Maryland Avenue Pedestrian Safety Meeting Recap

On May 23rd Erin Durham was killed while trying to cross Maryland Avenue at Greenbrier Street. Just a few days later on June 7th Channy Kek was killed in a crosswalk trying to cross Cayuga in the same St. Paul neighborhood. The Payne-Phalen Transportation Committee hosted a community forum on June 9th to get information and to ask Ramsey County and St. Paul what they will do to make Maryland Avenue safer for all users. Their answers would be relevant to Cayuga and all other county-controlled streets in our city.

In attendance were:

– State Senator Foung Hawj

– Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough

– Ramsey County Engineer Jim Tolaas

– St. Paul Engineer John Maczko

– St. Paul Engineer Paul St Martin

– Scott Renstrom, Ward 6 Legislative Aide (representing Council Member Dan Bostrom)

– SPPD’s Sgt. Jeremy Ellison, running the “Stop For Me” campaign

– SPPD’s Officer Tom Olson, crash investigator

– 72 Community Members


Toward Zero Deaths

There have already been numerous articles written about the “Stop For Me” campaign (try here and here). However, it’s important to note, as Bill Lindeke does here, that one of the “Stop For Me” events was held right at Greenbrier and Maryland, a few weeks before Erin Durham was struck. This demonstrates how limited the impact of these events can be.

The campaign is being funded by a grant from MNDot’s “Toward Zero Deaths” (TZD) campaign, which lists “4 E’s” to reduce traffic-related deaths:

  1. Education
  2. Enforcement
  3. Engineering
  4. Emergency Services

While all of the “4 E’s” are important, the point of this forum was to focus upon engineering. That’s why we invited policy makers and engineers.


Another “Death Road” Pedestrian Fatality

I opened the meeting with a description of the crash that occurred on Maryland Avenue. This was another of the now routine and predictable collisions that occur on 4-lane “death roads” when one car stops for a pedestrian and another does not. The specific details really aren’t important. What’s important is to recognize that she had to cross 4 conflict points without any refuge to help her.


Maryland Avenue, for the majority of its length, is 40 feet wide and divided into four 10 foot lanes. It has long sections without a controlled intersection. It’s mostly residential and has an ADT ranging from 1,800 to 28,500.





Possible Solutions

maryland6Next I suggested some solutions. A simple sign reminding drivers of crosswalk laws was already denied by the city because it’s acknowledged that a 4-lane street is too dangerous to encourage pedestrians to cross. HAWK signals could be a potentially expensive solution but effective for only a single intersection.



Ramsey County is planning to resurface Maryland Avenue this summer between Greenbrier (where Erin Durham was struck) and Johnson Parkway.

What about a road diet? The FHWA lists numerous benefits and only notes negative consequences (diverted traffic) when the ADT is over 20,000. According to previous traffic studies, the ADT of the area to be resurfaced stays between 15,000 and 19,300.



A road diet would convert Maryland from a 4-lane undivided road to a 3-lane street with a center left turn lane.


Some Comments From Officials and Staff

Commissioner McDonough

  • We don’t want to have our system biased for any street users – cars, bikes, or pedestrians
  • We can’t ticket our way out of this problem

Ramsey County Engineer Jim Tolaas

  • Our first priority is safety
  • Engineering won’t be the only fix to the traffic problems on Maryland Avenue
  • Maryland Avenue is an A-minor Arterial by functional classification
  • It is a bus and truck route
  • Committed his department to doing a traffic study to see if a road diet would be possible on any part of Maryland
  • Repeatedly pointed out the threat of aggressive drivers spilling onto side streets if Maryland Avenue becomes congested
  • ADT can’t be the only metric, you have to look at peak traffic counts as well

St. Paul Engineer John Maczko

  • At Public Works safety is prioritized above traffic movement
  • Knew the state rep who wrote the crosswalk law after his wife was killed crossing a street. “She had the right of way, but being right didn’t save her from being killed.”
  • A 4-3 road diet might work on a highway that has few intersections and a consistent traffic flow throughout the day, but Maryland Avenue is a city street with many turning vehicles and high levels of traffic at specific times of day
  • “Complete streets” does not mean “all modes on all roads.” That would mean big trucks on side streets
  • Characterized enforcement tickets as “tuition payments”
  • Cell phones are the new drunk driving

St. Paul Engineer Paul St Martin

  • Confirmed that city policy is to not install pedestrian crossing signs on 4-lane streets.
  • Stated that Public Works staff would reconsider this policy


Testimony From Residents

The first three speakers from the community had the same refrain: crosswalks at unsignalized intersections on Maryland are unsafe and should not exist. While this was initially concerning, it showed that even people who had a pro-car bias understood that the street could not be functional for both pedestrians and drivers as it currently exists.

