Maryland Avenue: The Pedestrian Experience

Maryland Avenue is currently in the midst of a 4-3 conversion trial. You can read more about what led to the trial here and here. Part of the trial includes pedestrian refuges at two intersections. At these locations people walking across have a safe space to wait while drivers notice them and stop their vehicles.

Ramsey County is taking feedback and weighing it heavily. Surprisingly, some people told the county that the new configuration made it harder to cross by foot because there are fewer “gaps.”

Looking for Gaps

A concern about fewer “gaps” underlines a lack of understanding about our pedestrian crossing laws. In section 169.21, Minnesota law states

Where traffic-control signals are not in place or in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk. The driver must remain stopped until the pedestrian has passed the lane in which the vehicle is stopped.”

If a pedestrian is looking for or expected to look for gaps in traffic before crossing, he or she might as well trot the few blocks over to a traffic light. This attitude leads to pedestrians thinking they should run across the street so they don’t inconvenience speeding drivers.

Demonstration Video

I present to you a video demonstrating the experience of crossing Maryland Avenue at three different intersections. This was recorded on Wednesday, July 15, at approximately 5:15pm.


  1. Maryland and Mendota: 3 lane layout with no pedestrian refuge.
  2. Maryland and Greenbrier: 3 lane layout, including a pedestrian refuge.
  3. Maryland and Jessie: 4 lane layout (outside the boundaries of the 4-3 trial)

Final Notes

  • From the video you can’t always see the cars that are stopping because they are slowing from a good distance away. Often you can see me giving a “thank you” wave.
  • At the Greenbrier intersection there was such high visibility that the cars immediately stopped and I did no waiting at all. The pedestrian refuge was not needed for waiting, but it added immensely to both to my comfort and visibility.
  • At Jessie I was extremely uncomfortable. I had low visibility. Once I was in the street I needed to be aware of potential threats coming both directions, and there was no place to feel safe while crossing.

I will let you judge whether the 3 or 4 lane layout is safer for crossing.

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.

17 thoughts on “Maryland Avenue: The Pedestrian Experience

  1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Great post and example video’s Eric!

    @ Greenbriar, were you actually more visible or did all of the stuff for the refuge make drivers more alert for fear of hitting something (other than a person) and damaging their car?

    1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

      I think it’s a combination. With their attention already raised by the stuff but not other cars herding them along I became more visible to them.

  2. crankywalker

    After years of waving to drivers who stop for me in a crosswalk as a pedestrian or cyclist, I’ve stopped.

    My reasoning?

    Why thank someone for following the law? Why thank someone for being a good citizen? Why thank someone for not killing me?

    When I was a kid I used to tell my dad that I mowed the lawn. I was fishing for a compliment. He never gave it. He never thanked me. One day, I got annoyed and asked him why he never thanked me for mowing the lawn. His response? “That’s your job. It has been clearly defined that one of your responsibilities in this family is to mow the lawn. If you had heard that I needed the oil changed in my car, which is my responsibility to change, and you took it upon yourself to do it because you knew I was cramped for time, I would thank you.”

    This made all the sense in the world to me!

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      You are appropriately named.

      I give a wave or a nod because I want to reinforce good behavior. If the driver knows that acting as they are supposed to is appreciated, maybe they will do it again.

      It’s the converse of why I give less amiable feedback to drivers who aren’t paying attention or behaving appropriately.

      1. John Charles Wilson

        Adam, Thank you for standing up to the people who have the attitude that people don’t deserve to be thanked for doing what they’re “supposed” to do. The carrot works so much better than the stick in eliciting good behaviour.

        Crankywalker, I’m sorry your father was such an *******. My parents were like that too. However, I strive to be a better person than that. The world would be so much a nicer place if more people did.

        Imagine a casino where the slot machines sounded a loud buzzer with every losing pull instead of bells with every winning pull. Even with the same odds and payback ratio, they wouldn’t get as many customers as the casinos with the more positive environment.

      2. John Charles Wilson

        Apparently I said something wrong the first time I responded, so I’ll try again, but be more careful not to offend anyone.

        Thank you, Adam, for understanding the usefulness as well as courteousness of thanking people and appreciating good behaviour, whether or not it’s something the person is “supposed” to do.

        My parents were a lot like crankywalker’s father. I think we should all try to be better than that.

