The War on Pedestrians

Charlie Brown Hit By Car

Updated November 6, 2014*

Many veterans have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan with permanent, disabling wounds. Many suffer head traumas from concussions or fractured skulls when vehicles they’re traveling in are blown up by Improvised Explosive Devices.

Pedestrians and Cyclists in Saint Paul are also seeing combat type head traumas—like Sowinta Kay, age 20, who was hit by a car on Snelling Avenue in a crosswalk; Cléo Thiberge, a 19-year-old exchange student who had her head crushed by an SUV while crossing Hamline Avenue; or 11-year-old Bikram Phuyel who was hit by a car while crossing Rice Street on his way to school. He required brain surgery and was last listed in “Very Critical condition.” According to recent Ramsey County data, at least 99 pedestrians and cyclists were hit by cars on Rice Street between Larpenteur and Sycamore Ave during the last ten years. That’s ten people hit every year, on a stretch of street that’s less than two miles long. Snelling Avenue has around fifteen people hit per year, and the short stretch of West Seventh Street between I-35E and the TH 5 Bridge over the Mississippi sees over four people hit every year. It’s like this on lots of streets in Saint Paul, including portions of Dale, East Seventh, Lexington, White Bear Avenue, and University Avenue. Most are four-lane “Death Roads,” as fellow streets.mn columnist Bill Lindeke calls them.

More pedestrians die or get injured on US streets than have been killed and injured in overseas conflicts. They are victims of a national War on Pedestrians. It’s a war led by highway engineers, automobile manufacturers, elected officials, and media pundits, and it’s a war supported by a sizable chunk of the car-driving public. It’s time to look at that war, its leaders, its supporters, its victims and the philosophies and justifications that keep it going.

The Leaders

The Vietnam and Iraq Wars had leaders— people like General Westmoreland, Robert McNamara or Donald Rumsfeld. They were convinced of the righteousness of their cause. They didn’t hate the enemy. They just had a naïve or distorted perspective of the enemy because their own experience and priorities were so different that they lacked a certain empathy and understanding. In the final analysis, the “enemy” were just people who stood in the way of achieving some desired U.S. economic or political goal.

When it comes to urban street design in Saint Paul, the War on Pedestrians also has leaders. They are the “experts” whom elected officials consult on most transportation issues, just as national elected officials have always consulted the Pentagon on matters of war. These engineers don’t hate pedestrians. They’re just more interested in moving motor vehicles. So pedestrian safety often gets in the way of their goals. As people who mostly get around by car, they also don’t relate to pedestrians and can’t necessarily understand their needs and motivations. They use metrics and philosophies that exclude pedestrians like “Level of Service for Cars” the way Robert McNamara used the “Domino Theory” of reflexive anti-communism in Vietnam. When Bikram Phuyel was hit by a car last Monday, City Engineer John Maczko told the Pioneer Press:

The city reviews a streetscape “when incidents happen that are particularly tragic like this one to see if there’s anything that can be done,” . . . But he said he doesn’t think a painted crosswalk at the intersection would have prevented the crash, saying they can give people an illusion of safety. . . . “Everyone needs to be part of the solution,” Maczko said. “Vehicles that are driving around other vehicles need to wonder why that other vehicle is stopped and understand if a car is stopped, it’s stopped for a reason. . . . As pedestrians, when we cross these four-lane roads, we have to cross every lane as an individual roadway.”

Let’s parse this response. Maczko seems to be blaming drivers, who are driving at the design speeds of the roadway and are unaware that an unmarked intersection is a crosswalk that could have pedestrians. This response seems to blame the victims themselves, saying “People need to treat crossing a 4-lane road like crossing four individual roadways (which the victim didn’t).” This kind of statement implies that, “There’s nothing we in engineering could do. Crosswalks wouldn’t have helped.” At least in this quote, there is no mention anything more radical like signage, pavement markings, traffic signals, HAWK signals, a pedestrian refuge island or a 4-lane to 3-lane conversion of Rice Street—all things that, individually or in combination, can dramatically reduce both pedestrian and motor vehicle crashes.

