic flows better as slower speeds, the question is whether or not hitting a pedestrian at 20 or 25 MPH is safer than hitting one at 30 MPH? Speed limits on city streets are typically 30 MPH or below anyways so I’m not sure where you’re going with this. No one is talking about raising speed limits on city street are they? At any rate, yeah, the faster a car is going the more bad is the idea of stepping in front of it.

            Anyways the video is contrived, not “real life” cut the number of cars in half and put them on a straight road instead of a circle, or even a larger circle, and see what happens. Speed obviously isn’t the only factor.

            • Adam Miller
              Adam Miller August 19, 2014 at 11:57 am #

              Yes, hitting a pedestrian at 20 or 25 MPH is “safer” than hitting one at 30 MPH.

            • paul udstrand August 19, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

              Yes indeed, slower speeds reduce fatalities, but interestingly, lower speeds don’t decrease the number of pedestrian accidents. In fact more pedestrian accidents occur (almost twice as many) at 25 MPH than 30 MPH. One Florida study found that vast majority of pedestrian accidents actually occurred as speed below 20 MPH, of course the fatalities below 20 MPH were almost 6 time lower than 30 MPH.

              http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/research/pub/hs809012.html

              • Adam Miller
                Adam Miller August 19, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

                To quote someone wise, “We’re talking about injury and fatality.”

                It’s hardly a surprise that most accidents with pedestrians occur below the speed limit. Places that have pedestrians tend to also have stops and starts instead of steady cruising.

                • paul udstrand August 19, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

                  I think it’s surprising. I wouldn’t expect slower speeds to lead to more pedestrian accidents. I thought the whole complaint here was that places with pedestrians have too much cruising and not enough starts and stops?

                • paul udstrand August 19, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

                  That really big difference in pedestrian accidents was again, in Florida. I wonder if it was influences by spring break activity? That could explain higher numbers there.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke August 17, 2014 at 1:46 am #

      i completely agree about the “distracted walking” menace. a few years ago my dog was killed by a distracted walker. they must be stopped. i’m thinking we need to make pedestrians using phones illegal. maybe some traffic calming on the sidewalks to make sure that people walking are paying attention. they do this in Japan, and have super low rates of distracted walking (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAW1WW33-vI)

      • Paul Udstrand August 18, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

        Surely: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wl0JojWH1rQ

        • Mike Sonn
          mikesonn August 19, 2014 at 8:29 am #

          Yes, people texting while walking = people texting while driving at 40+ mph. And if networks news covered it, it must be super important and a national crisis!

  9. Dennis Tester August 16, 2014 at 11:50 am #

    Oh, is that what those flags are for? The other day I drove by an old lady on the corner and she was angrily waving this orange flag at me as I drove by. I waved back. Oops.

  10. bq August 19, 2014 at 6:57 am #

    Sorry I’m late to the party here. I get the point of the article and like others I’m not a huge supporter of the flags for the reasons already mentioned.
    I did however, want to bring some attention to Snelling just north of the area identified between Summit and Selby. I believe it to be worse then the area mentioned in the article, St. Clair to Grand. Talk about street design, between the afore mentioned intersecting streets is over a third of a mile with no traffic calming or pedestrian medians, over 14 businesses, and 32,000 cars passing by Ashland per day. If there is a heavier used section of Snelling where no work has been done to the street whatsoever to help pedestrians, then let me know. It’s been neglected by MnDOT and the city for far too long and it needs attention. I’ve been inquiring about a HAWK at Ashland and Snelling for some time but as we all know, MnDOT is not keen on slowing down traffic on Snelling.

  11. Paul Udstrand August 19, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    Actually looking at THAT crosswalk one can see that the only way a pedestrian’s going to get hit is if they walk in front of a driver that’s not stopping. Now that may sound like a silly thing to say but it’s a clearly marked crosswalk, and it’s NOT a complex or confusing intersection. You don’t even have to contend with two way traffic, you only have look one way at a time because there’s an island in the middle of Snelling.

    I would’ve been killed a million times over by now if I’d just stepped into a marked crosswalk when cars were approaching because 8 out of 10 cars don’t stop or even slow down. Now of course that’s wrong, they’re supposed to stop, but this is our universe as it is, not what it’s supposed to be. You simply need to look, if a car is too far away to hit you, or if the driver is slowing down to stop, or has stopped, walk. If driver is close enough to hit you, and isn’t slowing down, don’t walk. Stepping in front of a driver that’s not going to stop with a flag in your hand isn’t going to keep you alive. I don’t know if drivers will be more likely to stop if you wave the flag at them or not. Maybe.

