Betsy Akerson once asked the owner of the former Cafe Maude in southwest Minneapolis what he would to do ensure that nobody crossing busy Penn Avenue midblock near W. 54th Street got killed.

He was going to get some paint and paint a crosswalk, she recalled him saying.

That never happened, but if residents of the Armatage neighborhood had their way, they’d put that midblock crosswalk down right away. They’d also install in-street pedestrian signs and flashing lights to mark the crosswalk, lower the speed limit and have police vigorously ticket speeding drivers, who some say blow through the area well above the legal 30 mph.

The push to improve pedestrian safety near the bustling intersection — and discourage the common practice of jaywalking across the dark street — has taken on an added importance after Debra Skolos, 47, of Bloomington, was killed while crossing the street in February. It was the dominant topic of discussion at Tuesday’s Armatage Neighborhood Association meeting.

“I am happy people are starting to look at it,” said Akerson, who has had to dodge jaywalkers while driving. “Sadly, it took a loss of somebody to get the conversation going.”

A combination of factors has led to residents’ concerns.

Eateries such as Colita, Red Wagon Pizza Co., and the Book Club (formerly Cafe Maude) have brought increased traffic and put a pinch on parking. In winter, snowbanks encroach on the roadway, making for narrower traffic lanes. Pedestrians and people getting out of cars dash across the street rather than climb over mounds of snow to get to the sidewalk or take time to walk to the signalized crosswalk. Poor lighting makes it hard for drivers to see pedestrians.

In recent weeks, neighborhood association members have made a list of potential solutions. They have talked with business owners about encouraging their customers to cross only at crosswalks.

State statute says speeds on city streets are to be posted at 30 mph, but even if the city could drop the speed limit, “drivers would not necessarily obey it,” said Jennifer Lowry, a Minneapolis city traffic engineer.

There are challenges to other proposed solutions, she said. A crossing with flashing lights might be sensory overload for drivers and impede traffic. Brighter lights on the west side of Penn Avenue might shine into nearby homes and enable more jaywalking, Lowry said. A suggestion to allow only right turns out of parking lots has not gained traction.

Police say they can only do so much.

“We can’t stop everybody who is speeding. We can’t slow everybody down. We can’t stop jaywalking,” Minneapolis Police Department Inspector Kathy Waite said at the meeting.

Lowry said the city could install a dynamic sign displaying drivers’ speed in an effort to get them to slow down, but it might have a limited effect. Waite said she could send officers to watch for speeders when they are not responding to other calls.

Aside from that, it may fall to grassroots neighborhood efforts to enact change.

“There is not a bulletproof solution to solve all these problems,” said Joel Federer, neighborhood association board president. “It’s frustrating that ideas can’t be implemented. You want to achieve things for the betterment of the community. If there is enough groundswell, maybe that starts to have an impact.”

 

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