A Dangerous Crossing in Coon Rapids

One Month Later: A RRFB Crossing Failed

Just over a month after I wrote a post criticizing county traffic engineers for a half-baked attempt at protecting pedestrians and cyclists crossing busy streets, I unfortunately was proven right by a crossing in Anoka County.

On November 20 two girls crossing Highway 47 at Pederson Drive in St. Francis were struck at the crosswalk where rectangular rapid flash beacons (RRFBs) are installed. The RRFBs were flashing when the girls attempted to cross. Highway 47 is a divided four-lane highway with a speed limit of 50 miles per hour. Previously this crossing only had regular beacons installed. There is absolutely no excuse for this crossing to only receive RRFBs, which even on four-lane roads with slower traffic in Bloomington and Edina I know have failed to make drivers stop and make pedestrians and cyclists like me feel safe. Not even Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons (also known as HAWK beacons), which have a solid red light, would be enough for this type of crossing. Unfortunately, it has taken these two girls getting hit for something to finally be done. Residents of the community hope to receive funding for a pedestrian bridge.

Screen Shot 2018 11 22 At 11.04.50 Pm

This is the crossing in 2011. A regular beacon is activated by a pedestrian or cyclist pushing a button. This crossing was later upgraded to RRFBs, but are still a half-baked attempt at making this crossing safer.

It’s appalling that it takes tragedies such as this before real investment is made to protect pedestrians and cyclists who only have their flesh and bone to protect them, not thousands of pounds of metal. I hope the traffic engineers and politicians who thought RRFBs were good enough for this crossing, or gave the same old excuse of limited funding, feel guilty for not doing enough.

The suburbs, and even Minneapolis and St. Paul, have a long way to go before they can claim to be truly pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

About Eric Ecklund

Eric has lived in Bloomington his whole life (besides 4 months studying in Oslo, Norway). With a Bachelors in Urban Studies from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, his future career is in transportation planning and he is heavily invested in Twin Cities transit from trying different bus routes to continuously examining how to improve the transit network in the Twin Cities.

53 thoughts on “One Month Later: A RRFB Crossing Failed

  1. Lou Miranda

    Terrible tragedy. RRFBs are the sharrows of pedestrian safety. The lesson? You can’t “suggest” motorists give up their right of way, you have to take it.

    So now they’re going to inconvenience pedestrians with a bridge that few people will use? Not sure that will increase safety.

    Heaven forbid we should slow the cars down. We can’t have that.

    1. commissar

      i think we should bridge the cars over pederson. this is a very rural area, and transit is just about nonexistent. cars are the only viable means of transport.

      1. Jeb RachJeb Rach

        We have very different ideas of what “very rural” means. This intersection has businesses on the other side that youth may want to go to, either for lunch, between school and after-school activities, or to just hang out after school or stop at before their parents can come pick them up. There also appear to be a decent number of houses within biking distance, and a middle schooler should be able to bike to school fairly easily if it’s within a reasonable biking distance.

        It’s no Minneapolis or St. Paul school, but it’s not Lac qui Parle Valley High School either.

          1. Lou Miranda

            And this attitude of state & county engineers has to stop.

            This is a land use & transportation issue. Did planners think it would be good to have a school across the highway so it wouldn’t be next to any single family homes?

            Why isn’t that whole stretch of St. France Blvd. that’s “in town”, from Ambassador Blvd. to Norris Lake Rd., a 25 mph zone? Encourage denser businesses there. When you’re driving by slowly, you’re more likely to see something and stop to look or buy. Once stopped and walking around, you’re more likely to do more shopping.

            Sure, keep it a highway next to farms and low-density uses, but it should be a slow, safe street next to housing, businesses, & schools.

            1. commissar

              my guess, school came first. the reason they have not lowered the limit, is because it’s currently uncontrolled, amongst other reasons. i’d bet the housing there was built within the past 10 or so years, and the bureaucratic processes of the state have not caught up yet. currently, i think the city is pushing for a stoplight there.

  2. Rosa

    So is the driver going to lose his license, or go to jail? Until we have real consequences for these incidents, they won’t stop.