    It might be nice if we had some public service commercials, I think there’s confusion about the law in addition to out right defiance of the law, some drivers don’t seem to know that they’re supposed to stop. They also have these little signs with small stop signs on them that tell drivers to stop if there are people trying to cross, but those seem cause confusion as well and may cause auto accidents on a busy street. Drivers seem to be genuinely confused, when I’m walking my dogs they don’t stop at crosswalks, when I’m riding my bike they frequently stop at trail crossings when they technically don’t have to.

    I don’t know, it just seems to me that in many cases for want of a 3 second glance to the left or right you can be alive or dead in a crosswalk. It may be the drivers fault, but its your life. Unless you put a stop sign at all crosswalks I don’t think your ever going 100% compliance from drivers, and even then…

    I guess it comes down to perspectives. We cannot engineer perfectly safe environments for people, but some designs are safer than others. Pedestrian bridges over freeways are obviously safer than any kind of crosswalk but impractical in urban environments. Where do we direct our energy and resources? A three second glance to the left or right is certainly cheaper and just as if not more effective than new designs 99% of the time, even if it is accommodating bad driver behavior. Personally, I’d rather just wait 15 or 30 seconds until it’s safe to cross than stand there and try get drivers attention with a flag. My only point about distracted walking is that it seems like fewer pedestrians are taking that 3 second glance because they’re distracted/texting whatever. I doesn’t really matter why you entered a crosswalk when it wasn’t safe to do so.

    • Rosa August 23, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

      but they are legally supposed to stop for pedestrians. How do we make them? We COULD cede cars all the unmarked crossings, if cars ceded the marked crossings and there were more of them.

      Some of us have to cross the street slowly, or while helping a slow person. Or we aren’t psychic enough to tell if the car is going to stop, going to stop *before* they hit us, going to swerve around, etc.

      We license drivers because they are being put in a position where being less-able will kill someone. We don’t license pedestrians because people have a human right to get around. Not everyone is going to be at the top of their “dodging traffic and not getting killed game” all the time for their whole life, so the responsibility (and enforcement) has to be on vehicular traffic.

      • Paul Udstrand August 26, 2014 at 9:31 am #

        You’re not going to stop the cars 100% of the time, and trying to stop them is futile. Just wait for them pass by, or for the driver who stops, and then cross. I honestly do think that many drivers simply don’t understand the law, so a decent effort to make everyone aware could help. Even if the speeds were lower and the crosswalks were somehow better designed, you still couldn’t assume every driver is going to stop.

        You don’t have to be pyschic, if a driver isn’t slowing down, assume they’re NOT going to stop. Look at the driver, you can tell if they see you, and if they see you, and are slowing down, they’re probably going to stop.

        Now slow walking is spooky, calculating whether or not an approaching car is too far away to hit you can be tricky for a slow mover. Sometimes you just gotta have faith, MOST of the time an approaching driver will see and slow down or stop to avoid hitting you. Or you can wait until traffic stops for you the way they’re supposed. Eventually someone who knows they’re supposed to stop will stop if you’re waiting at marked crosswalk. A car that’s not moving can’t hit you. My experience is that 8 out of 10 drivers fly by but eventually there will either be a break in the traffic or someone will finally stop. Even when I’ve been standing pointing at the crosswalk sign drivers just look at me with a clueless expression half the time and wonder why I’m pointing at the crosswalk sign.

        This is one of those situations where a sense of entitlement can get you killed. So sometimes you have to wait when you’re not supposed to have to wait, it’s frustrating but it’s only life threatening if you decide NOT to wait.

        • Rosa August 26, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

          it doesn’t help to wait for “the driver who stops” when the other cars just speed around that driver in the parking lane, which seems to be local driving culture here, or at one of the 4-lane roads where you have to get them all to stop at once if you want to cross. Or at a light where the cross traffic is stopped but people are continually turning right on red without really slowing down.

          These are all problems that could be solved with better design and enforcement – the horrible light at Lake Street under the light rail bridge, for instance, has become a lot better in the last year or two, with signals for individual sections instead of the too-short walk light that only came on when every single segment was safe.