This isn’t the first time I have heard this response. When the Central Corridor light rail line was still in its final planning stages, the Bicycle Coalition, Transit for Livable Communities and District Council Collaborative representatives met with the project engineer. We were questioning the need for four travel lanes on University Avenue based on pedestrian safety and some of the traffic modeling they’d done. We asked if they had included pedestrian counts in their traffic models, something that has a big impact on right-turning motorists at stations and large intersections, but they were unable to provide us with any pedestrian count data. Then we asked about the safety of having mid-block, unsignalized crosswalks at the back ends of station platforms and asked how pedestrians were going to negotiate two lanes of traffic. The engineer responded, “We don’t think people will actually use these crosswalks.” Everyone stared at him, amazed that he’d said this. He looked around the room, then at me and said, “You look like a guy who walks a lot. Would you cross University Avenue at an unsignalized intersection?” He seemed to be saying that unsignalized crosswalks are unsafe on four-lane boulevards, he didn’t think people will use them for that reason, so didn’t bother to model them. To me, it was crazy he didn’t seem to see anything wrong with thinking this.

Snelling Avenue has many stretches of a quarter to a half-mile with no traffic lights. It’s one of the things that makes this boulevard so deadly and hard to cross. When a coalition of groups asked MnDOT for pedestrian improvements to Snelling Avenue including more signals, I remember an engineer who was fond of saying, “More pedestrians are hit at signalized intersections than at non-signalized ones.” This was a repeated excuse for not adding more traffic signals. Strictly speaking, he was right—more pedestrians are hit at signalized intersections—but this is because vastly more people cross at them, because the non-signalized intersections are so dangerous.

Was his comment based on ignorance or indifference? It doesn’t really matter. It represented leadership attitudes that perpetuate the War on Pedestrians.

Politicians become part of this war and its pedestrian carnage when they fail to question and challenge expertise. A frequent refrain I hear from some city council members is, “The engineers say we can’t accommodate bikes or pedestrians on this bridge or street, and they’re the experts. There’s nothing I can do.”

The Supporters

Then there’s the sector of the public for whom driving and parking cars is a top priority. They show up to public hearings and complain that we can’t put in a traffic signal or HAWK signal at a given location, add bike lanes or do a four-to-three-lane street conversion because they might lose their free, on-street parking spaces or it might take them five minutes longer to drive to work. At a hearing about snow plowing on Marshall Avenue, some of us wanted parking to be banned for one night per week so they could remove snow from the parking and bike lanes. One Marshall Avenue resident loudly and repeatedly objected to the idea of having to move her car, even for one night a week. After the hearing, a friend and I went up to her and asked, “Don’t you have a garage?” to which she replied, “Yes, but it’s full of stuff.”

Most drivers don’t realize that every intersection is legally a crosswalk where they are required by law to stop for pedestrians whether the crosswalk is marked or not. So they never stop for pedestrians, even on a four-lane street where the car in the adjacent lane has stopped. This is how both Sowinta Kay and Bikram Phuyel were hit by cars. The attitude of many drivers is: Why slow down or drive cautiously when our priority is to get to our destinations as quickly as possible?

If you listen to the traffic reports on the radio, it even sounds like a war. Helicopters, surveillance cameras and reporters give up-to-the-minute status reports on the national, state and city goals of trying to move as many cars as possible through our cities as quickly as possible. In this war, pedestrians and cyclists become collateral damage.

But these pedestrian and cyclist victims have names, faces, families and lives that are permanently shattered. A quick search of the web finds: Sandra Wethers, hit while crossing Summit Avenue with her dog; Therese Klotz, age 53, killed near Randoph and West 7th; Wade Souster, 31, partially blinded with a brain injury and left for dead in a median on Phalen Boulevard; University of St. Thomas students Rebekka Peterson and Nicholas Bergeland; Emma Holman, 24, killed crossing Grand Avenue; and countless other unidentified pedestrians and cyclists in the “Fire Calls” section of the Highland Villager. Here’s a map of Saint Paul locations that have seen multiple pedestrian crashes during the last four or five years: https://cjsinner.cartodb.com/viz/88c5bab8-6043-11e4-ab03-0e853d047bba/public_map

The Pundits

Pedestrian War Pundits like Joe Soucheray or Patrick Reusse speak about pedestrians and cyclists like they’re a menace or go as far as to advocate hitting them with cars. But Soucheray and these other pundits are primarily drivers. They have programs or columns named after cars, like “Garage Logic,” whose main function is to sell automobile advertising. Unless a driver is drunk or flees the scene, police and reporters often refer to pedestrian crashes as “accidents” as if they are unavoidable consequences of driving.

