Friday Video – Crosswalk Audit

Yesterday I strapped a GoPro to my forehead and put Minnesota statute 169.21 subd. 2 to the test.

Here’s the video:


First of all, this went a lot better than I expected. I really thought I would get honked at and yelled at a lot more than I did. Crossing Lake street at least 15 times (the first few crossings are at 26th st. and Columbus Ave.), I got honked at exactly zero. Basically I felt like an obstacle that drivers saw and understood they needed to avoid. They would slow down or swerve if we were on a collision course, but they weren’t about to waste any time “remain[ing] stopped until the pedestrian has passed the lane in which the vehicle is stopped” per the statute.

In other words, even though drivers didn’t follow the letter of the law, and some did cut me off, most effectively yielded the right-of-way. Crossing Lake on foot felt like being in some “third-world” country, where traffic is more organic, and the avoidance of collisions relies more on the skill and attentiveness of road users than signals and laws –  quite plausibly safer and more efficient than whatever AASHTO has to offer.

With that said, there’s certainly a whole lot of room for improvement. It takes someone able-bodied enough to jump out of the way of a speeding car at the last second to really take on crossing Lake street in this manner. I think the way to achieve that improvement lies in both street design and modification of driver behavior. It felt like the drivers I encountered were simply trying to get where they were going efficiently while responding to the context. No one wants to get in any kind of collision and deal with all that paperwork, but most will drive as fast as they think they can given that constraint. Part of the problem is that Lake street is too wide and has too many lanes. But part of the problem also is pedestrians waiting at corners contributing to the perception of a false hierarchy of right-of-way.  I don’t begrudge anyone their safety, but if you happen to be young and agile and you really believe in this shit, start walking into traffic. It’s actually pretty fun.

Also, free idea: engineers should be required to cross every intersection of streets they design blindfolded.

21 thoughts on “Friday Video – Crosswalk Audit

  1. Alex TsatsoulisAlex Tsatsoulis

    Thanks for posting this – Lake Street is incredibly frustrating to me to cross as a pedestrian (I usually cross further down, East of Hiawatha), and while I’m pretty used to the “running between moving cars” style of crossing, it’s become pretty impossible to do now with a baby in tow. I wonder how much it would cost to put those little “state law yield to pedestrians” bollard signs in every unmarked crosswalk?

  2. Erik B

    Cool experiment! I like the lady at the end ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Now try imagine doing that as a parent with a child in tow or an elderly person…

  3. Keith Morris

    I’ve been honked at crossing Lake at Aldrich, but hey, they saw me and did slow down to a stop for me to cross. I would’ve waited a bit longer at some intersections myself, though.

    1. Andrew B

      Likewise I would have waited for a little more of a break in traffic a few of those, but my hat tip to you for crossing like a bamf regardless.

  4. Julia

    I agree with your idea of how to readdress the hierarchy of traffic–reducing predictability of pedestrians improves safety overall by creating incentive for drivers to pay attention to what people actually are doing, not just what they think people on foot “should” be doing. I try to participate in this in safe ways.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that reaction varies for the individual crossing. In my experience, drivers give a wider berth, honk less, and are generally less aggressive towards my elderly father (he’s 90+, resembles santa or a gnome) who walks with a cane than they are to me though we’re probably equally assertive on foot. I’m sure various kinds of privilege factor in here, which is important to acknowledge and consider. I do think that our city would be well-served if we could mobilize our car-free seniors as pedestrian advocates (as a kind of foot patrol whose very presence improves safety and quality of life).

    Interestingly, my father rarely wants to cross when drivers wave him across–he’ll flip it back at them and wave them across (while not retreating to the sidewalk). I think it’s a power move, in that he doesn’t see the road and its access/permissions as being theirs to give, and refusing to cross in front of them when they deign to allow it reestablishes the dominance of the walker at the top of the hierarchy of road users. It can be quite a stand-off–drivers seem used to a properly submissive and thankful response from (elderly) pedestrians

  5. Rosa

    Last night, on a whole other section of Lake (over by the Bryant Lake Bowl’s Uptown Pride event) I really noticed how pedestrians just took over chunks of street as the sidewalks got crowded. First the parking lane was all pickups and dropoffs, and then people were just walking out in the street – still in the parking lane mostly (the lanes are really wide) but definitely with a critical mass of people that nobody had to dodge cars.