  12. Melissa Barnes August 25, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    My name is Melissa Barnes and I am the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Engineer at the Minnesota Department of Transportation. I want to clarify something that was touched on here. MnDOT has a pedestrian safety campaign (www.sharetheroadmn.org) as part of our Toward Zero Deaths initiative (www.tzd.org). We have undertaken a statewide media effort. We want to increase the percentage of motorists AND pedestrians who follow the Minnesota crosswalk law and walk and drive safely. The campaign’s motto is that pedestrian safety is a two-way street. We know from analyzing the crash data that crashes are the driver’s fault about 50% of the time, and pedestrians are at fault the other 50% of the time. We have worked extremely hard to ensure that the messaging to drivers and pedestrians was equal. We have three billboards along Snelling Avenue. Two are dedicated to messaging aimed at pedestrians and one with messaging for motorists. Everyone is a pedestrian at some point in their day, so even though the messages are on billboards aimed at motorists, motorists are pedestrians too – and pedestrians read billboards. We also have messaging for motorists and pedestrians on 65 bus sides, at 5 transit shelters and have wrapped a train on the Green Line with advertising – one side has a message for motorists and one side has a message for pedestrians. We are pushing the word out to everyone to be safe. MnDOT and TZD want to eliminate all serious injuries and fatalities on Minnesota roadways.

    • mplsjaromir August 25, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

      Your organization should design streets that are not so inherently dangerous to pedestrians. MNDOTs default seems to be faster automobile movement over all else. It is nice that you acknowledge there is a problem, hopefully your organization takes the necessary steps to make sure cars kill fewer pedestrians.

      As far as I know not one pedestrian has ever killed a driver. Drivers are much safer than pedestrians with the current designs, make the streets safe to walk.

      • Matty Lang
        Matty Lang August 26, 2014 at 2:42 am #

        It’s true that people on foot do not pose a danger to people in cars, but there is nothing safe about our current design standards for motorists. Driving a car is by far the most dangerous way to travel around Minnesota. If MnDOT wants everyone to be safe it should adopt designs that result in much lower motor vehicle speeds.

    • Mike Sonn
      mikesonn August 25, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

      50% fault? I’d love to see that data.

      • Matt Steele August 25, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

        I’d also like to see numbers for what percentage of the time the pedestrian is truly at fault due to negligence. Not at fault because they were walking on a stroad not designed for walking. Heck, I’ve seen people walking across the cloverleaf bridge at 36/Snelling because that’s the only real way to get from Rosedale/TS to Harmar. One of many examples, but I’ll choose the one that’s right outside MnDOT’s window. My guess is that if we eliminate “Pedestrian at fault for walking where walking is not allowed by design” then the 50% would drop significantly.

    • Paul Udstrand August 26, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      Melissa, I’d have to say that your Towards Zero Deaths initiative is not working. I for one had no idea it even exists and I walk, ride, and drive every day. A website no one ever heard of isn’t a successful campaign.

      We need a campaign that:

      A) Clarifies the expectation and rules. Drivers are by and large completely confused about when and when not to stop. For instance I don’t think a lot of drivers understand that they are supposed to stop when they see a pedestrian waiting to cross at a crosswalk, they seem to think they only have to stop if a pedestrian is actually IN the crosswalk. Other times drivers stop when they’re not supposed to, such as trail crossings. I actually know a driver that got a ticket over in Hopkins for stopping on Blake Road by Pizza Luce in order to let some bikes cross.

      B) Pedestrians need to understand that a collision with a car can kill and seriously injure them regardless of who had the right of way. Don’t stroll into a crosswalk just because it’s a crosswalk, ALWAYS assess the traffic and don’t assume drivers will stop just because they’re supposed to. Pedestrians also need refresher on crossing with the pedestrian signals.

      I understand there may be budget issues but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a couple articles or commentaries a year into the Strib, and the local TV stations would run stories as well. For instance I’m sure WCCO would do a: “Good Question” on this, especially after an accident. And of course someone should find the money to do some public service TV things. I think pedestrian safety is just as if not more important than reminding people that driving drunk is illegal. We all know that driving drunk is illegal, we don’t all know when and when not to stop for pedestrians etc.

  13. Paul Udstrand August 26, 2014 at 8:39 am #

    Roads designed for pedestrians? No road is designed for walking, sidewalks and “walkways” are designed for walking. Roads are for vehicles, of course they are inherently dangerous for pedestrians. The demand for roads that are safe for pedestrians borders on nonsensical. The speed limit on city streets is 25-35 MPH, how much slower do you want it?

    The problem here is this adversarial approach that pits drivers against pedestrians. Pedestrians will always lose that match, its about physics, not right-of-way. The question isn’t whether or not pedestrians pose a threat to drivers, the question is whether or not pedestrians, given the inherent and disproportionate danger of vehicles, can cross a street safely. Part of that equation is design, crossings can have better or worse designs, but the fact is 99.99% of the time people cross roads safely by the millions every hour of every day.

