Pedestrian Crosswalk Demonstrations Show Need for Vision Zero Saint Paul

Kevin Gallatin points to missing streetlight which makes it difficult to see pedestrians stepping into the crosswalk

Kevin Gallatin points to missing streetlight which makes it difficult to see pedestrians stepping into the crosswalk. Sergeant Ellison of SPPD takes notes.


Montreal Avenue, Saint Paul.

I was up bright and early Tuesday morning — actually it was DARK and early — to join a group of Highland Park residents in a demonstration of the state’s pedestrian crossing law at a mid-block crosswalk on Montreal Avenue. The roadway has recently been reconfigured, reducing the number of traffic lanes from four to three, and re-striping the crosswalk with high visibility markings and a pedestrian crosswalk sign. Most of the people crossing the street at 7:00 am were students headed to the Highland Park Middle School on the south side of Montreal. But despite the newly striped crosswalk and signs giving advance warning, many cars still did not yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, as required by state law.

Kevin Gallatin, chair of the Highland District Council’s Transportation Committee, organized the early morning demonstration, with support provided by Sergeant Jeremy Ellison and squad cars from the Saint Paul Police Department. The goal was to educate people about the state law that requires cars to yield to pedestrians at every corner and in a marked crosswalk. After being briefed about the importance of staying safe, volunteers crossed back and forth across the street, carrying signs to alert drivers to the need to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Drivers who failed to yield were pulled over by police cars and given a warning or a citation. By 7:30 am, most of the students were in school, and the volunteers packed up their signs and gathered  for a debriefing session. What could be done to make the crossing safer? Better street lighting? The addition of LED flashing lights on the pedestrian crossing signs. A number of ideas were offered for further research and consideration.

The Crosswalk Law

This demonstration was part of an initiative that began several years ago following the death of a Macalester student who was hit by a car and killed as she crossed the street in the crosswalk at Oxford and Grand. Since that time, each year, the first week in August is designated as Pedestrian Safety Awareness Week. In 2015, with a grant from MnDOT, the Saint Paul Police Department was able to provide enforcement for 16 pedestrian safety events. Volunteers and police talked with several hundred people, both on foot and in cars, about the Minnesota crosswalk law, and by the end of the week, 157 citations had been issued to drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

One of the most interesting new results from the 2015 week was to learn why drivers didn’t stop for the pedestrian(s) in the crosswalk. Police officers gathered this information by asking each driver they cited, and recording the responses verbatim in their reports. About half the cited drivers said they either didn’t see the pedestrian(s) in the crosswalk (59) or thought it was too late to stop safely by the time they saw the pedestrian(s) (20).

Only 19 drivers claimed they didn’t know the Minnesota pedestrian crosswalk law, while 34 respondents thought the crosswalk law didn’t apply to their situation, and gave a variety of reasons. Ten of these said they saw the pedestrian(s), but didn’t stop because it was not clear they were trying to cross the street. Most of the others did not think they had to stop because the pedestrian(s) was not in the lane they were driving in. Typical responses from this group: “They were not in the lane.”, “I didn’t see it as a violation because he wasn’t even halfway over.“ or “I thought they were already across.”

Among the other reasons given were that they were in a hurry. “I’m late to my kid’s baseball game,” said one driver. Another responded: “I’m working and in a hurry”, then acknowledged, “I know that’s not a good excuse.” A number of drivers pointed out that “No one else was stopping.” And several people claimed they were lost or confused. “I was lost and didn’t know what to do,” said one driver. Another answered: “I was confused because of the construction, but I did wave at them.” 13 respondents indicated they were sorry for not stopping, while others were angry at being stopped. Some said they didn’t know why they failed to yield to the pedestrian(s), or they refused to answer.

Volunteers cross the street with signs

Volunteers cross the street with signs. One side of the banner tells pedestrians to look both ways before crossing. The other side lets drivers know they must yield to pedestrians crossing at any street corner or in a crosswalk.

Vehicle citations and driver distraction

Although the pedestrian demonstrations were focused on drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, the police also issued a good number of citations for other violations, including 6 seat belt violations, 5 for looking at a phone or texting, 4 red light violations, 4 with no proof of insurance, 3 for speeding, 2 for driving after their license was revoked, and 2 with expired tabs. There were also two arrests, one for an outstanding warrant, and the other a felony warrant for fleeing police, auto theft & DWI (high on meth).