Another line I often hear from Pedestrian War leaders, pundits and supporters is “There’s a traffic signal two blocks away. Why didn’t the victim cross there?” Two blocks on streets like Snelling or Rice can often be as much as a quarter mile. So, if a pedestrian wishes to cross a street to a destination on the other side (like a store, bus-stop or school), that’s a quarter mile walk to the light and a quarter mile walk back down the other side of the street, for a total of a half-mile of extra walking. At an average speed of 3 miles per hour, these leaders are asking pedestrians to spend ten extra minutes and a lot of extra energy every time they want to cross a street– things they would never accept as drivers.

All this reminds me of the Bob Dylan Song “Who Killed Davey Moore?” The song considers all the factors that led to a boxer’s death in the ring. One could easily rewrite it for Minnesota Streets and call it: “Who kills thousands more? Why’d they die and what’s the reason for?”

F1ACCIDENTAL0830

The scene of a fatal crash at Hamline and Grand in 2012. IMG fm Star Tribune.

“It wasn’t us” said our elected officialdom, “we’re building roads, parking lots and stadiums. We just do what the engineers say, they tell us there’s no other way.”

Said the highway engineers, “It wasn’t us! Crosswalks, lights and islands cost too much. Besides they reduce the traffic flow. We’re the experts, we ought-a know.”

“It wasn’t us” said the driving cranks. “Don’t take away our parking, thanks. Slowing traffic goes too far. Everyone should subsidize our cars.” . . . Etc etc.

In his book Fighting Traffic, Peter Norton chronicles the takeover of American streets by motor vehicles during the 1920s and 30s. It’s not accurate to call car crashes with pedestrians “accidents.” Accidents happen, but the War on Pedestrians is by design. John Maczko is right, “Everyone needs to be part of the solution,” but being able to safely cross a street on foot is a basic human right. Until we realize this as a city and a nation, and make upholding that right a priority, nothing is going to change. The War on Pedestrians will continue and the dead and injured will keep piling up.


* Editors Note: The original version of this article has been changed to better reflect streets.mn Editorial Policy (specfiically Policy #8).  While we strive to ensure every post meets our guidelines, sometimes we make mistakes.  We appreciate the robust commentary that streets.mn posts generate, and we especially appreciate those commenters who help us live up to our own standards.

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36 Responses to The War on Pedestrians

  1. Brian Quarstad
    bq November 5, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    Well said, Andy.
    I find it interesting that this latest incident with the little 11-year-old boy on Rice Street has really seemed to get people worked up and are starting to ask questions.

    At the recent Healthy Transportation workshop/conference several weeks ago, MN Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger said he believes that we are now at a tipping point where people want healthier, safer places to walk and bike. He told about living near the Midtown Greeway and how the first day it opened there were lots and lots of people using it. As Ehlinger stated, “The public is waiting for it. They were expecting it.”

    City officials, the residents of St. Paul want change. They are waiting for it and they are expecting. It’s time to stop making excuses why this can’t happen and start finding reasons to make this happen.

  2. Mike Sonn
    Mike Sonn November 5, 2014 at 8:26 am #

    This LTE writer should have his license immediately revoked. And not that many of you would, but don’t walk in Woodbury – your life is in danger.

    http://www.twincities.com/letters/ci_26864556/let-pedestrians-be-paranoid

    • Rosa November 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

      So many people think this way – drivers are terrible! So never get on the street except in a car!

      They should all lose their licenses, as far as I’m concerned. But it’s also why I argue so strenuously against the “defensive driver” style of education for kids as pedestrians and cyclists – it raises them up to be drivers who think safety is everyone else’s problem, like bad driving is a force of nature we can’t do anything about.

      A friend in Madison was just appalled when Madison had a bout of enforcing the “always stop for pedestrians at crossings even unmarked ones” – her main argument was it wasn’t safe for drivers to do that because they would be rear-ended by the driver behind them. Which is probably true. But it means those people should learn to drive differently or not be allowed to drive, not that pedestrians should stay off the streets.

      • Matt Brillhart November 5, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

        I, too, have seen the “But I’ll get rear-ended!” argument.

