Who would have guessed that a new, more intentional approach to pedestrian safety in Saint Paul would lead to fewer marked crosswalks? Sounds counterintuitive, right?
When Ramsey County repaved the stretch of Lexington Parkway that serves as one bookend for the Lex-Ham neighborhood, they used the city’s evolving draft Pedestrian Plan to guide their treatment for intersections. Consequently, Lex-Ham lost five marked crosswalks in a 15-block segment this September.
For some context, the crossings on Lexington Parkway had previously been made from brick inlay that was probably favored for its aesthetic appeal at the time of installation. Over time, the bricks came loose and become dangerous obstacles in the road. Residents were eager for safer, more visible crosswalks.
When discussing the approaching roadwork with Lex-Ham’s Community Council leadership during 2016 and 2017, City and County staff considered decorative crossings and newer reflective technology to replace the bricks. In the end, cost was prioritized and the “continental” or “zebra” painted style was chosen. It wasn’t until just before the the construction began that the elimination of the crossings was mentioned. Even then, it was stated that Ramsey County would paint “crosswalks and stop bars at all intersections with traffic signals” leaving neighbors to calculate the loss of the five previously marked crossings that would not be striped.
This segment of Lexington includes Central High School, which draws students walking from every direction, J.J. Hill Elementary School, Oxford Recreation Center, access to the Green Line Light Rail, a weekly farmer’s market near Summit, businesses near University, and a bus line. In recent years, two students have been struck by moving cars while in crosswalks.
To me, this context certainly requires walkability. After the Lex-Ham Community Council advocated for the crossings to be painted based on these factors, the City and County have committed to treating (i.e. painting new crosswalks and adding a lighted beacon) at only one intersection in the near future.
To explain the disappearance, Fay Simer, the Pedestrian Safety Advocate for the City, has created a formula used to determine safe treatment for crossings. Multiple factors are used to determine what is required to make each crossing safer including vehicle counts, pedestrian counts, number of lanes, the presence of a raised median, and speed limit. Based on these factors, a prescribed treatment is suggested (not mandated) for safe crossings which may include curb modification, light beacons, signage, and more. In other words, adding paint would not be enough.
When studying data, engineers’ opinions differ on whether painting an intersection alone makes it safer for pedestrians. Although pedestrian counts have not been taken on Lexington, there is an assumption that it would not meet the thresholds necessary to warrant treating the intersections with the more expensive counter-measures. (Those thresholds are 20 people per peak hour, or 10 elderly/youth per peak hour).
On Lexington Parkway, the formula could potentially be changed based on the City’s ordinance for reduced speed limits on Parkways. This might mean that painted crossings would be sufficient.
But according to Erin Laberee of Ramsey County, MNDOT would likely increase the speed if they conducted a traffic study, rather than reduce it. As MNDOT is responsible for determining the speed limit on county roads and they use the “80th Percentile Rule”, it’s likely that they would change the limit to match the speed of 80% of the vehicles using the road.
Is this madness?
In my opinion, yes it is.
There are many indicators that our City leadership wants our streets to be more walkable and safe for pedestrians, but reducing marked crosswalks seems to send the opposite message.
Yes, it would be ideal if every motorist understood that they are required by law to stop for pedestrians at every intersection (marked or not), but that is not yet widely understood. While working toward a more educated and compliant public regarding yielding to pedestrians through the Stop for Me Campaign and other initiatives, paint should be applied more generously so that pathways are visible and motorists come to expect to watch for people at intersections. Visual cues at crossings send the message that we expect people to be able to navigate our city without vehicles. Removing visual cues accomplishes the opposite objective.
A little post-script: Ramsey County actually marked the crossings by accident once construction was complete and then “unmarked” them with black paint leaving five intersections with ghost crosswalks as a reminder of what we once had.