What we learned from the drivers’ responses is that half the drivers did not see the pedestrian(s) in the crosswalk, or did not see them until it was too late to stop safely. This indicates they were not paying close enough attention. Were they distracted, perhaps by texting or reading an incoming message on their ever-present smart phone? Were they hurrying to get through the next traffic light before it turned red? Were they driving while impaired, or drowsy? Were they making a right turn while looking left for a gap in oncoming traffic? Was the sun in their eyes, or lighting inadequate at dusk? In future Pedestrian Safety Awareness events, we may want to try to dig more deeply into why drivers failed to notice pedestrians in the crosswalk to determine what steps to take to make sure drivers are more focused on driving and more attentive to pedestrians in their path, especially at crosswalks.

It will also be important to continue our Pedestrian Safety Awareness demonstrations to educate people about the pedestrian crosswalk law and to provide more enforcement. Although only 20% of cited drivers claimed they were not aware of the state law that requires drivers to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, an additional 22% had questions about how the crosswalk law should be applied and when cars are required to stop. For example, if pedestrians are on the sidewalk, what actions indicate a clear intent to cross the street, requiring cars to yield? Or if they’re already in the crosswalk, but not in the driver’s lane, can the driver proceed when they’ve crossed his/her lane or when they’re approaching from the other side of the street? This indicates there may be a need to provide additional clarification of the crosswalk law, perhaps even to amend it, requiring action by MnDOT and/or the state legislature.

Is Pedestrian Safety Awareness Week working?

In evaluating the effectiveness of the Pedestrian Safety Awareness Week in August, volunteers were generally satisfied that our efforts provided an important reminder to drive safely and obey the law, not only for the drivers who were cited, but also for hundreds of others who passed by on foot or in a car. Still, to make a significant impact, we concluded that one week in August was not enough; we agreed we’d need to schedule demonstrations throughout the year.  Tuesday morning’s event provided an excellent kick off for the coming year, as we begin to plan for an expanded schedule of demonstrations across the city in 2016, with a particular focus on areas like the East Side and the West Side that have not yet participated.

The volunteers and police officers who got up early Tuesday morning provide a clear demonstration that pedestrian safety is a high priority for both community members and police in Saint Paul. Other partners for this project include the Metro Area Toward Zero Deaths initiative and St Paul Walks, a program of St Paul Smart Trips. And these are not the only groups working on pedestrian safety. There are a number of City policies and implementation steps already in place or proposed, including the Complete Streets Policy, the use of roadway planning principles from the Street Design Manual (although the manual has still not been adopted), the $42.5 million 8-80 funding and creation of an 8-80 Fellowship position for 18 months, and the prospect of launching a Safe Routes to Schools programs, beginning with training sessions and submission of a funding application.

Would flashing LED lights make drivers pay more attention and slow down?

Would flashing LED lights make drivers pay more attention and slow down?

Many community organizations are also actively involved in efforts to make walking safer. Among recent initiatives are the District Councils Collaborative’s (DCC) Dale Street and Snelling Avenue projects, pedestrian crash mapping, and work with the disability community to improve access to transit; Friendly Streets Initiative (FSI) projects on Cretin (completing the Grand Round) and Fairview Avenue; the Better Bridges initiative (designed to improve the walkability of bridges over I-94), led by FSI in collaboration with the DCC, Saint Paul Design Center, and district councils; and the St Paul Walks pedestrian safety education initiative, now supported by a new Green Corps intern.

These policies and initiatives all provide evidence that momentum is building in Saint Paul to make sure pedestrians can safely get to their destinations on foot. But it’s still not enough. After the October 1st fatality at the corner of West 7th Street and Saint Clair Avenue, I wrote an article that called for a more urgent and multi-faceted response to stop preventable pedestrian crashes.

We need a ‘Vision Zero’

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing intensive research on “Vision Zero”, a policy that’s being adopted by a growing number of cities across the United States. Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. Vision Zero policies acknowledge that traffic deaths and severe injuries are preventable and set the goal of eliminating both in a set time frame with clear, measurable strategies and benchmarks.

Ending pedestrian deaths will require a cultural shift

Ending pedestrian deaths will require a cultural shift

Recently, a Vision Zero Cities Network has been set up to support and share resources amongst cities with Vision Zero policies in place or pending.