      3. Rosa

        I get crankier and crankier too, though. Why thank them for the barebones courtesy of not risking someone else’s death? Do they thank all the other drivers who stop at four way stops? Do I have to be “nice” to deserve not to be hit by a car?

        I understand it’s useful but why is the labor of changing these people’s behavior on pedestrians? Who raised them? Who taught them to drive? Who gave them a license?

  3. John Charles Wilson

    Since we’re talking about Maryland Ave., I’m reminded about my idea for a Maryland Crosstown bus. Currently, there is bus service on Maryland between Payne and White Bear on the 64, and between Rice and Victoria on the 3; however, you have to go downtown to get between the two areas.

    I propose a new bus line from the old 14 terminal at Nebraska and Furness to the old 12/4 terminal at Hamline and Hoyt, via Maryland Avenue from Hazel to Victoria.

    Would any people support this proposal? Why or why not?

    1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

      I don’t see a great deal of destinations along this route outside of the two lakes, which makes me think it would have low ridership for people not transferring once or twice.
      The #54 Extension is supposed to go into service this summer IIRC, which will be an additional bunch of buses along Maryland.
      The Rush Line LPA would have a BRT going from the Bruce Vento Trail and connecting with the Green Line to continue west. Not exactly a direct cross town, but probably a quick transfer.

    2. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

      Or rework the 3A as a crosstown to Nebraska/Furness. Would really increase access to the University and downtown Minneapolis on that side of the metro.

  4. Karen

    Okay, on the median issue, I think it is key to pedestrian value.

    I was skeptical about medians previously, I guess because of how they were so often used only as center islands for grass/trees, to make parkways that were all about cars, a nice driving experience and on newer suburban or redeveloped zones, took away from road with that could have been used for raised/separated bike paths etc.

    But then I walked around newer (less the 70 years old) areas of Amsterdam last week and I fell in love with small raised medians, as pedestrian heaven.

    Of course being Amsterdam, every road had a wide bike path, in the areas developed long after cars ruled the day and the bike paths had their own distinct pavement style. The bike paths were below the sidewalk, then once you crossed the bike path, there was a small raised median, to shelter at before taking on cars, then there one or two lanes of car traffic below the median, and once you got past car lane(s), then another raised center median (or raised tram station area), and the same scenario of multiple raised medians on other side of the street.

    Often the median between sidewalk and bike was a narrow but still very pleasant green space with trees, or there were places for angled street parking.

    These were very wide roads that had a farily high amount of car traffic (more cars than bikes – this is was not central, older town). I had to cross wide roads with lots of cars, but they weren’t wide expanse carscapes like our roads, they weren’t all-one-type and one level of pavement. Rather they were broken up with medians, trees, parked cars etc. I felt very comfortable as a pedestrian, if I made a mistake and stepped in front of a bike, I was one step away from a raised safety of a median.

    Check out these streets, start at this map location and head farther west to see busy intersection with tram. Medians galore.,4.8734925,3a,75y,270h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sjqV_26jSR3w2x0Funxuwfw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    In contrast of days of this type of walking (and biking) in newer parts of Amsterdam, with little concern, despite not understanding a single road side or knowing local traffic rules, just watching your video on Maryland (a street I grew up near) made me scared.

    In Amsterdam I was crossing with higher volumes of cars, with no worries, not at all the feeling your video gives me. Biggest worry was bikes, because I was so not used to looking for them, the bike lanes always felt like a U.S. sidewalk and in quieter areas, had less traffic from bikes than cars so easy to wander into a bike lane with no bikes currently on it..

    Having to just cross on one lane of bike traffic or car traffic usually, before reaching relative safety, made everything easier and less scary and made walking immensely more appealing and safe feeling.

  5. John

    I wish that Minnesota would pass a law that cars would have to come to a stop when a pedestrian steps off the curb. I walk six blocks to and from a light rail station, and crossing certain streets during rush hour is both frightening and time consuming, as nobody is willing to stop.

      1. Rosa

        yeah but nobody ever gets cited for breaking it. Even when they run “stings” the police just give warnings and all the drivers claim they didn’t know they were supposed to stop.

        Like aside from the law there’s no general obligation to not hit people with your car and drivers can’t be expected to even slow down.

        1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

          Just to be clear, during the Stop For Me events they do, indeed, give out speeding tickets. They put up cones and only stop the cars if they didn’t stop from a certain distance. During one of the events the St. Paul attorney was there because there have been questions about whether the tickets would stand up in court.

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