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.

49 thoughts on “The Minnesota Massacre Needs to End

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

    A few updates…

    KMSP says…

    Dr. Brian Thomas Lew, 57, was running on a path near Vicksburg Lane and 26th Avenue when he was struck just over a mile from his home. According to the police report, Dr. Lew tried crossing Vicksburg Lane where some drivers stopped, but one car heading north did not.
    “Sometimes one will stop, but then 3 won’t,” said Diane Lunde, who frequently walks in the same area. “You are taking your life in your hands every time you cross here.”

    City of Plymouth’s trail page says “Wear reflective clothing or items and carry a whistle or noisemaker.” Maybe they should suggest the full Streets.MN Pedestrian Safety Kit?

    Finally, every news outlet covering this so far (KMSP, KSTP, and StarTribune) says this man was hit and killed by a car rather than by a motorist. The point of this is that road design bears responsibility for the Minnesota Massacre just as much as a motorist does. But when we say that cars kill people rather than motorists, we’re giving ourselves one more reason to be resigned to complacency about the Minnesota Massacre.

    1. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

      If there were several cars stopped and one continued anyway, the driver should be charged under Minnesota 169.21.2(b). This is clearly an unmarked intersection in practice.

  2. Gary

    One slight correction: looking closely at 2008 streetview, the mini stop-signs *were* present in 2008 when it was clearly a crosswalk. Looks like the city never removed them, for whatever reason.

    1. Joseph Finley

      The placement of the trail stop sign shows that it is from the former crossing which no longer exists but the placement of the sign can lead one to believe that even with out the curb cut that it is a crossing.

  3. Joseph Finley

    I find it very interesting that so many trail crossings put the “Risk” on trail users (if you don’t stop, it’s your fault) and leave the car traffic lanes unhindered with barely any signage of pedestrians crossing. This change has happened, as you point out over some years. The least we should expect is zebra strips on the pavement I am a bike rider and something I find what happens is cars will stop while I am at the trail stop sign, “stopped” and the last thing I really want to do is cross into an oncoming rear-ender or some one passing the stopped car.

    I do wonder if the fellow was wearing head phones/ear buds; myself, I make a point of not using any listening device., it can be dangerous enough out there.

  4. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    Thanks for bringing this more attention, Matt. The designers carry some blame here, there is historical evidence right there they chose to change it for the worse of human life. Chose to.

  5. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I agree with the spirit of this post, Matt, but the engineers seeking to remove pedestrians’ ability to cross safely were quite thorough, and I do not agree that this meets the definition of an intersection.

    Intersection is “the area embraced within the prolongation or connection of the lateral curb lines or, if none, then the lateral boundary lines of the roadways of two highways”

    Since there are no curb lines on the trail, it would be the “lateral boundary lines of the roadway of the highway” (to the extent that applies to a trail) that are in question. The “highway” of the trail clearly dives south to Shenandoah Lane, crossing at a marked crosswalk there. Simply because a highway could cross another highway at a more direct point doesn’t mean that it does — think about the way frontage roads adjacent to big highways bulb out at cross streets to provide safer intersection spacing. Similarly, this trail diverts slightly to cross at a “safer” point.

    That quibble aside, I agree this seems like a bizarre change. I assume the engineer thought it would be more predictable to have the crossing at another intersection — but I think that actually exposes the pedestrian to more possible crashes, given turning auto movements coming out of that cross street. And, of course, creating a detour that pedestrians don’t always follow.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

      You’re saying they were “thorough” like it somehow makes it better. This isn’t a technical failure, it is a failure of values.

      1. Monte Castleman

        You can’t hold a city liable for “a failure in values” like you suggest, like you could if there was some technical error. And as Sean pointed out this is not an intersection, and in fact there’s clear signs that the city tried to make it not an intersection, so you can’t hold the driver legally responsible for passing on the left (although I suppose you could try careless driving or some other catch-all charge for “driving like an idiot”.

        It if was Bloomingtonized like Killebrew, they would have built a skyway and fence just to totally eliminate the conflict, not just remove the curb cut.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

          Negligence goes beyond technicalities. I’m not the first person to think that the City could be civilly and possibly criminally liable in this death – it was first suggested at the forums. I hope that gets tested. It may actually make cities and their engineers do things differently if they could be corporately or personally held responsible for the destruction their decisions create.

          1. Monte Castleman

            Probable result: More fences and more “no pedestrian signs” (Like Mn/DOT puts up for liability reasons where a pedestrian signal is not provided.

              1. Monte Castleman

                So a four lane death road has the same kind of problems as a rural freeway? What should be done to US 52 from St. Paul to Rochester? Convert it to two 9 foot lanes with bumpouts and speed bumps and a 20 mph speed limit because a pedestrian might Darwin themselves occasionally despite the presence of overpasses and fences?