      1. Bob Jones

        Are you joking? Had he stopped FOR THE CROSSWALK, which was also required by law, there would have been no accident at all…

        1. commissar

          assuming he was able to see and process what the flashers meant in time. cut to 1:13 in the kare 11 video, and you see just how little recognitiona nd reaction time there is. needs advance warning, probably at least a stoplight as well

          1. Rosa

            if he can’t see and process flashers, or fail to hit human-sized things marked by flashing lights, then he was driving “too fast for conditions”

            We can’t set speed limits so high (and give out licenses like candy – what are the chances a 62 year old Minnesota driver has had to pass either a practical or written driving test in the last 30 years? I haven’t been asked to do either since I moved here in 1999) that the onus is on drivers to make sure they’re not hitting people, and also have no consequences when they do.

            1. commissar

              it’s an improper application of RRFBs.human reaction time was not considered in the engineering. and the limit is still 50 because

              A: st francis is istill predominately rural
              B: those houses are only 12 years old, based off google earth imagery. the state hasn’t had time to evaluate traffic conditions to lower the speed limit. there’s a process to it.

              1. Rosa

                don’t the humans involved have to gauge their own ability at all? Is there no responsibility when you get behind the wheel? The speed limit is a legal maximum, not a requirement, even though people drive like it’s required to go at least that fast.

                1. commissar

                  right, but when the speed is safe all but one time going through, how do you know it;s an issue? the problem with the RRFBs is that they don’t work really well above 35mph, and it only gets worse going higher. a traffic light would be more suitable for all users, with advance warning flashers, to ensure enough reaction and braking time

  3. Chip JenneChip Jenne

    Thanks for your piece, Eric!

    A physical impediment requiring cars to slow down would go a long way to solving this problem. Roundabouts work. Much of Europe gets it. Washington State has been getting it. Wisconsin got it and really ramped up use to great avail until the GOP brain geniuses slowed or stopped their use in recent years. Old people and any kind of trucking hate them. That’s NIMBYism of a different form.

    The intersection in St. Francis appears to be an ideal spot for a roundabout. I hope Tim Walz appoints a public safety commissioner with the foresight to begin widespread implementation. It will save pedestrian and passenger lives.

    1. commissar

      lol, this is rural. you can’t really be slowing down a state highway in a rural area for a little used crossing. instead, noting the proximity to the schools, perhaps bridging 47 over pederson would be a better solution

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        This is not rural. If it was rural, you wouldn’t have children walking between a school and another neighborhood or shopping area on the other side.

        This “state trunk highway” car sewer carries 10,300 vehicles per day on average. Each one a 50-60 MPH missile flying through an area that has been urbanized for better or worse. I’ve taken TH 47 back to Minneapolis from the lake, and I’ve driven past here numerous times. There are two lane streets in my neighborhood that carry nearly double the traffic volumes at half the speed, and it works fine.

        1. commissar

          dude. look at it on gmaps. it’s mostly farm, a couple of subdivisions. pederson is only really side access to the school and shopping center. put a stoplight at 233rd, and add a right in right out to the shopping center. if you completely disconnect pederson from 47, there’s no danger to pedestrians, now is there?

      2. Jeb RachJeb Rach

        Highway 47 both north and south of town appear to be two-lane, at least looking at Google Maps satellite view. Instead of spending millions of dollars so that pedestrians can climb a bridge to walk safely across the bridge, maybe we could narrow the street to 3-lane and lower the designed speed of the road to 30 mph for the 0.7 miles (between 233rd and 227th) that it’s currently 4-lane?

          1. Jeb RachJeb Rach

            If the road is actually redesigned so it feels unsafe to go much above 30MPH, then yes. Otherwise, if all that’s changed is that it’s on one side of the divided portion or the other, but traffic is facing each other, I’d expect most people to still drive well above 30MPH.

              1. Jeb RachJeb Rach

                And? If anything, that means that we need to find a way to slow down traffic and makes the road safer, not only for pedestrians but also for vehicles to turn! 4 lane to 3 lane (one each direction + center turn lane) conversions are frequently done on roads with higher vehicle volume, and it’s shown good results.

