Last Sunday, as Barbara Ann Mahigel crossed Nicollet Avenue to meet her husband for their 52nd anniversary dinner celebration, a car fatally struck her. Her death raises important policy questions for the City of Minneapolis. How will the City’s elected officials and staff honor the memory of Barbara by doing all they can to prevent the next similar tragedy? To show that Barbara’s death will not be just another statistic and to reduce additional pedestrian fatalities, city staff and elected officials must implement critical changes.
One change could occur quickly: Minneapolis could dedicate police resources to traffic safety enforcement. Enforcement would remind drivers to follow speed limits and yield when pedestrians have the right-of-way. Police already spend countless hours responding to crashes after they happen. Dedicated budget resources would allow police to apply the preventative medicine of enforcement to reduce unnecessary loss of life.
To ensure longer lasting infrastructure change, Minneapolis could prioritize pedestrian safety by maximizing safety features when streets are redesigned and rebuilt. Narrower streets reduce speeding, and lower speeds result in fewer crashes, and fewer fatalities. With a different street design, Barbara might have avoided, or at least survived, the crash that took her life.
Less than ten years ago, Nicollet Avenue was reconstructed. The design initially included key pedestrian safety provisions like curb bump-outs and narrower lanes. Unfortunately, as the design was finalized, the City dropped the bump-outs and widened the lanes. Less than a decade later, Barbara was killed crossing Nicollet Avenue. While we cannot go back in time and re-decide how to build Nicollet Avenue, the City can learn from the experience, and prioritize pedestrian safety measures in future street redesigns.
Just two days after Barbara was killed, a City Council committee met to discuss the rebuilding of Glenwood Avenue. There was discussion between Council Members and Hennepin County staff about the trade-offs of wider spaces that encourage speeding, and narrower streets that could save lives. (Glenwood is managed by the County, thus their involvement in the project.) Three committee members voted against a design that failed to maximize safety for all drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. The other three committee members voted for a design that, like Nicollet, represents a compromise. They voted for a design that makes some improvements compared to current conditions, but falls short of creating the safest possible street for the context. Because the committee’s vote was tied, a design that fails to maximize safety will advance to the next step in the approval process.
On December 9, all 13 City Council members will vote on the layout for Glenwood Avenue.
If Glenwood Avenue were a restaurant instead of a street, the City would apply strict rules to its construction and operation. Some have argued that the City doesn’t “own” Glenwood Avenue and therefore Minneapolis should silently defer to Hennepin County. However, in the case of a restaurant, the City would disregard such arguments. Nearly all of the City’s life-saving inspections are completed on properties the City neither owns nor pays to build. The City regularly enforces its policies on other people’s property. The fact that Hennepin County manages Glenwood Avenue on behalf of the residents who pay for it does not diminish the City’s role in ensuring the street’s safety.
Elected officials voting on Glenwood Avenue’s redesign must understand that their vote sends an unmistakable message about their commitment to public safety. Their votes should protect the safety of all street users, reduce preventable deaths, and make Glenwood Avenue and other Minneapolis streets as safe as possible. The City of Minneapolis can and should avoid another Barbara Mahigel tragedy.