From the description on the website:

“Vision Zero is a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together diverse and necessary stakeholders to address this complex problem. In the past, meaningful, cross-disciplinary collaboration among local traffic planners and engineers, police officers, policymakers, and public health professionals has not been the norm. Vision Zero acknowledges that there are many factors that contribute to safe mobility — including roadway design, speeds, enforcement, behaviors, technology, and policies — and sets clear goals to achieve the shared goal of zero fatalities and severe injuries.”

Isn’t it time for Saint Paul to join other cities that are adopting Vision Zero? After just a year, New York City already reports substantial progress toward achieving their Vision Zero Action Plan goals. (See NYC Vision Zero Scorecard.) Meanwhile, San Francisco has developed a Two Year Action Plan designed to ensure that the city is on track to meet the goal of eliminating all traffic deaths by 2024.

In my next post, I’ll talk more about Vision Zero, how it’s working in other cities, and how Saint Paul can step up to join the Vision Zero movement, designed to eliminate preventable traffic deaths for all roadway users, including people on foot, in a wheelchair, on a bicycle, or riding in a car, truck, bus or light rail train.

Strategic Framework developed by San Francisco Vision Zero Coalition of community advocates

Strategic Framework developed by California Walks Coalition in support of Vision Zero cities’ policies and action plans.

Anne White

About Anne White

Anne White lives in the Merriam Park neighborhood of Saint Paul. She is currently the Land Use Chair for the Union Park District Council (District 13) and serves on the Governing Council of the District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (DCC). After moving to the Twin Cities in 2003, she retired from her work as a professional photographer and began working to ensure that community concerns were fully considered in planning for the Green Line LRT. Now that the line is up and running, including stations at Hamline, Victoria and Western, her main focus is on walkability, making sure that people of all ages and levels of mobility have safe, pleasant walking routes to LRT and other destinations. She was recently appointed to the St Paul Transportation Committee of the Planning Commission as the Active Living community representative.

23 thoughts on “Pedestrian Crosswalk Demonstrations Show Need for Vision Zero Saint Paul

  1. Joe

    I went to that high school, and while I agree with most of the article, the street seems to have remained the same.,-93.1693811,3a,75y,246.5h,63.25t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sLP7cGVNpF6APjSX934DL5Q!2e0!7i13312!8i6656 from 2014, this shows the two through lanes and a two-way-left-turn-lane. So what I see as disappointing is the lack of the improvements through construction at this crosswalk. Small bumpouts on either side to improve visibility, and lessen crossing distances, nor a pedestrian safety island were not implemented with this reconstruction.

  2. Wayne

    I hate that these kinds of events are even necessary, but I’m glad St Paul is doing something. If Minneapolis ever wants to get out of the dark ages I’ve got a perfect intersection for something like this: 1st Ave NE and 4th St NE. It’s a nightmare for pedestrians and they expect to build two high-rises on either side of the intersection in the next few years. Both of these will have hundreds of residents and businesses in them that will lure hundreds (if not thousands) more people on a daily basis. But it’s still built like a dangerous highway and people turn left(!) on red throughout the day with complete disregard for any pedestrians nearby.

  3. Rosa

    why isn’t enforcement on the list of solutions to this problem?

    Just park some police cars just after these intersections, and issue a bunch of tickets. Keep doing it until people’s habits changed. Cities are plenty willing to do this for things (like turning left where it is not allowed) that impede car traffic.

      1. Rosa

        then maybe enforcement right now, design change later? Enforcement is cheap (or makes the city money), can be pretty instantaneous, and doesn’t require a lot of planning or community meetings.

          1. Nathanael

            The problem is that these are monetary fines. This is stupid. What needs to happen is that reckless driving needs to cause the reckless driver to *stop driving* or *take remedial courses in driving and take the license test again*.

      2. Wayne

        So let’s change the laws to allow camera-based enforcement and outsource it to a private company with a profit motive. You’d better bet they’ll be eagle-eyed for people not stopping when a pedestrian is present.

        Oh wait, we can’t even do that for people running red lights here. Back to the drawing board.

      3. Nathanael

        The problem is that enforcement has a giant hole in the back end. They just let these people off with a fine.

        if these careless, reckless drivers had their licenses revoked, then enforcement would be *doing* something.