                Perhaps on this particular stretch a better option would be to do two lanes (one each direction) with a roundabout at Pederson to slow down traffic and allow pedestrians to cross one lane at a time. It’d also make turns safer since the risk of t-bone collisions is greatly reduced. 229th could drop to a single thru lane (keeping left/right turn lanes) and then 227th could become a roundabout due to what appears to be high turning traffic, similar to what was done in Alexandria at McKay and Hazel Hill Rd.

                Considering how little through traffic there is comparatively, it seems prudent to slow down traffic to makes things safer for local traffic, including pedestrians and bicyclists.

          2. Rosa

            if they don’t, and they hit people, they should at the very least lose all their driving privileges and at most go to prison.

            Why do we allow drivers to routinely and blatantly break safety laws and suffer no consequences?

            1. Frank Phelan

              Because it’s a middle class crime. And a lot of people can see themselves in that situation, so they don’t want to suffer jail time if they are guilty of that.

              Same deal for drunk driving.

    1. Janne

      Moderator here. Avoid any comments that imply blame rests on victims of crashes; that is an attack on the victims. I’m highlighting our core values, an in particular people-centered and justice-driven

      People-centered: transportation and public spaces should center on people rather than private vehicles

      Justice-driven: cities, towns, and streets should empower and include people of all ages, especially the vulnerable and marginalized

      Please focus on learning – why did this happen, what could be done differently, which solutions are shown to work, etc. – in the comments.

      1. Monte Castleman

        If we automatically exclude collecting data on what the pedestrians did or did not do then we’re lacking the data needed to prevent crashes in the future. For example if it was revealed that a pedestrian didn’t push a button then we would never have any justification for automatic pedestrian detectors and we wouldn’t have any data on whether the flashing lights work or do not work.

        As far as “people centered transportation” saying people centered transportation excludes private vehicles is an oxymoron that most people use private vehicles for transportation.

      2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        > “Please focus on learning – why did this happen, what could be done differently, which solutions are shown to work, etc. – in the comments.”

        The original question seems like it is about why did this happen. I am also curious if the lights were flashing. It does not change the driver’s obligation to stop nor the pedestrian’s right to cross safely, but it does change what solutions we might see to fix the problem here.

        A solution I would like to see implemented more widely is passive detection for RRFBs. They have added RRFBs to the two new roundabouts in downtown Richfield, and from my casual observation, much of the time pedestrians don’t use the button. Most of the time this works fine, too, since speeds are relatively well-managed and drivers expect to see pedestrians. However, it is a shame to have the equipment and not use it.

        For these more isolated rural / high speed roundabouts, passive detection can be even more important — and likely easier to implement, since there will be less false detection of pedestrians waiting at bus stops, etc.

        NOTE: I have occasionally been involved in a moderator role. This comment is not left in a moderator hat on.

        1. Eric Ecklund Post author

          According to all of the articles I’ve read the lights were flashing when the two girls attempted to cross. That makes me wonder how on Earth that driver did not see those lights. Unless you’re completely oblivious, blind, or looking in a completely different direction, it’s hard not to see those lights flashing. Maybe the lights were dim? If that were the case, then that’s an ever bigger failure on the traffic engineers and maybe the people who manufacture these crossing lights.

          1. Monte Castleman

            OK. The linked article didn’t make that clear so now we have that data and can start looking at solutions.

            In your earlier article you advocated for HAWKs. Since the person in the car ran the flashing lights maybe that is a good solution if we can’t afford a pedestrian bridge.

      3. commissar

        “People-centered: transportation and public spaces should center on people rather than private vehicles”

        that’s not really practical is this area. you have a couple square miles of subdivision and town,a t best, surrounded by farmland. it is inherently, for the most part, unwalkable, and not anywhere near the density transit needs. so, your only real solution is to accommodate pedestrians where they are common (like here, where you got schools), but still need to plan for private vehicular traffic.

          1. commissar

            and i fully agree. but you’re not likely to see the same solutions as in the inner city;. a stoplight with advance warning would really help. problem with RRFBs or HAWKs a this intersection, is that people will just push the button, and start walking, but the cars need reaction time at these speeds. just an unsuitable application of a good technology.

