Eagan residents who live near where a 13-year-old boy was hit by a car and killed last week while biking to school say they have long complained about danger on Diffley Road and are now renewing a push for additional safety measures along the busy road.
Several residents spoke at a City Council meeting Monday, saying they have been asking for more than a decade for changes along the road that passes three schools. Inaction, they say, cost seventh-grader Patric Vitek his life. Vitek was struck by a car about 7:20 a.m. Friday while on his way to Dakota Hills Middle School.
“We’ve been telling the city for ages,” resident Janet Westenberg said in an interview this week. “They failed that child and that child’s family.”
City officials say they are listening to the community and working with the county to come up with solutions. But making changes is tricky because Diffley Road is under the authority of Dakota County, said Eagan City Attorney Mike Dougherty.
Eagan is conducting a pedestrian and bike study and there are plans to put in sidewalks and other improvements at Braddock Trail and Diffley Road. Dakota County is conducting a countywide school safety study.
“The city has been listening and working collaboratively with the community, the county and the school district to make this area as safe as possible,” said Eagan Public Works Director Russ Matthys. “We will work together … to make our community safer.”
Westenberg suggested deploying police to slow traffic when students are arriving at and leaving school. She said the city could hire a crossing guard to stop traffic. Five years ago, a Girl Scout troop that included her daughter suggested putting in a tunnel or an overpass for pedestrians, Westenberg said.
“It doesn’t matter if it is a city or county road,” she said. “We presented them with a danger and somebody should figure out how to solve the problem.”
Holly Jenkins, who is part of a group called Neighbors United for Sensible Roads, wants the segment of Diffley near Eagan High School, Dakota Hills Middle School and Northview Elementary designated as a school zone. That would allow the speed limit, which is now 45 mph, to be reduced and allow installation of crosswalks and additional signage.
Residents first raised concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety in 2007 when a nearby strip mall with a Cub Foods went in. But they were told there was nothing that could be done, Jenkins said. Vitek’s death has galvanized efforts to try again. An online petition has hundreds of signatures.
“We tried desperately to keep this from happening,” she said. “You need to prioritize pedestrian safety ahead of fast-moving vehicles.”
Eagan police on Wednesday continued to investigate the crash. The driver did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or any substance, and has been talking with investigators, said Aaron Machtemes, spokesman for the Eagan Police Department.