        It’s absolutely sickening that many people can so easily equate injury to their car’s bumper with injury to a human being. Sickening, but not terribly surprising in “car-first” world.

  3. Daughter Number Three November 5, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    So many good points. Thanks, Andy. Your point about the “why didn’t they go two blocks to cross at the light” reminds me of the case of the mother in Marietta, Ga., who was convicted of vehicular homicide because she crossed a stroad with her kids, one of whom was hit by a DRUNK driver. http://daughternumberthree.blogspot.com/2011/07/injustice-in-georgia.html

  4. Keith Morris November 5, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    What a well timed article; I had a green light on Nicollet with a bunch of motorists blocking the left travel lane, but there was space to proceed through. Had I gone any faster I would’ve been slammed by a taxi that must have pulled into an empty stretch of the parking lane and gunned it across the intersection when his light was long red. I don’t know why I settled on kicking his car once I caught up, as I was well within my rights unlock having a car “accident”. And yesterday a few pedestrians almost got hit by a suburban commuter bus blazing past Nicollet.

    Yet how much of the Nicollet Mall makeover will be spent to make all those intersecting death streets safer? $0.00

    • Keith Morris November 5, 2014 at 8:55 am #

      * with my u lock having a car “accident”. No edit feature, huh?

  5. Ken Avidor
    Ken Avidor November 5, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    Awesome article, Andy.

  6. Eric November 5, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    Excellent.

    Tell me how to help prosecute ped/biker deaths as the negligence that they often are.

  7. Gary November 5, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    When I drive, I stop for pedestrians if they are waiting to cross the street at an unsignalized intersection. However, often times, they refuse to cross or look baffled. Pedestrians need to know their rights.

    When there are multiple lanes in the same direction, I get concerned that if I wave at the pedestrian to encourage them to go, they might blindly cross without checking the other lane.

    I had a horrible experience with this a few weeks ago on Park Ave. I stopped at an unsignalized intersection for a kid, probably around 13 years old, and I waved at him to indicate he could start to cross. He immediately started jogging across the three traffic lanes, and I just held my breath; I was so scared he would get hit by cars in the other two lanes. It makes me sick, but as a driver, it makes me want to NOT yield to pedestrians in some of those situations.

    • Andy Singer
      Andy Singer November 5, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

      Gary, I feel your pain. My only suggestion is, where possible, stop diagonally on in the center point of the two lanes with your flashers on, so you are blocking both lanes of traffic. People will honk at you but you’ll hopefully create a safe crossing environment.

    • Rosa November 5, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

      They may be refusing to cross because they don’t trust the cars in the other lanes to stop. It’s often really dangerous to cross when just one car of 2 (or 3, since so many cars use bike or parking lanes as passing lanes) has stopped.

    • Becka November 11, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

      I know my rights as a pedestrian, but I may refuse to cross if you stop for me. You described exactly why that’s the case – on 4-lane death road I would prefer to wait for a break in traffic then cross in front of a car that may be blocking my ability to see fast-moving cars in the adjacent lane.

  8. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman November 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    Guess I can call making things easy on pedestrians as “The War on Cars” now, since someone described things being easy for cars as “The War on Pedestrians”. But Realistically, engineers can’t install a traffic signal just because people ask them too, or even if they personally want one. There’s strict criteria as to where they can or can’t be installed based on pedestrian and traffic volumes, crash history and whatnot. If pedestrians crossing is a big problem, maybe HAWK signals are in order, which are cheaper than regular signals and don’t degrade things for car traffic so much.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 5, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

      yeah but Monte, are HAWK signals collectable?

    • Andy Singer
      Andy Singer November 5, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

      We tried to get HAWKs on Snelling, White Bear Ave and other places in Saint Paul. They’re used outside the metro and have lower thresholds or “warrants” than regular signals– only 20 pedestrians or cyclists per hour as opposed to 90 for a regular signal. But, so far, the Public Works and MnDOT folks have been unwilling to try them. The other thing is state statutes and agency rules allow the commissioner or others to grant “waivers” for different treatments if the engineer can make a decent case for a full signal or HAWK signal (or narrower than state-aid-standard lane). Unfortunately, the process for getting waivers for signals is not standardized (the way it is for lane widths) so I think even some well-meaning but over-worked engineers don’t feel like they have time or energy to apply for a waiver. I LOVE the idea of HAWKs. I just wish someone in Saint Paul Public Works (or MnDOT metro engineers) would be willing to try them.