  6. UrbanDoofus

    Thanks for doing this. After last week’s post about the Hennepin bike/ped crossing, I figured we should do this.

    One note, why does Minneapolis have such a hard time marking crosswalks? I know salt and winter blah blah, but it’s clear that they were never striped in certain places. Many drivers do not believe that you have the right to cross in places where there is no crosswalk. While wrong, I do believe that marking a crosswalk will help people recognize. Lane markers help drivers stay in line to a certain degree(see 4th st SE through Dinkytown before and after they re striped last week), and I believe that crosswalks help them recognize pedestrians a pedestrians space. It is not a solution as people will still be assholes, but it helps cut down the confusion.

    1. Alex

      Until recently Mpls Public Works refused to strip crosswalks outside of signalized intersections. This was true even at places that could quite obviously use one, such as at 41st & Nicollet, where the neighborhood requested one to cross Nicollet between a playground and a street that neighbors used to access it on foot. Rather than the winter excuse, Public Works pointed to the 15 year old FWHA study that found that painted crosswalks were sometimes more dangerous on four-lane roads (obviously not applicable on the many two-lane streets of Minneapolis). Within the last few years they have started striping some of them under limited conditions (now found in the Design Guidelines for Streets & Sidewalks I believe). So the lack of crosswalks reflects the extreme brevity of the time that Public Works has been willing to stripe them (as does the lack of pedestrians in Minneapolis).

      1. Alex

        Dur, should read Public Works refused to stripe crosswalks. They of course were more than happy to strip them.

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  8. Melody HoffmannMelody

    On Snelling, near Marshall, there was a billboard reminding drivers to yield to all pedestrians in a crosswalk. Right below that billboard is a marked crosswalk and drivers never stopped to let peds cross and peds didn’t seem courageous enough to exercise their rights, which was plastered right above their heads (myself included).

  9. Janet Lafleur

    I almost had a heart attack watching the cars whiz by you. It may be fun for you, but there’s no way in hell I’d do it on a regular basis, nor expect anyone else to do it.

    1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

      When I took the behind-the-wheel portion in Mankato, if I rolled into an unmarked crosswalk area (i.e., past the edge of the sidewalk curb cut), my instructor would slam on his brake and loudly announce that I had killed a pedestrian. As you can imagine, it only happened a couple times. I have no idea if it’s common for instructors to hammer on that point, though. I suspect it’s not.

  10. Kevin Gallatin

    I love that you did this and captured video. Lake is really tough to cross, around Lyndale. Doing it this way requires a fine balance between asserting your rights as a pedestrian and protecting yourself. If drivers can regularly rear end each other or run intro buildings, then it’s a matter of time until you’d be struck by an inattentive driver. Matty called it, but the law does state that pedestrians must not jump into traffic without allowing an opportunity for drivers to stop. Many of these crossings were without pause. When I approach the curb as a ped I stop and make it totally clear I’m going to cross, then wait a few seconds like I’m a yellow light. Then I get bold and put up my hand in a stop motion if necessary as I walk. I’m curious about others’ take on this as I’m helping prepare for Ped Safety Week in August.

    1. Joe ScottJoe Scott

      The problem is that if you stop at the corner, people assume you are waiting for them to drive by. You can stand on a corner on Lake st. all day and no one’s going to stop unless they think you’re a prostitute. Maintaining an even gait as you approach more effectively signals your intent to continue walking across the street. It might be a little hard to accurately visualize distances in the video due to the lens distortion on the Gopro, but I assure you all the drivers I walked in front of would have had ample time to stop if paying attention.

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