  4. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    My thoughts are with the victims and their families, and hope for quick and complete healing.

    This is foremost a land use failure, not an RRFB failure. There should be criminal liability for the city, DOT, and any other entities or people who contributed to a situation where there’s a 50 MPH expressway separating schools, shopping, and housing.

    The RRFB is not the problem, because it is not the solution to the problem. It would be like saying band-aids are worthless because they are of no use when someone loses a limb. While a bridge would be a more suitable fix, not even “lack of bridge” is the root problem here.

    The root problem is a 50 MPH expressway bifurcating an urbanized area.

        1. commissar

          then you have a quite warped view of urban (it literally says . sorry dude, i’ve been in anoka county most of my life… the southern third is very much suburban, and there’s some exurban areas, but the majority of the northern half is farms and rural housing. it’s so spread out, there’s not usually a whole lot of pedestrian traffic in most areas. the only reason we see it here, is the proximity to the schools. so, yes, something has to be done, but lowering speed limits overall? unlikely. traffic lights would help, and i suspect they need it anyways to accomodate current and future traffic levels.

          1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

            I picked a random town in the French countryside, where farm fields are half mile or less away in every direction. Is this urban or rural? https://goo.gl/maps/iMgcyPBj3Fk

            Pointing it out because it has a brightline between those two ends versus our American mistake of blending the two, but a corner in Anoka County that has schools on one side, shopping and restaurants on the other, and neighborhoods of housing surrounding sure looks urban to me.

            1. commissar

              thing is , it’s really not black and white. and you have to work with what you have. there’s quite a few exurban-esque locations near nantes, for example. however, france has a denser limited-access system around their cities. their rural speed limits are also very close to ours.

  5. Monte Castleman

    A pedestrian bridge is the obvious solution, but another idea might see to be if traffic signal warrants would be met if surrounding accesses are closed.

  6. Isaac

    I’m really not understanding why this road only begins to take on the characteristics of a freeway (4-lane divided) when it hits the heart of St. Francis. It’s a 2-lane rural road outside of town. It seems like a design aberration that should be corrected.

  7. Brian

    Why is this intersection more deserving of a pedestrian bridge than thousands of other intersections in the state?

    I went to college at a school that had one building on the other side of a busy two lane highway. The school had built a pedestrian bridge, however 50% of the students still crossed the highway as they were too lazy to use the bridge.

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      Of course there are plenty of crossings in this state that need upgrades, but the state DOT and counties would rather spend money on making people’s commutes just a little bit faster. It doesn’t have to be a this or that situation, but the mindset in transportation departments make it that way.

      And just because some people are too lazy to take the safe route doesn’t mean everyone should be forced to take the unsafe route.

      1. Matthew Barnes

        This intersection is in the planning stages to be completed approximately in 2021 and the project information can be found at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/metro/projects/hwy47stfrancis/index.html

        As a graduate engineer currently working for MnDOT the culture of designing roads only for cars seems to be on the way out. Every engineer is encouraged to take training courses on things such as ADA design and “Complete Streets”. The problem of poor roadway design in this case is likely due to a different culture at the time the road was built.

        The State DOT is working within the framework of the budget they have. The roadway network was created without thought of long term land use planning or thought of how the roads would be maintained, and this generation is tasked with trying to make structural repairs on bridges and ramps, make safety improvements where vehicle and other modes of travel intersect, and rebuild roads which are falling apart all while redesigning to match today’s needs and do so in a way that is a fair and equitable use of funds across the State. It is not an easy task.

        As with any State initiative, the power truly lies in the politicians’ hands. They are the ones who provide MnDOT with the funding sources (primarily, there are also federal grants as well), and if a project gets enough lobbying behind it the politicians will push to allocate money towards a specific project. When the project is funded, MnDOT is set up in such a way to then quickly transition into the design phase to make use of the money while it is available. If this intersection is impacting your family at all, I suggest keeping an eye out for when the listening sessions begin and attend the meetings to share your concerns. For those in St. Francis, call your representatives and let them know that no death is acceptable and demand change.

Comments are closed.