Lexington Parkway Crosswalks are Unanticipated Pedestrian Plan Collateral

Lexington Crosswalk 3

A formerly marked crosswalk on Lexington Parkway.

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.

Lexington Crosswalk 2

Only one crossing on Lexington will be marked and painted after the re-paving.

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.

10 thoughts on “Lexington Parkway Crosswalks are Unanticipated Pedestrian Plan Collateral

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Regarding speed limits: I don’t know that Lexington Parkway could qualify for the “park road” exception to our speed law, that allows a 25 mph speed limit. A park road is ” that portion of a street or highway located entirely within the park boundaries of a city, county, regional, or state park.”

    The curving section through Como Park would qualify. But the wide section discussed in this article, despite the name, is not a park road — it’s just a nicely landscaped thoroughfare.

    The current speed limit is 30 mph, which for a road like that (divided 4/5-lane) seems ambitious already.

    I am disappointed to hear about the crosswalks, although I will not miss the broken-down brick ones. St. Paul in general seems to mark uncontrolled crosswalks widely, so I am surprised to hear of several removed here.

    1. codyzwief

      This is just sort of a sidenote to the article and your comment, but the curving section of Lexington through Como Park is getting more pedestrian crosswalks. Como/Horton/Lexington has ‘walk sign before green light’ signals installed now, and there’s a new pedestrian crosswalk with flashing lights set to go in between Como Pavillion and the golf course/Cozy’s Pub sometime before winter starts.

  2. Zack

    Had really been wondering about this – thanks for doing a lot of work and digging to put together this nice, albeit very frustrating, summary. Seems like a great example of policies that while perhaps well-intentioned, end up turning out pretty poorly. Not only do the new crossings look worse than the original bricks, they also lack the tactile sense of crossing an intersection for people driving and that they haven’t at bare minimum been striped seems like a big loss.

  3. David Kratz

    There have been studies showing that drivers become, for lack of a better word, numb to crosswalks when there are too many. I don’t have specifics but that is a factor that engineers very likely brought up.

    1. Rosa

      Minnesota drivers are “numb” to crosswalks anyway. Some SPEED UP when they see you trying to cross. Marked or unmarked.

      It seems like drivers lack of law following shouldn’t be an argument for taking away pedestrian facilities – it should be an argument for either more enforcement (all these crosswalk-non-stoppers who get stopped and claim they didn’t know the law – do police even run their plates to see if they’ve been stopped for similar before? Or put the non-ticket stop on their record?) or for taking away driving facilities, like having fewer lanes.

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      I also think there are some design differences that are important, such as this parkway/boulevard situation here with a wide median in the middle of the street.

      1. Rosa

        a safety island makes a HUGE difference. But I hear there are places in the world where drivers stop for painted crosswalks, too.

        A friend of mine in Denver got a ticket for having stopped blocking the crosswalk. She was so mad but I find just the idea entrancing. I can’t believe any Minnesota driver has ever gotten a ticket for that.

  4. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

    So I’ve been wondering about this for a couple of years now:
    – if every intersection is a legal crosswalk what is the message we send to pedestrians and motorists if we only mark some of them?
    – would we be better off if we either marked *all* or *none*?

    I think the other treatments described for safer crossing could definitely be employed in areas with higher peak use, but the existence or lack of paint seems to signal to many people where it’s ok to cross and where it isn’t.

  5. Steve Gjerdingen

    If it were up to me I would prefer way more refuge medians and would be less concerned about having a visually marked crosswalk.

    I think the trade-off here is that cars are less likely to stop at unmarked crosswalks, I think (perhaps research can back this?) but that pedestrians are safer at unmarked crosswalks. So they are safer but also probably less likely to use it because fewer cars will stop for them.

    Not sure that’s the best trade-off…

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