                1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

                  You know too much about roadway projects in MN to be so crass about a death along a recently-“improved” corridor, Monte. On U.S. 52, recently freewayified through south Cannon Falls, they cheaped out by not building the planned northern bridge. Why don’t you go to Google Maps and measure the distance between the Saratoga Inn and the McDonalds? Then ask yourself if the cost-cutting move really cost a human life. It’s clear that it did.

                2. Rosa

                  You know, as a supposedly “pro-car” voice here, you might at least PRETEND some compassion when a person is killed. I try really really hard to believe drivers when they say they would really hate to run over someone and are careful and don’t callously disregard human life. But “Darwin himself”…by crossing a street? You sound callous at best and homicidal at worst. “Wasn’t my fault, officer, I just closed my eyes and kept driving and those little kids kept crossing like the walk light was gonna save ’em!”

                  1. Monte Castleman

                    This is not some little kids crossing at a marked crossing on a city street with a Walk light. This was a man jaywalking on a fenced off 65 mph freeway. I’d say our gene pool is better of without someone that would make a decision like that.

                    Blowing past a line of stopped cars in the original scenario was reckless on the part of the driver, but so was this on the part of the pedestrian. Yes, I wish there was an overpass there, but if there’s not you don’t try to cross anyway.

                    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

                      TH 52 is not a freeway, except where it runs concurrent with the Lafayette Freeway and within/near Rochester. From looking at Street View, it appears MnDOT (erroneously, in my opinion) installed freeway entrance signs at the new interchange, but not at the previous interchange with TH 19, nor along the freeway itself.

                      I don’t make a habit of walking across expressways, but when I used to work in Savage, and biked occasionally, I did take a shortcut across Old 101 to avoid this ridiculous detour. A mile might not seem like that much, but it felt ridiculously tedious with almost no traffic on 101 west of the bridge.

                      People take shortcuts. We spend a lot of time catering to what a driver can reasonably be expected to do (like setting speed limits based on 85th percentile speed) — shouldn’t we do the same for pedestrians?

                    2. Monte Castleman

                      So we have people calling the Hennepin ave bridge with no interchanges, a “freeway”, but a stretch of four lane road with fences between two interchanges is not a freeway?

                      I’d call it a freeway, although for now a short one.

                    3. Rosa

                      You still can’t even pretend to care about the loss of life. OH MY GOD you jumped in PEOPLE MIGHT HAVE TO DRIVE SLOW INSTEAD OF KILLING OTHERS?

                      Here’s the thing: we have a lot of evidence that most drivers speed until they feel personally unsafe, and have little or no care for the safety of others. You don’t want design features that force drivers to slow down, but you don’t apparently care about the cost in other human beings lives. And you seem to think other drivers all feel this way. And you call yourself “pro-driver”.

                      I’m also a driver. I don’t want to kill people. You’re not pro-me. It makes me really angry that you claim to speak for me.

                    4. Rosa

                      And, you’re cool with this pedestrian being dead but what if we take away the reckless driver’s license, get them off the road. You cool with that? I don’t want to walk OR drive around this person.

              2. Thomas Mercier

                I’m not sure crossing a 65 mph freeway on the outskirts of a small town is quite the same as crossing a 45 mph suburban arterial with pedestrian infrastructure along it.
                It should also be noted that the 52/24 intersection wasn’t removed just for the expeditious travel of cars, it was also meant for the safety of users.

                1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

                  “We were too cheap to build a bridge to connect two areas of a town. Here’s your safety, a 38 minute walk to go 150 feet as the crow flies.”
                  The #MinnesotaMassacre continues because we continue to make wrong-headed decisions that exclude and degrade non-auto users.

                  1. Thomas Mercier

                    Admittedly it isn’t pedestrian friendly, but the need probably doesn’t justify the expense. There might be some interest from folks to walk between the Saratoga Inn to the restaurants on the east side of 52 but the other businesses along the west side aren’t the type you’d walk to. Not many folks walk to a cabinet manufacturer or a motor sports dealership.I’m in support of better infrastructure (my bike commute has me crossing at a similarly designed location in Plymouth as the focus of the article) but the comparison you drew is too dissimilar to really be credibly furthering your original argument.
                    In a dream world sprawl wouldn’t have extended to the south side of Cannon but the reality is the only development that is there is there because of the freeway. And because of this segregation the remainder of Cannon is preserved as more of a bike/ped friendly community because the 52 volume isn’t routed down the main drag.

                    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

                      I concede that the auto-oriented sprawlscape should have never existed in the first place. But it did exist long before 52 was freewayified. And I bet there are still people who want to walk/bike from urbanized Cannon Falls to the existing Dairy Queen now separated by an unpenetrable moat. My point is that we build a system that excludes people to the point where they are rationally choosing to take deadly risks. Or, at best, they are doing the “safe” thing and they still get maimed or killed.