      • Students_T
        T November 5, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

        I think the bigger with the HAWK is that they cost a butt load. A flashing beacon is the way to go, essentially does the same idea but much cheaper. I think the best thing for all of these is what got put up on University NE and 18th ish minneapolis. When the “beg” button (the beg button injustice is still a thing, right?) gets pushed, no only does it flash red, but the screen also lights up this huge “STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS” message for thirty seconds. When it occurs at night, the sign is extremely bright and very effective. Granted, a pedestrian should be able to be in the crosswalk and legally cross without it, but as long as we’re discussing the HAWK, I figured I’d throw in my own two cents.

          • Matt Brillhart November 5, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

            What exactly is the difference between that signal on University & a HAWK? It looks like the exact same functionality, except without the special 3-ball signal head.

            • Students_T
              T November 6, 2014 at 9:03 am #

              It all comes down to the logic programmed in. The HAWK signals have a need to have 5 step sequence for the main line alone. Then an indication for the peds and a countdown timer to show how long to get a across. I believe they can also be put into coordination patterns with other signals so that the mainline traffic doesn’t get affected as much, but I’m not certain on that one. Its a mini signal, so it can kind of do the things that a normal traffic signal can do.

              Flashing beacons are essentially a glorified switch, once the button gets pushed, it runs for the allotted time for an older person/younger child to get through the cross walk (3 ft/sec) plus an little bit extra time for a safety buffer.

              Truly, the HAWK’s may be better, but from what I hear an agency would be much more willing to put out a beacon than a HAWK, just because of the associated costs. And to address Andy’s comments, the warrant for a HAWK isn’t only based off of 20 peds per hour; speeds, pedestrian crossings, major street traffic, and crosswalk length all need to be taken into account.

              bq, if you think the locations warrant it, you should really bring it to the attention of the city. The page to reference is 4F-2, http://www.dot.state.mn.us/trafficeng/publ/mutcd/mnmutcd2014/mnmutcd-4.pdf . Its one thing for an engineer to constantly be trying to please every person that calls in, its another when the person gives a valid argument with references to follow. Good luck!

        • Brian Quarstad
          bq November 5, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

          Beacons are fine for narrower streets like St. Paul has just installed on the Jefferson and Grigs bikeway via federal money. But that would be completely ineffective on a large wide street like Snelling where a full sized HAWK would be necessary.

          Also, while I do understand the financial constraints the city is under, (each RRFB cost about $12 k x 4 to an intersection) I also get frustrated with the number logic that is presented. We have this exact case scenario present currently at Selby and Saratoga. In a safety task force I was on, even though that intersection ranked very highly on neighbors concerns that it was dangerous and they would like to cross there, we were told by the city that there is currently not enough foot traffic to warrant a light there. Yet, this is a proposed bike route. (Saratoga) MnDOT doesn’t want bikes on Snelling, the Vintage on Snelling and Whole Foods is putting in a special place under cover to encourage bike traffic and they are going to place a Nice Ride Kiosk on the Snelling side by the BRT which will start up next year. Almost 15 k cars drive past Saratoga on Selby every day, many of them rushing to get on I-94 or Ayd Mill. But because we currently don’t have enough people crossing that street we can’t get a crossing signal. Insanity.

          • Andy Singer
            Andy Singer November 5, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

            You only need 20 people (bikes or peds) per hour to get a HAWK …and you can even get a waiver for this IF the engineers will apply for it. This is what I’ve been told by a couple people in the bike-ped division in MnDOT. Paul St. Martin and some of the Public Works folks are aware of this. So I’d raise it with them and push the issue.

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte Castleman November 5, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

        Mn/DOT has built HAWKs before, such as in partnership with St. Clous. I think the issue is more that both Minneapolis and St. Paul are extremely old-fashioned with regards to signals, and Mn/DOT defers to them for trunk highways in the cities (note that even the Hiawatha traffic lights are built by Minneapolis). They’re still putting up green balls over left turn lanes, even thought that is now forbidden. They’re still using painted steel poles. They’re still putting up intersections that turn green if there’s no traffic. Until last year Minneapolis even had some electro-mechanical signals in use.

