The Minnesota Massacre Needs to End

Brian Lew of Plymouth is the most recent victim; he was struck by a motorist while jogging in Plymouth last Thursday on Vicksburg “Lane.”

A likely scenario

Vicksburg Lane and 26th Ave, Plymouth.

Vicksburg Lane crossing 26th Ave and recreational trail in Plymouth.

Updated reports say that Mr. Lew was struck “near” the intersection of 26th Avenue and Vicksburg Lane, but not at it. Police spokeswoman Tammy Ward is quoted as saying Lew “was not crossing in a crosswalk or at a controlled intersection,” which rules out a crossing at 26th itself since there are two legal unmarked crosswalks at this intersection per 169.011.20(1).


Plymouth’s official trail map implies this trail (east-west) crosses Vicksburg “Lane” (north-south).

But wait, there’s a multi-use path just south of 26th Ave that appears to intersect with Vicksburg Lane in the photo to the right. It also intersects according to the City of Plymouth’s official Parks & Trails Map.

Let me be clear: We don’t have enough from media reports to know exactly what happened, but it seems likely that this location, where Vicksburg Lane crosses a city recreational path, is where it happened. Regardless, this entire stretch of Vicksburg Lane is a 45 MPH Four Lane Death Road™, a type of roadway facility that is especially deadly-by-design.

Shirked liability, welcomed devastation

An aerial view of this trail and its representation on a city trail map would make it appear that it’s a legal unmarked crosswalk of Vicksburg, per 169.011.20(1). But let’s take a look at two Street Views of this crossing, from 2008 and from 2014.

A deliberately failed intersection.

A deliberately failed intersection.

In 2008, this was clearly a legal marked crosswalk, with signs, zebra stripes, and stop bars. Even without any of that, it still likely meets the legal definition of an unmarked crosswalk since the curb cuts imply it is an “intersection” defined in 169.011.36(a), considering that the “intersection” definition references “highways” (not defined this generally) upon which “vehicles” can travel (defined by 169.011.92 to include bicycles or other trail users). In 2008, this was a crosswalk no matter which way we slice it.

Vicksburg traffic counts

Vicksburg traffic counts

By 2014, the city had “improved” this intersection by attempting to cease its existence. All crosswalk markings are gone (except for a lone southbound “pedestrian” sign), and the curb cuts are filled in. Confoundingly, stop signs were added for trail users, which appear out of context given the desire to give no indication that this is a crosswalk or an intersection. Do the stop signs require stopping before a trail user crosses? Would this be jaywalking, or would it be legal after a stop?

It’s ridiculous to think that anyone could have made this change in an attempt to make the street safer. This is what a failed intersection looks like. This is a complete disregard for anyone not-in-a-car, and this change possibly cost a man his life. If this is the location that took a life last Thursday, then this design is culpable and the City of Plymouth could very well be legally liable for this wrongful death.

Whoever designed and approved of this change saw trail users, including joggers, as the problem. But the problem is clearly the Four Lane Death Road™, signed at 45 MPH, overcapacity for the 12 to 17 thousand vehicles per day. Instead of a refuge islandHAWK beacon, or similar improvement, Plymouth decided to Bloomingtonize by (incompletely) making this trail intersection disappear. There is no clearer indication that the values of the public are not the values getting applied to streets and urban roads in our communities, and people are dying as a result.

When people are seen as an impediment to cars and excluded rather than safely included as users of our public space, is it any wonder that the Minnesota Massacre continues?

The public health crisis of our time

We need to treat deadly-by-design roadway facilities for what they are: the largest public health crisis of our time. The CDC and the MN Department of Public Safety both note that automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 1 to 34. MN DPS includes a parenthetical with this statistic, “(people generally thought of as ‘too young to die’).” Anyone, whether 7 or 57 or 97, is too “young” to die a preventable death merely because we don’t value their lives as much as we value efficient and speedy vehicular travel.

We are all responsible for deaths like this. We all accept a system of a built environment that devalues human life on our public streets and roads. We generally treat these crashes as inevitabilities, as collateral damage of modern life, or even as “accidents.” This isn’t the fault of a rogue motorist here or there, this is on all of us: We all have some blood on our hands for being resigned and complacent rather than demanding an end to this public health crisis.

This is the Minnesota Massacre, and this needs to end.

Matt Steele

About Matt Steele

Matt's passion is fostering resiliency in local transportation and land use decisions. He's at @matthewsteele.