        2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          Monte is right: the true Bloomington approach (ala Killebrew Drive) would be to create some sort of physical pedestrian barrier to force the more inconvenient crossing — a “decorative” barrier, perhaps one paid for by federal pedestrian improvement funds.

    2. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

      Surely the fact that several cars stopped to allow the pedestrian to cross indicates that the area was perceived as a crosswalk by drivers and pedestrians alike.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Interesting point, but I think most mindful drivers stop for a pedestrian when crossing mid-block, when the pedestrian is immediately in front of them, in their lane. Certainly if I’m driving a car somewhere and someone comes out mid-block, I’m not going to intentionally mow them down just because they don’t have right-of-way. This kind of behavior is pretty common around commercial districts, like Nicollet/Diamond Lake and 48th/Chicago, where peds often cross mid-block to access parked cars. It doesn’t make those mid-block points intersections, or crosswalks.

        I assume the driver who hit him didn’t notice him in time, unlike those who stopped.

        1. Monte Castleman

          Aside from possibly the driver that hit the Ferguson protesters (and even that incident has a lot of questions), motorists don’t make a game of trying to hit jaywalkers, so a driver is going to try to stop for someone in the road regardless of whether there is a marked crosswalk, or any crosswalk

          If I was driving I wouldn’t perceive that as a crosswalk. I’d probably pass on the left but slow way down in case there was something causing the cars to be stopped, whether a pedestrian or a duck or a stalled car (possibly with a guy changing a tire).

        2. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

          Maybe we move in different parts of the city, but where I live it’s hard enough to get people to stop for me when I’m obviously in a marked crosswalk, much less trying to cross in the middle of a street.

          But that’s really beside the point; if multiple(!) cars are stopped waiting for someone, not bothering to at least slow down to find out way is negligent.

          1. Wayne

            It doesn’t help that a ton of crosswalks are not marked either. Or that no one respects them anyway. You know, crosswalks … Those things you pull into to look for oncoming traffic before turning right on red.

        3. Shawn

          I’m pretty sure that’s the law, right? Zipping around a line of stopped cars has its own set of risks too, of course.

          Not that laws nor common sense can help this poor fellow now :/

  6. Casey (Yes, Yale)

    Consider these four simple steps before crossing the street:
     Find a crosswalk.
     Stop using your phone before you step off the curb.
     Look both ways for cars, bikes, trucks and other moving vehicles.
     Make eye contact with the driver or cyclist coming in your direction
    before you cross.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

      “Find a crosswalk. It may take some time, since your local municipality may have removed them.”

      Though, in reality, finding a crosswalk should be easy since “every corner is a[n unmarked] crosswalk.” I’m saddened to see Yale (Yes, Yale) on board with the walk-shaming and victim-blaming we see elsewhere. Yet it makes sense coming from their liability-conscious Occupational Safety department rather than an academic source within their institution.

    2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      Finding a crosswalk isn’t really making it much safer, just “legal”. It is still a four-lane undivided 45-mph road. Crosswalks for a four-lane undivided road at likely-50-mph speeds arguably make crossing less safe. A marked crossing here would have just changed the spokeswoman’s quote to “the jogger didn’t wear reflective gear to make themselves more visible on this high speed road for the reaction time of an 80-year-old driver.”

      I’ll tell ya, my four-year-old never does any of those four items when crossing any street. She’s thoroughly baffled that they are required before you can step into a street to cross it.

    3. Julia

      I often find crosswalks less safe for crossing than mid-block scenarios, in part because at intersections cars are coming from four (or more) directions rather than just two. Turning cars are some of the riskiest for those on foot.

      Additionally, making eye contact with a driver might be safer for crossing, but also dramatically increases my rate of being verbally/sexually harassed by said driver, sometimes to the point of aggressive driving (inching on me, revving engine, squealing past me as soon as I pass with very little space). I weigh my poisons. Sometimes I look down at my phone or keep talking on it once I’ve established safe crossing as a way of deflecting unwanted harassment.

      I cross where and when it’s I think it’s safe, not where and when the media might be slightly more sympathetic if I am killed. I’d rather be ticketed for jaywalking than dead in a crosswalk. Until it’s clear to me that engineers design roads/crosswalks for the safety of people on foot (rather than the convenience of car traffic), I will trust my best judgment and decades of experience rather than laws that treat my life as acceptable collateral damage.

      Totally agree that all street users–foot, bike, wheelchair, motorized vehicle–have a responsibility to be aware of other users, especially those more vulnerable to them.