Next came a mother of two children who said she grew up in Bloomington and moved to the East Side so she could have sidewalks and enjoy walking and biking to get places. She soon found out that Maryland Avenue created an incredible barrier. “It is safer to drive than to walk in our neighborhood, and that is a quality of life issue.”

A retired 3M engineer stated that in his line of work it was never allowed to have this kind of “margin or error.” When it’s clear that a problem exists you fix it. He also said that when they take into consideration the cost of making changes they must also include the cost of human life.

A municipal engineer for another city who lives with his family on Maryland Avenue stated that there is only one real way to make streets safer for pedestrian crossings: reduce the number of conflict points. This could be done with bumpouts, but on Maryland Avenue this is impossible without a 4-3 conversion.

One well known neighborhood conservative called loudly for a HAWK at Greenbrier – partly to replace the parking loss from Edgerton bike lanes. He suggested using money from the “tuition payments” to pay for it. “You can’t do nothing!”

A professional researcher stated that when there is good data to work with there is no need to do another study. Use the data you already have.

One citizen asked whether or not there were engineering fixes to keep the aggressive drivers from being able to use the side streets, but this question never received a response.

One elderly woman had walked to the event along Maryland Avenue and stated that though she didn’t need to cross Maryland Avenue there were three incidents where a car was blocking her crossing path. She knocked on the window of one car to have it back out of her way.

Many residents reported major difficulty crossing the street and seeing children frequently running across Maryland at Greenbrier to get to the playground.


Cleveland Avenue Speed Limit

In reference to Ramsey County’s attitude in general toward safe streets, someone asked about the speed limit on Cleveland Avenue. The St. Paul City Council voted to reduce the speed to 25mph with the addition of bike lanes, but Ramsey County refused the speed limit change.

Jim Tolaas responded with two main points:

  1. It is important to have consistent speeds in an area and along a road – otherwise people will become confused
  2. The posted speed limit doesn’t really matter anyway, since people will drive the speed that is comfortable to them. The only real way to reduce the speed is to narrow the roadway.

Soon after, a resident called this “double speak” and said it was contradictory. If the posted speed limit doesn’t matter, so it was said, there would be no problem actually reducing from 30 to 25mph. This topic wasn’t pursued further since the speaker changed subjects.

What wasn’t immediately brought up is why this same line of reasoning wasn’t being applied to excessive speeds on Maryland Avenue. If only engineering can slow cars, what will be done to slow cars on what many called a “speedway”?


Forum Conclusion

At the end Jim Tolaas restated that the Public Works Department would do a traffic study and Commissioner McDonough committed to seeking some easy additions, such as a radar speed sign.


A radar speed sign NOT on Maryland Avenue


Signs of Progress?

The very next day after the forum the pedestrian signs the city said it wouldn’t install on a 4-lane road were already in place along with a radar speed sign at Greenbrier and Maryland. When I went to take a picture I immediately noticed 4 pedestrians trying to cross the street.


4 pedestrians wait to cross. Pedestrians signs are in place. Notice the memorial for the pedestrian who was killed on the left.



Drivers are oblivious or belligerent as two pedestrians cross.



Girls wait for a break in traffic.



A police car stops. Run, girls! Is this what we mean by enforcement?!?

Does the fact that nobody but the police officer stopped for these four pedestrians mean that the city was right to not install pedestrian safety signs? Or does it mean that we were REALLY right that this street does not function for pedestrian crossings and that it needs actual engineered improvements?



The key piece to follow up on is to make sure the promised study does not just consider the LOS (“level of service”) of cars at peak times of the day. Since this forum was precipitated by the death of a pedestrian and focused upon the difficulties of being a pedestrian in our neighborhood, the promised study really needs to include a multi-modal LOS, using something like the tool developed in the 2010 Highway Capacity Manual.

In addition, if this study provides data to support the argument that a road diet would cause significant overflow onto side streets, a plan should be developed that mitigates this overflow and frustrates drivers’ attempts to aggressively zoom through side streets as an alternative. While costly, MNDot estimates the cost of a fatal crash to be $10,600,000. And, of course, the cost to Erin Durham and her two children cannot be calculated.

