Last weekend, a car driver ran over a man trying to do what should have been the simplest of tasks: crossing the street. On Wednesday, the victim, Theodore J. Ferrara, died from his injuries.
Ferrara is far from the first pedestrian seriously injured on Lyndale. The street is designed to accommodate cars to the detriment of every person (driver and non-driver alike) who uses it. Unfortunately, coverage of tragedies that are bound to happen on streets like Lyndale continue to avoid addressing the root cause of the problem.
These stories tend to portray drivers as unlucky participants in tragic accidents, rather than active agents in frequently fatal collisions. Any mention of deadly street design is out of the question. The bulk of the responsibility is instead heaped on the maimed or deceased. Coverage never fails to mention the victim’s flouting of the law when they crossed the street at the wrong place, or their recklessness when they chose not to wear a helmet.
Take the reporting of Paul Walsh in the Star Tribune (whose coverage of similar instances has been contested previously):
“A man who was run over by a vehicle last weekend while crossing in the middle of a south Minneapolis street has died,” writes Walsh. “The vehicle couldn’t stop and hit Ferrara.”
The writing reads like an account of a rogue driverless vehicle. This reporting separates the driver from their vehicle of destruction.
“The driver stopped immediately and ‘was fully cooperative,’ said police spokesman John Elder.”
This is, of course, what the driver was required to do by law. To do otherwise would have been a hit-and-run. Yet, for complying with the law after running over another human being, the article continues to portray the driver as blameless.
“Ferrara was ‘crossing midblock’ while others with him were ‘holding their hands up to stop traffic,’ Elder said….While expressing sympathy for those who knew the man, Elder also said the circumstances of this death ‘boil down to us reminding people to utilize traffic control devices and cross in crosswalks.’”
Here is the crux of the article’s car-friendly reporting, and police-spokesman Elder’s anti-pedestrian attitude. Because Ferrara wasn’t following the law perfectly at the time of the incident, they load him up with responsibility for his own death.
So why does this article omit any information about the driver’s compliance with the law? Was the driver distracted? Were they obeying the speed limit, or did they exceed the limit by enough to make the collision fatal? We don’t know. Did the police not bother to find out, did Walsh not find it important enough to report, or did the Star Tribune remove the information in the editing/publishing process? (Elder did not respond to requests for comments. Walsh said he is planning a follow-up to this initial article but did not provide further details about the crash or his reporting.)
Since its publication, the article has been sharply criticized online by Twin Cities proponents of safer streets. But of course, it’s not really the poor coverage that is the cause of their anger—it’s the poor street design that leads to these tragedies.
Lyndale is a dangerous place to be a pedestrian. Just look at the area where Ferrara was hit. It’s approximately .3 miles from the stoplight at W 24th St. to the stoplight at W 26th St. There are two lanes each way for cars, plus street parking on both sides (but no protected bike lanes). The speed limit is 30 mph, but drivers frequently exceed that speed while they weave dangerously around other drivers and pedestrians. The only marked crosswalks on that stretch of the street are at 24th and 26th. There is an unmarked crosswalk at 25th; and according to Minnesota law, drivers are obligated to yield to pedestrians crossing at unmarked crosswalks. But as this woman demonstrated, the chance of a driver actually stopping for a pedestrian in an unmarked crosswalk is exactly zero—even when the driver is a police officer.
Such design forces pedestrians to cross the street in dangerous places. If you’ve spent any amount of time outside of a car on Lyndale, you probably know this to be true. Rather than travel nearly a quarter of a mile to the nearest stoplight, pedestrians cross wherever they can, marked or unmarked.
Even if Ferrara had been crossing at the unmarked crosswalk rather than in the middle of the road, as Elder claims, the chances of him being hit and seriously injured would still have been dangerously high.
The city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County need to make serious improvements to Lyndale to prevent something like this happening again. Steps such as reducing the speed limit (something that Minneapolis is considering for all city streets), adding stoplights and giving Lyndale a road diet to make way for dedicated bus lanes and/or protected bike lanes would go a long way toward making the street safer for everyone. (Banning cars entirely would go further.) It is our duty to demand these changes.
The day Ferrara died was also the last day for the public to weigh in on the draft plan of Minneapolis’s “Vision Zero” initiative, which purportedly seeks to eliminate tragedies like Ferrara’s. Before finalizing their plan, I hope city officials take a field trip to Lyndale and try to cross the street themselves.