      1. Wayne

        I love how people can menace me with their car while I’m legally crossing with right of way, but if I slap their car when they’re about to kill me because they aren’t paying attention or are breaking there law they flip out and want to fight me. Because I guess the only way I’m allowed to touch someone’s car is as I’m bouncing off their windshield.

    4. Rosa

      In my experience, eye contact just makes the car think “oh good that pedestrian saw me, I don’t have to slow down.” Maybe there’s more foot traffic in New Haven, or the drivers are better about stopping.

      That said, given that 3 of 4 cars stopped, that 4th driver should have had a pretty good clue there was a reason to stop.

      when do we start AT LEAST taking away the drivers licenses of those who kill others with cars? Can we at least stipulate that if you can’t avoid hitting a human crossing the road, even if that person is imperfect in some way, you probably aren’t a competent driver or safe to have on the road?

    5. Wayne

      Consider these simple safety tips before driving your car:

      – don’t run over people
      – look for people crossing the street and then don’t run them over
      – if someone else in another lane is stopped in what you find to be an odd location, maybe slow down in case there’s a reason because it might prevent you from running over someone with your car
      – please for the love of god don’t run over people

    6. Stacy

      One other safety tip (and I don’t think many people know this one):
      If you’re doing a midblock crossing, it’s actually much more dangerous to the pedestrian or cyclist for the vehicles to stop before they begin their crossing. It’s best to wait till there is a break in traffic (if possible) because the stopped cars block you from the vision of the cars in adjacent lanes and block your vision from seeing those oncoming vehicles. The result can be accidents like this one. Sad… But hopefully this safety information will reach more motorists, cyclists and pedestrians in the future.

      MnDOT has a safety tips page as well:

      1. Rosa

        when I drive, since I make an effort to stop for pedestrians (as required by law at all places the sidewalk crosses the street, and by common decency in a general “not killing people” way) I solve for this by stopping at an angle so I’m blocking both lanes going my direction (even on technically 2-lane streets, drivers use the parking/bike lane as a passing lane, so there are always at least 2).

        I started doing it after I saw a car take out a cyclist right by the Sabo bridge, about 4 years ago – a place with painted stripes and tons of signs – and then overheard the driver say to the responding officer “He just came out of nowhere!”

    7. Rosa

      how on earth do you make eye contact with 4 drivers at once? Are only mutants with 4 eyes that go different directions allowed to cross four-lane roads?

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

      Ask a 4 year old if the location of this incident was a legal crosswalk per MN Statute 169.011.20(1)? There are experts that have weighed in here without a conensus.

      1. Rosa

        Many of the 4 year olds I know operate under a family rule that they have to stop at the last square sidewalk square, not down by the curb, because drivers see them close to the curb and drive really bizarrely – swerving away because they expect the child to jump out at them, but not doing something reasonable like stopping as if the child were actually going to cross the road. We formulated that rule independently when my kid was littler (“don’t scare the drivers!”) and found out afterward a lot of other parents had made the same rule.

        It doesn’t mean they don’t also have to treat drivers like big mean dangerous people who will not follow the law – you know, by stopping before the crosswalk or looking at where they are turning toward instead of only at where cars might hit them from – it just means that they have to also be considerate of these people who act like it’s more important to get to turn right on red than to, you know, allow people to cross the street or not run down people who happen to be shorter than the top of their hood.

  7. Evan RobertsEvan

    I used to drive this stretch of road more frequently than I do now, and Matt’s arguments are totally to the point.

    There is absolutely no safety reason, such as poor line of sight, that would require the former crosswalk to be taken out. There is plenty of room on that road even at 50mph for cars to stop safely for pedestrians crossing the road there.

    One can only assume that the crosswalk was taken out to reduce the number of crosswalks on this stretch of road. And yes, it’s totally right to call out the misplaced value judgment of making pedestrians walk ~100 yards each direction out of their way to continue on a trail that intersects the road. Why? Why should pedestrians have to put up with that level of service.

    It’s also totally clear from the photo that the right of way is sufficient in that location to put in a refuge island which would have made crossing Vicksburg significantly safer. The City of Plymouth chose not to.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      The weird thing (arguably) is that there was no marked crosswalk at Shenandoah Ln before. It’s kind of strange to move from the clear “desire line” point to a nearby (presumably less popular) crossing point. There is some desire in making bikes change their path slightly at the crossing point, so they don’t barrel across a crosswalk at full speed. But you can easily do that by adding a minor curve on the approach to the crosswalk.

      I agree a refuge island would have been much better (if much more expensive, assuming that cutting into lane space wasn’t an option).

      1. Monte Castleman

        I’m guessing that as developed as area as that is that motorized traffic isn’t going to grow, so three lanes should suffice. Is Vicksburg going to be chip sealed, milled and overlayed, or reconstructed soon? Has it been recently?

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