Eric Saathoff

About Eric Saathoff

Eric Saathoff is a public school teacher living in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul. He is a regular walker, cyclist, transit user, and driver with his wife and three young children. Eric serves on the Payne-Phalen Community Council and the St Paul Transportation Committee.

20 thoughts on “Maryland Avenue Pedestrian Safety Meeting Recap

  1. Rosa

    Thank you for the summary!

    How do they know we can’t ticket our way out of this? Have they tried? I keep seeing this refrain but what’s the evidence? You just gave evidence the pedestrian signs don’t work. We have firm evidence lack of signs doesn’t work. Is there evidence ticketing is less effective?

  2. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

    “We don’t want to have our system biased for any street users – cars, bikes, or pedestrians”

    Well we’re about 60 years too late to design for that ideal. Cars are far too dominant on these death roads, and Ramsey County is responsible.

  3. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

    This is a fantastic article about a really important issue. I think that it’s worth noting to organizers everywhere that this is the kind of ground up grass roots activity that really can change the entire history of a city.

    People talk about Amsterdam being a pedestrian city, but HOW it became the famous city it is today came about because of circumstances very similar to this. Essentially, people were dying because of cars and parents and neighbors started to say, “Hey government officials, we’ve had enough. Design this better. We care about the future we leave for our children.”

    Bravo for the hard work organizing and thanks for writing this to give wider education and awareness to the need for road diets and better street design.

  4. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

    St. Paul Engineer Maczko has it wrong when he says “A 4-3 road diet might work on a highway that has few intersections and a consistent traffic flow throughout the day, but Maryland Avenue is a city street with many turning vehicles and high levels of traffic at specific times of day”

    A city street with many intersections is precisely where a 4-3 conversion makes the most sense. It eliminates the most weaving. I realize it’s ridiculously popular in the suburbs (because hey, extra asphalt is fun!) but there’s actually not a need for a center LTL for long distances of roadway without intersections… The whole point is to create space for people waiting to …. TURN!

    Anyways, I’m so thankful I live in Hennepin County. They’ve been great on restriping plans for a 4 Lane Death Road in my neighborhood, planned for September. Seriously, Hennepin County shows how it’s done, finding opportunities for safety and improvement even in the smallest mill and overlay projects. Ramsey County, go send your folks across the river and have them shadow Bob Byers for a while in the Hennepin transportation engineering department.

    1. Monte Castleman

      Is it possible he was talking about right turns? With 40 feet and three 10 foot lanes, that only leaves 5 feet on either side. A car slowing down or stopping to make a right turn is going to blockage the only through lane, whereas now traffic can move out of the way into the left lane.

      Also the road in your neighborhood carries substantially less traffic than Maryland.

      1. Eric SaathoffEric S

        Yes, the ability to switch lanes and go around a slowing vehicle is one of the main reasons for these kinds of pedestrian crashes.

      2. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

        ~16k aadt vs ~19k peak aadt doesn’t seem “susbantially” different in my book.

        But you’re right, this is even more of an opportunity to get rid of death-inducing traffic on Maryland.

  5. Dean Chamberlain

    I’ve been thinking about this some more since the meeting. I wonder if the following cross-section could work on Maryland:

    8′ parking lane
    10′ through lane
    4′ median
    10′ through lane
    8′ parking lane

    The median would go through many of the minor intersections closing off left turns and cross-street through traffic. There would be crosswalks at each minor intersection with a median refuge so that a pedestrian could cross one direction of Maryland at a time. At each minor intersection, a bump out would be provided eliminating the parking lane within say 20′ of the crosswalk. At more major intersections (and maybe at some intermediate intersections), the parking lane would be eliminated, and a left turn lane would be provided. Eliminating left turns at minor intersections would increase safety for both cars and pedestrians since the conflict points at the intersection would be reduced.

    Thoughts? Not sure where there is a similar concept in practice in the area…

    1. Eric SaathoffEric S

      This is intriguing. One thing to note is that with the widening that has already taken place most of the “major” intersections between 35E and White Bear Ave already have an extra lane.

      One place that stands out to people in our part of the neighborhood is Golden Harvest grocery store ( It’s not even at an intersection, but people turning left into the parking lot create big back ups and there are frequently car accidents here. I suppose restricting left turns into the grocery store could eliminate a lot of that. So could a turn lane.

