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.

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28 Responses to One Month Later: A RRFB Crossing Failed

  1. Lou Miranda December 11, 2018 at 8:37 am #

    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.

    • commissar December 11, 2018 at 10:48 am #

      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.

      • Jeb Rach
        Jeb Rach December 11, 2018 at 1:08 pm #

        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.

  2. Rosa December 11, 2018 at 8:38 am #

    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.

    • commissar December 11, 2018 at 11:11 am #

      why? he stopped as required by law. he’ll maybe get a citation. and higher insurance.

      • Bob Jones December 11, 2018 at 2:04 pm #

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

  3. Ryan December 11, 2018 at 8:39 am #

    What would an appropriate pedestrian crossing look like for this intersection?

    • commissar December 11, 2018 at 10:48 am #

      a bridge or tunnel

  4. Chip Jenne
    Chip Jenne December 11, 2018 at 8:55 am #

    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.

    • commissar December 11, 2018 at 10:45 am #

      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

      • Matt Steele
        Matt Steele December 11, 2018 at 10:58 am #

        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.

        • commissar December 11, 2018 at 11:03 am #

          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?

      • Jeb Rach
        Jeb Rach December 11, 2018 at 1:15 pm #

        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?

        • Eric Ecklund December 11, 2018 at 1:49 pm #

          Problem; are you going to trust drivers to actually go that speed limit?

  5. Monte Castleman December 11, 2018 at 10:23 am #

    Is there a source that confirms the lights were actually flashing?

    • Janne December 11, 2018 at 11:17 am #

      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.

      • Monte Castleman December 11, 2018 at 11:40 am #

        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.

        • Janne December 11, 2018 at 12:57 pm #

          Monte, thank you for adding this clarification on the thinking behind your original comment.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary December 11, 2018 at 11:52 am #

        > “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.

        • Eric Ecklund December 11, 2018 at 12:14 pm #

          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.

          • commissar December 11, 2018 at 12:27 pm #

            there’s a curve leading up to it, and at 50mph, there needs to be advance warning

          • Monte Castleman December 11, 2018 at 12:27 pm #

            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.

      • commissar December 11, 2018 at 2:06 pm #

        “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.

  6. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele December 11, 2018 at 10:52 am #

    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.

  7. Monte Castleman December 11, 2018 at 11:03 am #

    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.

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