  9. Andy Singer
    Andy Singer November 5, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    For those who don’t know what HAWK signals are (“High intensity Activated WalK” signals), here’s a video of how they work–
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x92c5SHc8yM
    They can also be synced with nearby regular traffic signals, so their disruption to vehicle Level-Of-Service is minimal …not that I care about vehicle LOS …but some engineers will try to use this as an excuse for rejecting their use.

  10. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell November 5, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

    Great article Andy!

    Tabled crossings and tabled intersections (e.g., raised about 3″ or 4″) are becoming more and more common in Europe for people walking and riding bicycles. Not only do they force most drivers to always slow a bit on approach and give them a rather strong hint that there may be something else going on here, they also do a good job of shedding rain, slush, and snow which makes crossing safer and more comfortable.

    A lot less expensive and less visual clutter than a HAWK.

    Then there’s the issue of speed limits (regulation & road design).

    • Rosa November 11, 2014 at 11:37 pm #

      I like the word “force” there – concern about the undercarriage of the car (which is how a speedbump or tabled intersection forces drivers to slow down and pay attention) is more compelling, overall, than the chance of killing someone.

    • Andy Singer
      Andy Singer November 12, 2014 at 1:08 am #

      You’ll have to persuade Public Works Department about this (and the State Highway Manual). I’ve been told by engineers at more than one meeting that they don’t like tables and speed bumps because of issues with snow plowing and that there are rules about putting them on state-aid roadways or collector streets that have more than a certain volume of cars (they claim it’s in the State Highway Manual). The only place I know of in Saint Paul that has them is Otis Street in front of the country club (has raised crosswalk) and along Otis in multiple locations has bumps. I’ve pointed this out but they say “Otis is a low-enough traffic volume street.” …Of course, one wonders if the bumps have something to do with that. 🙂

  11. Frank November 6, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    I am not at all someone hostile to the author’s general perspective. Putting the loss of life and limb in context is generally a good thing. But.

    But, based on this article, it is now clear streets.mn condones what in most venues would be considered “below the belt” type engagement of civil servants. This deserves to be called out and considered carefully, just so we know what kind of community actor streets.mn is. Much of this constitutes an incendiary, personal attack on civil servants.

    Sure, you can publicly take issue with elected officials. This is an implicit part of their responsibilities, though in the age of the internet and cable news bile is driving good people away from public service. You could even criticize a MnDOT division or Public Works department generally. But naming civil servants in online pieces and equating them to widely-reviled war leaders crosses a very bright line. This is a reflection on not just Mr. Signer, but a deliberate choice (or willful lack of choice) on the part of the people who sit on the board of streets.mn. It crosses a widely-accepted line. It’s totally unacceptable. Your failure to regulate such excesses cannot be defended as freedom of speech. It’s a cop-out.

    Andy’s post highlights part of the problem with such personal attacks. I believe Andy misrepresents Dan Soler’s position, for one. The original concepts for most LRT stations had only one way out: at the major intersections. It was the community that asked for the crosswalks to be added at the other ends of the stations, for safety reasons. If Dan Soler didn’t think people would use them, he was probably in essence saying that he didn’t think they were needed. But you’ve already thrown mud in his face, so good luck getting him to share context like that, or building any trust with him or those around him.

    In regard to this error, and some of the over-broad characterizations, I would suggest that the author may consider his own words. He, “just had a naïve or distorted perspective of the enemy because their own experience and priorities were so different that they lacked a certain empathy and understanding.”

    If both sides could admit as much in this so-called “war”, then we’d be getting somewhere. But escalating the rhetoric, sullying people’s good reputations, and calling what’s happening a “war” isn’t likely to bring about understanding or change. At all.

    • Andy Singer
      Andy Singer November 7, 2014 at 2:15 am #

      Dear Frank,

      I’m sorry if I’ve offended you or anyone else by naming people (whose names have now been removed) …but the meeting I spoke about was basically a public meeting, and follow-up questions were asked (by myself and others) so I don’t believe I mischaracterized the gentleman’s position. We were asking why these crosswalks and the pedestrians who would use them were not modeled. As you say, I believe they added the crosswalks because of community pressure/desire but he believed that no one would use them because they were unsafe …and so didn’t model them. I found that very telling, insightful and crazy, given that they justified a 4-lane University Avenue with their computer models.