      While I would really love to see bike lanes I realize that they would lead to narrow lanes close together. Is there anywhere else in the cities that has 5|10|10|10|5 after a road diet?

      Also, the 10′ center lane could easily be turned into pedestrian refuges / traffic diverters at the “minor” intersections.

      West of Rice Street there is already street parking, so this proposal would just require adding a median to narrow the driving lanes.

      1. Yingya

        Dear Eric S., Golden Harvest is a small Hmong business is extremely popular and is in high demand of the community, we should not be targeting the locals. Restricting left turns into the grocery store would deliberately be cutting the store’s business and creating traffic elsewhere. If this were a white business, I don’t think it would get the same negativity. Small local white businesses that only have street parking also causes delays and congestion aren’t forced to restrict customers from coming in.
        Pedestrian safety is a big issue on Maryland though, I suggest working with the Stop For Me campaign to ticket drivers and create awareness in this area.

        1. Eric SaathoffEric S

          I enjoy Golden Harvest and don’t wish to express any negativity toward the business. I actually was trying to talk to the owner so that he could promote the idea of a turn lane to help customers gets more safely into his parking lot. There are problems with the traffic outside of the store that are not necessarily the owner’s or customer’s fault but a reality based upon the entrances and the design of the street.

          At this point I favor a turn lane, which I think would majorly benefit Golden Harvest. But if a median were put in place to direct drivers to other ways to get into the parking lot it would probably be better than it is now.

        2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          One thing about businesses on the East Side on the busy streets is that, when it’s impossible to cross the street, it really restricts how people can access the stores. I can think of lots of examples of this, East 7th, Maryland, and White Bear in particular are difficult to cross and so it cuts down on people walking to the stores.

          1. Eric SaathoffEric S

            This is very true. We lived close to Mendota, and it should have been a very quick walk to Golden Harvest, but it seemed much longer by adding the extra two blocks each way to get to a light so we could safely cross Maryland.

        3. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

          The Wedge Co-op is a non-ethnic business (you could even say it’s about as white as it gets in some ways) and it gets supershade from myself and many others about their awful left turn off of Lyndale – a very similar traffic predicament.

          If you had a three lane profile in front of your store, it’s entirely possible a left turn lane could allow traffic to queue and wait for a safe space to turn into the parking lot. This is called a 3/4 intersection, is a huge safety improvement, and doesn’t affect access (only a minor change in egress).

  6. Paul Nelson

    I would like to make a distinction between engineering and design. The overlap might provoke confusion, but the trained engineers may not have been schooled to design roads for anything other than moving cars fast. If we envision Maryland as a public way and designed it to move the bicycle separate from walk and separate from moving motor vehicles, how would this look, and do we have the ROW space to do it?

    John Mazko was quoted as stating: “Complete streets” does not mean “all modes on all roads.” That would mean big trucks on side streets.” I think that line of reasoning is in error. If we designed at all of our streets, roads, highways, expense-ways, to move bike and walk safely, and accommodate ambulances and fire engines, would we still have room to accommodate other cars and trucks?

    I think with Maryland, if we look at the design of median protected bike lanes and sidewalks, would there be room for a three lane conversion for motor vehicle traffic? Of course. It would cost more.

    It might have been nice if one or more of the “big guns” of design like Gil Penalosa, Janette Sadik Khan, or Mikael Colville Anderson were present at the meeting, But I think we can learn a few things at the grass roots level and and accomplish the very best roadway design.

  7. Eric SaathoffEric S

    Here’s an article from the East Side Review regarding this:

    Hidden toward the end of the article:

    “In a later interview, Ramsey County communications director John Siqveland said: “Ramsey County Public Works is committed to conducting a corridor study of the lane configuration of Maryland Avenue from Interstate 35E to White Bear Avenue. A corridor study looks at not only at auto, bike and pedestrian traffic on Maryland, but also all of the connecting streets, driveways and alleys, nearby parallel streets, crosswalks, bikeways, signalization, etc.”

    He said public works is in the process of hiring a new traffic engineer, who will be studying traffic on and near Maryland Avenue, with the plan to finish the study this year.”

  8. Stephen Durham

    I am Erin’s father. I am very much interested in an outcome that will improve safety for pedestrians. Please, if you will, keep me up to date with progress reports. Thank you.

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