In the last couple of years, I have begun walking pretty much every day. I walk to go to nearby meetings or to buy fresh produce, bread or fish. I walk to the bus or the Green Line to reach more distant destinations. I walk for exercise aiming to reach 10,000 steps a day, and I walk and talk with my husband or a friend to catch up while relaxing and enjoying the tree-lined streets and spring flowers. Recently, I’ve also found that a walk can be calming and therapeutic, helping me deal with challenging situations.
It’s clear that more and more people want to be able to walk in the Twin Cities. This is in line with a national movement that is largely driven by the recognition that walking is a powerful antidote to the obesity and diabetes crisis in the United States. In response, as more and more people choose to live in walkable communities, there’s a gradual shift in the division of street real estate. Driving lanes are being narrowed and parking spaces limited to allow space for a connected network of sidewalks and bicycle lanes. But rebalancing the streets is a long and complex process, slowed by an ingrained car culture that fears increased traffic congestion or loss of parking. In the meantime, many people do not feel safe walking, especially when crossing at busy intersections.
I live close to Snelling Avenue, a multi-purpose roadway that provides a direct route from the Highland Park neighborhood on the south end to the Roseville shopping centers to the north. It’s a major state highway and truck route — one of just a handful of roadways that bridge over the rail yards. At the same time, it also serves as a Main Street for clusters of small businesses, institutions, churches and recreational facilities. It’s a street that is widely viewed as unpleasant to walk on and dangerous to cross.
Traffic lights are generally spaced far apart, which encourages cars and trucks to pick up speed, hoping to catch the next green light. And although drivers in Minnesota are required by law to stop for pedestrians crossing at any intersection, many do not. This situation is exacerbated by people on foot who hesitate to step off the curve, leaving drivers uncertain about whether to stop. In this situation, most drivers will simply proceed through the intersection or turn through the crosswalk ahead of the pedestrian. At the other end of the spectrum are those who step off the curb without looking, lost in thought or grooving to their favorite tune and oblivious to traffic. The result is that too many people are injured or killed in traffic crashes in Saint Paul.
Over a five year period from 2010 to 2014, 669 pedestrians were killed or injured in traffic crashes in Saint Paul. That’s 669 too many as far as I’m concerned. Isn’t it time to figure out what can be done to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries due to traffic crashes? Isn’t it time to recognize that everyone has a stake in making streets safe for the most vulnerable road users, pedestrians and bicyclists? There are many efforts underway to make walking safer in Saint Paul and in the Twin Cities metro area. Here are two examples, chosen because each will be highlighted at a workshop in the next few weeks:
- Toward a Saint Paul Pedestrian Plan: With the adoption of the Saint Paul Bicycle Plan, many people have expressed interest in developing a Saint Paul Pedestrian Plan. After undertaking a number of walkability studies, the District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (DCC) is beginning the conversation about what a Saint Paul Pedestrian Plan might include.
The DCC is hosting a roundtable discussion, Pedestrian Planning for Saint Paul: Learning from Minneapolis, on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 6:30-8:00 pm., at the Western District Police Station, 389 Hamline Avenue, Saint Paul, MN. The evening will begin with a presentation of the Minneapolis Pedestrian Plan, by Minneapolis Transportation Planner, Mackenzie Turner Bargen. This will provide a good opportunity for Saint Paul to learn from our sister city how well their plan is working, since it was adopted in 2009. A panel will respond (with our own streets.mn writer Rebecca Airmet as one of the panelists), and we’ll open it up for what we hope will be a vibrant and meaty roundtable discussion. The roundtable is free, and refreshments will be served. For more information, contact the DCC at 651-528-8165.
- Toward Zero Deaths (TZD). Minnesota’s state traffic safety program, TZD, was launched in 2003, and has achieved a 41% reduction in traffic fatalities and an increase in statewide belt use to 95% over the last decade. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the program’s vision is to create a culture where traffic fatalities and serious injuries are no longer acceptable, and ultimately to reduce the number of traffic crashes, injuries, and deaths in Minnesota to zero. The short term goal: “Fewer than 300 fatalities and 850 serious injuries on Minnesota’s roads by 2020.”
Toward Zero Deaths is offering a daylong Metro Region Workshop on Friday, June 5, 2015, at The Prom Center, 484 Inwood Avenue North, in Oakdale, MN. The program includes a session on Pedestrian Safety and a Walking Audit of the area around the Prom Center. The workshop is free, and includes continental breakfast and lunch. For more information and to register, go to: http://www.minnesotatzd.org/initiatives/regions/metro/workshop/index.html