Another St. Paul Pedestrian Death: a Personal Statistic


This is my sister, Alex Mardell, who was killed as a pedestrian on November 10th, 2009. She was age 20.

It always starts with a phone call. Mine came when I was camping in the Everglades. It was 2009 and at 17 I was ignoring my mother’s phone call. After relentless ringing the phone was held up to my ear.

“Your sister was hit by a car…and…she’s not going to make it.” My mother’s voice was robotic, like she was acting as a puppet for a doctor that had told her the same thing. Spewing the information without really understanding the meaning. Her voice had no emotion–sterile–is the best word I could come up with.

The death of Kunlek Wangmo on October 1st threw me back in time to where my sister was killed, just a few feet away. West 7th Street/Ford Road is the idyllic St. Paul passageway, but the only thing I’m able to see while passing through are blind spots and close calls.

As an urban planning student, I’ve devoted my time to the beauty of placemaking, land use, and futuristic zoning laws, but the biggest issue that continues to be neglected by the engineers and planners I surround myself with, is the danger of outdated and improper intersections.

The accident that occurred at 6:45 am on October 1st seemed like something out of a safety video. Kunlek was on her daily route, she knew the road, she knew it was dangerous. It was daylight, the weather was clear. There wasn’t traffic or construction. Conditions were seemingly ideal. Except, St. Clair Avenue and West 7th Street carries five blind spots and a driver going the speed limit did not have time to stop when she saw Kunlek fall into the street.

For my sister things were different, it was nighttime, she wasn’t paying attention. She was leaving a meeting and waving goodbye to friends. She wasn’t in a crosswalk. The 31 mph collision proved the perfect strike between my sisters’ head and the windshield. She was pronounced dead on impact.

The two stories are strikingly preventable. Even if both pedestrians were still hit, but at a lesser speed—even at 20 mph instead of 30, they both may still be alive. I’m not an expert, but those who are have found solutions that prevent these pedestrian deaths. It’s up to us, as citizens and constituents, to prioritize these improvements through open houses and capital improvement plans.

My call to action is clear—if we want to stop preventable pedestrian and cyclist deaths in unsafe intersections in St. Paul, we need to lobby for them. Attend open houses, report issues to traffic safety, and utilize your rights in the public system. There are many advocate groups doing the same, but more help is always needed.

Six years ago, my sister was killed as ped at St. Clair and West 7th Street in St. Paul. Is it time to act? Or do we need another death?

14 thoughts on “Another St. Paul Pedestrian Death: a Personal Statistic

  1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    On Sept. 27th an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a few years was biking in Hermantown. He was killed when a 71-year-old driver swerved his SUV across the road centerline and struck him.

    The police don’t know what to do, a dead person and they have nothing to charge.

    No only do we need to agitate for better design, Hermantown is filled with former rural roads with fast speeds and are now surrounded by residential neighborhoods, we can’t have a situation where police just shrug. They need tools for the carnage badly designed streets create.

    1. Nicole MardellNicole Mardell Post author

      I absolutely agree. The woman Alex was a nurse on her way to work at United Hospital, no record, not even a speeding ticket. My family is still in contact with her and she carries immense weight on her shoulders for what happened, even while still following all laws and being a cautious driver.

  2. Al DavisonAl Davison

    When I was doing data collection of pedestrian facilities for my job at MnDOT, I lost count at the amount of times that my co-worker and I were almost hit when crossing the road legally (technically we are granted the right-of-way in most if not all situations but we would wait for the walk signal at many intersections due to heavy traffic). People often looked at us in anger and confusion when we were crossing. I didn’t get it.

    And we were wearing reflective gear with the MnDOT logo and yet people still almost ran us over. I see it almost every day when I commute to the U as well, especially when turning onto 35W from Washington Ave. People get impatient while I wait for cyclists and pedestrians, but saving a whopping five to thirty seconds isn’t worth risking somebody’s life.

    1. Al DavisonAl Davison

      Lowering the speeds would help a lot, even at least to 25 mph as even North Dakota has lower speed limits on some of their streets and roads than here in MN. Mixing pedestrians and cyclists with traffic going 30-50 mph has near been a good mix. 35E is right nearby, people can take that if they need to go faster.

  3. Rosa

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Nicole.

    We need a campaign like the one against drunk driving, to get any kind of change. This is exactly the kind of personal story to start it.

    1. Nicole MardellNicole Mardell Post author

      Thank you Rosa. This is a story I’ve kept to myself for many years, but I hope adding a face and story to a statistic will trigger some sort of action.

  4. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

    So much this! When I log into the state crash data it is always so powerful to see “B-injury” (clearly broken bones) “A-Injury” (paralyzed) or fatality crashes. It’s really important to remember these crashes are people’s lives. Comparing these to warrants is only a check to see if these alone mean there must be a problem, most any crash indicates something that could have been done, be it by engineers, automakers, or lawmakers. I may not be able to stop drunken driving, and I might not be able to fix this intersection if I was asked to… but I (and all persons) need to ask what we can do to prevent more of this.

    1. Nicole MardellNicole Mardell Post author

      I’d be very interested to see state crash data. The only thing that usually makes the news are fatalities but there are so many trends to see in broken bones.

      Ironically, I’m the only one out of three sisters to avoid a major pedestrian accident. My other sister was training for a marathon in D.C. during college and was involved in a hit and run with an unlicensed driver.

      Her and her boyfriend were jogging through a crosswalk–during a walk signal–and her boyfriend pushed her out of the way of a speeding car taking the majority of the impact. She got away with a shattered knee that almost prevented her from graduating college on time, and he was in a full halo with a laundry list of broken bones.

      Isolated incidents maybe, but very hard to ignore.

  5. Corrine Schwartz

    I believe a small simple flashing red light on the top of the “no turn on red” signs would save many lives. People just don’t see them. Other cities have this flasher on them and it seems to work. I live near a 6-way intersection and even watch police turn on red. It is also posted on that intersection, yet nobody seems to see it. I realize some people just ignor them, but most do not see them.

    1. Monte Castleman

      A flashing red light on a NOTR sign violates national standards, and can be confusing because the legal meaning of a flashing red light is the same as a stop sign.

      Too many attention getting devices cause visual overload for drivers and can thus worsen the problem… if everything screams it all just becomes noise. If there’s a problem with drivers not seeing the sign at a particular intersection a blankout sign is probably the best engineering solution.

    2. Rosa

      people see them. They just ignore them. Just like crosswalks, just like actual human-sized persons in spaces where they are supposed to be, just like me & 2 kids trying to cross Bloomington Ave at a corner while cars zoomed past us, yesterday.

      What we need is enforcement. If people got tickets for unsafe driving behavior – stopping after they’ve already mowed down whatever’s in the crosswalk, turning when people are trying to cross on the walk light, not slowing down to look before turning, cruising down alleys (and across sidewalks – 2 of my neighbors this morning) while only looking for the car traffic that they are afraid of, instead of the noncar traffic they could kill – they’d change their behavior.

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