    I’m guessing the 50% of the time pedestrians are “faulted” is about people entering intersections or crosswalks against green lights, or jaywalking, etc. My question of course is how many times could those accidents have been avoided with a three second glance to the left or right before entering the crosswalk despite having the right of way? Sure, the drivers are supposed to stop, but the issue in my isn’t about assigning blame, it’s about preventing the accident. Given the facts of our roads, and the fact that no traffic law of any kind anywhere ever achieves 100% compliance, isn’t it prudent for a pedestrian to asses the safety of a crosswalk before stepping into it? One thing we absolutely KNOW is that some drivers will run stops signs, and crosswalks, and exceed the speed limits. You will never eliminate this behavior, sometimes it’s deliberate, other times its accidental, but you’re not going to eliminate it.

    • Matt Steele August 26, 2014 at 9:59 am #

      Well we could always prevent these accidents if we removed cars from the equation…

    • Matty Lang
      Matty Lang August 26, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

      20mph design speed and 20mph speed limit for city streets.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller August 26, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

      There is a lot that can be done with street design to minimize speeding (and presumably running stop lights and crosswalks too).

      One of our biggest challenges is building roads that communicate a 40+ mph safe speed and then hoping that putting up a sign that says something less well keep speeds at safer levels.

      • Paul Udstrand August 26, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

        40+ MPH? Hmm. I can’t say I see a lot of traffic in the cities going that fast, I’d say the average speed on busy city streets is 35 MPH wouldn’t you?. I don’t think any of the city streets have posted speeds above 30 MPH do they? During rush hour it’s slower. Ayd Mill Road isn’t really a “city street”.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller August 26, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

          I didn’t say traffic was moving that fast. I said the street design communicates that those speeds are safe (see, e.g., Park and Portland). Building a gigantic, wide road with wide lanes and little regard for adjacent people tells drivers to go faster, no matter what you do with the speed limit.

          And the average speed isn’t anywhere near 35 MPH, but perhaps you mean the typical top speed reached between stops. Either way, if people are regularly going faster than you want them to go, your design is wrong.

          • Matt Steele August 26, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

            I bet the average (top) speed on many streets is above 30 MPH. Definitely on streets such as 46th, Park, Portland, etc. #DeadlyByDesign

            • Rosa August 26, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

              the redesign has really slowed down traffic on Park & Portland.

              • Paul Udstrand August 27, 2014 at 8:55 am #

                Just to clarify, I’m not saying better designs are irrelevant, if you’ve got one try it. I’m just saying there’s no complete substitute for pedestrian caution, and I’m saying that most of the time, it’s your caution rather than the the crosswalk design, that keeps you safe. And we have to keep in mind that our streets are main arteries of transportation, not just pedestrian challenges. Being able to drive from one place to another in a reasonable period of time is an essential component of livability in any modern city like it or not. A speed limit of 20 MPH for instance wouldn’t be acceptable to the vast majority of city residents. I don’t think you’re going to eliminate all the 4 lane streets either.

                Rosa, I’m not saying the driver behavior your describing doesn’t happen, I’ve seen it myself. But your kicking cars? That tells me you’re actually engaging traffic.

                I agree, that lake street intersection under Hiawatha is confusing for everyone, it seems to have gotten a little better over time.

                • Adam Miller
                  Adam Miller August 27, 2014 at 9:39 am #

                  Who is saying that pedestrians, like every other road user, don’t need to be cautious?

                  But I absolutely reject the notion that pedestrian are not part of the transportation that takes place on our streets.

    • Rosa August 26, 2014 at 4:25 pm #

      it’s prudent but infuriating, and some enforcement on cars would be helpful in getting from “better dodge” to “it’s reasonable to expect drivers to not run red lights and to look before turning across the crosswalk on green”

      I have literally kicked cars that turned without looking when I was crossing with a walk light at a not-busy side street in a residential neighborhood with several small children with me. I have had to physically block cars from cruising through marked crosswalks with guards in front of elementary schools. Drivers are more careful about things that are enforced (like the “no left turns off Lake Street during rush hour” signs – they are way more obeyed than crosswalks in the same neighborhood, I assume because there is often a cop parked around the corner ticketing people who break that rule.) And it is not “occasional” but “typical” that drivers stop completely blocking the curb cut/crosswalk at intersections that have them in Minneapolis. Other jurisdictions have better driver behavior at crosswalks, partly because of more enforcement.

  14. Elmer Cruz September 2, 2014 at 7:54 am #

    It is awesome. Thank you very much for a great and informative article. Nicely done!

  15. Mike Sonn
    mikesonn September 8, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    JSK weighs in.

    https://twitter.com/JSadikKhan/status/509078181211803648

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