      As someone who gets around almost exclusively by foot or by bicycle I find the status quo of many of these 4-lane boulevards and intersections and the people who are routinely hit and killed on them as unacceptable as you find my post. The frustrating thing is that, though these civil servants are not elected, they set and control street designs and design agendas. They present the limited options to elected officials and the public (based on state design manuals or other criteria) whether they’re preparing an Environmental Impact Statement or running a public meeting. So, more than almost any elected official, (based on my experience) they control the concrete world that pedestrians and cyclists have to use …and that world is TERRIBLE. Try walking across the unsignalized crosswalk at Portland or Ashland and Snelling Avenue to reach the bus stop on the other side, as I did every weekday for almost a year and you will realize that it truly is a “war” and people are getting killed in it. I’m not sure what will bring about change but, in my 13 years here, I’ve seen very little change. So I’m just telling you what I see.

      I honestly, deeply respect all these engineers as people. I sympathize with the fact that they are often over-worked and may or may not have expected when they were in engineering school that 60% of their jobs would involve public meetings, politics and dealing with people like me. But they are “the deciders” for many projects. The actual Gateway Trail extension, for example, was designed by one guy (who was not a cyclist) with little if any public process. It wasn’t a democracy. I feel the same way about the war leaders I mention. I think they honestly thought they were doing the right thing and I respect that …but I don’t agree with what they’re doing or did and I felt like there was a valid analogy between the two situations.

      • Matt Steele
        Matt Steele November 7, 2014 at 9:36 am #

        Honestly I think we could use a little more calling out specific public servants who are standing in the way of progress, and by extension, facilitating death on our streets. A specific engineer in Hennepin County comes to mind…

        • Ron November 7, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

          Prepare to get a little (much) less quality of candidate to apply for a public servant job then. Nobody needs that in their life.

          • Andy Singer
            Andy Singer November 7, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

            As someone who’s worked a variety of jobs in my life, a lot of jobs involve putting up with people’s criticism. At law firms, you have clients that you are obliged to take who are quite insane. You have to deal with this and incredible amounts of stress but it doesn’t dissuade people from becoming lawyers. Most retail jobs involve irate customers shouting at you about one thing or another from time to time and getting grief from managers. Athletes (as young as high school), reporters, writers and anyone in the public sphere has to deal with a fair amount of criticism. Police deal with enormous amounts of criticism and stress. As a city engineer, you have to manage major contracts, deal with politicians, community groups, the press and the public. The criticisms that these folks get on this website are absolutely nothing compared to what they have to deal with in public meetings, in the press or (sometimes) with elected officials. On multiple occasions, I’ve seen Saint Paul city engineer John Maczko deftly handle a public meeting of over a hundred yelling, angry people. I respect him for that but that’s part of his job and he’s good at it. On the plus side, a city or public service engineer can have a much bigger impact on the built environment and people’s lives than is possible at a private engineering firm. So I don’t think making legitimate criticisms of these folks on streets.mn and having a discussion about it is going to reduce the quality of public servants. I think pay and workload are probably much bigger factors.

            • Ron November 7, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

              I appreciate the thoughtful reply but I just disagree. If I was in these comments more or a bigger part of the site I’d feel more comfortable having a long discussion about it. I usually just read the articles and move on and I think I’ll just do that now.

          • Nathanael November 12, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

            Ron: I think you are rather missing the point. If we have a specific countiy engineer who is consistently specifically making designs which *kill people*, who is consistently specifically limiting the options presented to elected officials in a way which results in *killing people*…

            …well, you can’t really get worse candidates than that. People like that *should* be called out by name because you *want* them removed from office. Picking random people off the street would probably be an improvement.

            How can you have a “lower quality” candidate than one who consistently pushes hard for designs which kill people? That doesn’t even make any sense.

            • Ron November 13, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

              The comment I replied to seemed (to me) to be calling for more articles like this one, in general. Needless to say I agreed with Frank about the bright line being crossed.

              If his comment was just referring to one henn county engineer then I must admit I don’t know the back-story so I can’t weight in on it.

              I think my point is valid in general and it’s good to have a conversation about where the line is and the care that needs to go into editorials that name specific people.

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