I’m Really Disliking Traffic Engineers Today

Last Thursday afternoon I was driving westbound on West 7th Street (Highway 5) in St Paul. As I approached the crossing in front of Mickey’s Diner, I saw someone crossing in the crosswalk from Mickey’s towards the bus stop on the north side.

Unsignalized crossing of four lanes of fast traffic on West 7th Street in St Paul.

Unsignalized crossing of four lanes of fast traffic on West 7th Street in Saint Paul.

As I watched him cross, I was thinking what an awful crossing that is and how much I’d hate to cross there with four lanes of quite fast traffic and most drivers fairly unaware that the crossing even exists.

A few seconds later he was lying on the ground in the right westbound lane. 3/4’s of the way to his destination.

From two cars back I was unable to tell exactly what happened. From what I could see, I assume that this was an overtaking hit. The car in the left lane stopped for him and the car in the right lane continued to overtake and then hit him. Sadly quite common with two lanes of traffic in the same direction and no traffic signals. Or even with signals and someone turning right on red — as usual without stopping, as I witnessed yesterday on Snelling and Van Buren, this time a near miss with only a few inches to spare for the pedestrian.

Traffic Engineers

To expect someone to cross 4 lanes of 50+ mph traffic safely without traffic signals is nuts. Yet that’s exactly what traffic engineers have given us.

OSHA vs Traffic Engineers

I’d guess that OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, would not allow something this dangerous in a factory or other workplace.

Why do we allow average citizens to face such human created danger when we’d not let trained factory workers?

Traffic Engineers Again

They’ve made walking dangerous, and so most people don’t do it because it feels too dangerous, stressful, and unpleasant.

I’ll spare you another bit on what engineers elsewhere do and why US roads result in so many more people being killed and injured.

Satellite image of the crossing on West 7th Street in St Paul.

Satellite image of the crossing on West 7th Street in Saint Paul.

So, what could we do differently to make this crossing safer?

  1. Force motor traffic to fit the crossing. One lane in each direction, a speed of 25 mph, 8.5’ wide traffic lanes (with no curb reaction distance) to help enforce speed, a wide curb protected pedestrian refuge.
  2. Can’t do that, you say? We could put some flashing beacons in, but I’m not sure they are really very effective.
  3. If we want to keep the two lanes in each direction then we need to put in full signals. A Green/Yellow/Red head for each lane in each direction. That’s 4 signal heads and associated poles, cables, electronics and maintenance. I’m guessing about $100k given government overpayment for stuff.

Number 3 too expensive?  Number 1 cause too much of a negative impact on motor vehicle traffic? I guess we’ve begun the process of determining the value of a person’s life.


Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at localmile.org, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN