A pedestrian signal reading "Don't Walk."

Pedestrians: Speak Up About the Street Design You Need!

Editor’s note: This is an expanded version of the author’s letter to the editor, “Reader’s View: Crosswalk buttons near Denfeld need to be moved,” which was published in the Duluth News Tribune on August 16, 2023.

While attending the Lake Superior Community Health Center-sponsored Duluth Block Party on August 10, I noticed a horribly placed traffic light pole that prevents some pedestrians from reaching the call buttons that cause the crosswalk light to change so they can safely cross a busy street.

These particular call buttons (some call them beg buttons) are located on the north side of the intersection of Grand Avenue and 44th Avenue West. A narrow, well-worn path in the grass shows where people walk to push the buttons.

The location is problematic for several reasons:

  • The buttons are hard to reach for health center patients, Denfeld High School students and teachers, as well as other sidewalk users.
  • Bicyclists and people pushing strollers or rollator walkers would have trouble gaining access to the call buttons.
  • Wheelchair users would find access to them impossible.
  • During the winter, when snowbanks would partially or entirely cover these buttons, no person trying to cross the street could access them at all.
A pedestrian call button on a traffic light pole that's set back from the sidewalk, with another utility pole blocking access.
That steel pipe blocks any access to the buttons for wheelchair users.

These buttons need to be relocated to where a nearby electrical box is now. Then the buttons could be more easily used. The electrical box should be moved away from the intersection, giving street users better intersection sightlines.

Another view of a pedestrian call button on a traffic light pole that's set back from the sidewalk, with another utility pole blocking access.
How is a visually impaired person supposed to find the pedestrian call buttons here?

Another thought: Exchanging the location of the traffic light post and the utility pole would be a cheaper alternative to moving the electrical box. I wonder why a traffic engineer placed the traffic light post and call buttons in the most inconvenient place possible.

Call to Action

Senior engineer Joe Jurewicz told me in an email that Duluth’s Public Works & Utilities department was working to solve the problem of call button access. He also said the department had been unaware of the issue and asked me to tell them about other intersection problems within the city.

Given the busy health center next door and a high school on the other side of the street, I have no idea why no one else found and reported this misplaced traffic pole sooner. What other problem intersections are there within Duluth?

Readers, when you see something wrong on the street, speak up! Report the problem to city or county officials. Workers can’t be everywhere to check for flawed street designs.

Photos by the author.

About James Buchanan

After earning my University of Minnesota communication major and journalism minor, I am currently looking for a full-time position to use my skills in writing, photography, and page design. I am also seeking an environment that offers inspiring and new opportunities that challenge and strengthen my skill set, as well as opportunities to help my future company advance efficiently and productively. I was the top student in my Communications and Creativity class. I’m the professional artist to turn to for your creativity needs.