        Or if people who let their insurance lapse have their registrations revoked automatically, and had their cars confiscated if they got caught driving them without insurance, then enforcement would be *doing something*.

        What happened to the 4 drivers pulled over with no insurance? (Note, not just “no proof of insurance”, the article said NO INSURANCE!) Did they DRIVE OFF afterwards? Because they should not have!

  4. Joe ScottJoe Scott

    Won’t happen because cops are drivers first and foremost – try and cross in an unmarked crosswalk in front of a cop and see what happens. They won’t yield any more than the average driver – believe me, I’ve tried it. They drive around literally all day long and the vast majority live in the suburbs. Therefore they sympathize with drivers and accept the prevailing driving culture.

    1. Wayne

      Most of them are suburbanites who have the same windshield-view of everything as the drivers who don’t stop. I’ve got a phone full of pictures of cop cars stopped in the middle of crosswalks that I’m still working up the nerve to do something with (because, you know, the police definitely aren’t known for harassing people who talk back or try to keep them in check or anything).

      And yeah, if you scratch someone’s car who nearly kills you, guess who the cop will think did something wrong? It’s not the person who drives just as recklessly as they do. They already barely bother trying to do anything about drivers who plow through crowds of protestors or menace cyclists (did they ever find that white truck that was throwing bricks? No? Big surprise!).

      1. Nathanael

        Get an organization.

        Cops, like most other bully gangs, like to go after loners. They start backing down when you have an organization behind you: lots of people and news media and elected officials and so on.

        Then you can start reporting the criminal cops and trying to get the police chiefs to start making them behave.

        1. Wayne

          I wish I still had that level of optimism about how things *should* work, but when we can’t even get cops who straight up murder someone to be held accountable, I think cops who block crosswalks or park on sidewalks is probably not going to be something they take very seriously.

          And there’s already a large organized group fighting for the more serious issues of police misconduct, but the police don’t seem to be backing down because of it.

          1. Justin

            That’s loser talk! Organization of any kind that pushes back against the cops in favor of the community is good. Don’t let your negativity get in the way.

  5. Sarah Schaleger

    Thank you so much for doing this, Anne! I’m so grateful that there is an organization working on this. As a driver, it’s easy to have tunnel vision about one’s destination, ignoring anything “in the way” of arriving ASAP.

    I’m concerned about traffic circles. Since drivers don’t have to stop, they believe there is no reason to stop at all for pedestrians–and they don’t. YIELD FOR PEDESTRIAN signs must be emplaced at traffic circles.

    After being stopped stopped at a corner for not yielding to a pedestrian, I learned that EVERY intersection is a pedestrian right-of-way–not just cross walks. Drivers need to know this too. So drivers need to be educated or reminded about the pedestrian right of way at: crosswalks, intersections and traffic circles. Thank you for your great work you do for Saint Paul, Minnesota, and our country.

    1. Rosa

      I’m glad it taught you something. Did you start stopping more often? I’m usually a pedestrian but learning to stop for people (especially when other cars don’t stop, tailgate, and often honk if you do stop – or veer around really dangerously) is something I still struggle with. It’s a huge change from “normal” driving.

  6. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    The results in this article are not surprising, especially that some of them were even distracted while driving. I certainly have seen quite a few distracted drivers on streets designed like Montreal. It would be interesting if we had the volunteer time and money to conduct these throughout Saint Paul to look at any patterns within neighborhoods and look seriously at design and what type of streets lead to more distracted driving, what type of streets and neighborhoods have more sharing of street space, etc.

  7. Keith Morris

    I loved reading the petty excuses people gave for ***choosing to maybe kill someone***. Clearly, not only do all intersections in the cities need painted crosswalks, but also billboards on the highway onramps to the cities and big signs for those entering city streets that by law they are required to stop for pedestrians. These always need to be present and rotated around different locations.

    Aside from major physical improvements (bump outs, et al) pedestrians must always cross defensively. I know I do. Also, tossing small rocks in the path of cars, not at cars, is sure to get their attention and from there it should be obvious if they’re slowing down ahead of time or not.

    1. Nathanael

      I have not-quite-seriously suggested installing retractable tire shredders at intersections to prevent cars from running through a crosswalk when they don’t have a green light…

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