Death comes as officials look to make streets safer for pedestrians

  • Article by: EMMA NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 15, 2014 - 11:41 AM

A fatality lends urgency to a Minneapolis experiment that extends curbs to protect walkers from vehicles making turns.

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A pedestrian walked across the intersection of 6th Street and Portland Avenue by a “bump-out” — an experiment that extends curbs to keep pedestrians safe.

Photo: JOEL KOYAMA • jkoyama@startribune.com,

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A fatal accident near Lake Calhoun comes as Minneapolis is looking for ways to improve pedestrian safety, including a pilot project for extended curbs that gives pedestrians more room and forces vehicles to take slower, wider turns.

A group of city leaders happened to be on a walk to examine pedestrian safety in the area at the same time Caitlan Barton, 25, was hit by a truck on Lake Street on Wednesday evening.

“The incident left us all with a heavy heart and a clear directive about the human risks of not making improvements,” Council Member Linea Palmisano said in an e-mail.

Palmisano, city officials and West Calhoun Neighborhood Council members chose Wednesday for the “safety walk” to see what the area is like in rush hour traffic after sunset.

Barton, of Savage, was struck as she crossed on the green light at the intersection of Market Plaza and West Lake Street about 6:15 p.m. The truck driver, who was making a right turn onto Lake Street, apparently did not see Barton and dragged her about a quarter of a block. She died the next day.

The intersection is one of the city’s busiest and has been identified as one of the most dangerous in the city for pedestrians. Plans to add a light-rail station are spurring even more interest in making it safer for walkers and bikers.

“I wouldn’t even describe it as walkable some days, because of how bad the traffic is,” said John Abraham-Watne, who is Neighborhood Council treasurer and was on the safety walk. He added that it’s difficult to get across the intersection before the light changes.

Jon Wertjes, Minneapolis director of traffic and parking services, said the area has standard precautions in place. “The intersection is signalized and we’ve got pedestrian indications out there and we’ve got crosswalks out there painted on the pavement,” he said, adding that the paint may be faded by the winter.

Two steps from death

Gamboa Hernandez was waiting with his bicycle at the same light as Barton. He said that he and Barton had waited for the light to turn green and the walk signal to illuminate in their favor before proceeding. Barton, who worked at Target headquarters downtown, was just a stride or two ahead of him, he said.

“I was almost killed, too,” said Hernandez, who turns 62 on Saturday. “I almost didn’t celebrate my birthday.”

From 2010-12, eight pedestrians were killed due to vehicle crashes in Minneapolis. Available 2013 data show two pedestrian fatalities, though more could emerge once all the data is processed.

Over the summer, the city considered a proposal to build a land bridge connecting Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles over Lake Street. Cost projections for the bridge, in an area that sees nearly 40,000 vehicles daily, were up to $40 million.

The pilot project for the curb extensions or “bump-outs,” which extend sidewalks into their adjacent parking lanes, is underway. The extensions make pedestrians more visible to drivers and force cars to increase their turning radius. The extra space also gives pedestrians more space to wait to cross the street, and shortens the crosswalk so they spend less time walking through traffic.

There are already permanent bump-outs in the Seven Corners neighborhood near Cedar-Riverside.

In September and October, four temporary bump-outs were placed around Minneapolis — three along an Uptown corridor and one at a heavily walked intersection downtown. Each bump-out extends the curb with a row of flexible white pylons that arc out into the street.

The Uptown locations were chosen because residents were concerned about safety at four-way stops, said Mackenzie Turner Bargen, Minneapolis pedestrian planner.

“They felt as though cars were not stopping and yielding to pedestrians as they should at those stops,” she said, “and so through this test pilot we are evaluating how things are going there.”

Interim bump-outs cost about $6,000 for a whole intersection, she said. Installing permanent bump-outs could cost up to $20,000 per corner. In the spring and summer, the city will start analyzing whether the bump-outs are improving pedestrian safety and decide if permanent ones are necessary, and where else in the city they could be installed.

More attention on the area

The issue of pedestrian safety is coming to the forefront in cities nationwide. Both New York City and San Francisco recently adopted “Vision Zero” resolutions — plans to eliminate pedestrian traffic deaths.

San Francisco is already seeing benefits from bump-outs, said Nicole Schneider, executive director of Walk San Francisco.

“If you look at an intersection that’s huge and wide and then you look at one that’s smaller and more comfortable — it’s like, are we building our streets for cars, or are we building our streets for people to walk on?” she said.

Palmisano is working on increasing safety at the intersection where Wednesday’s crash happened, in part because of the upcoming addition of the West Lake light rail station.

Abraham-Watne said he’s grateful that Palmisano and other city leaders were in the area Wednesday night, because now eyes have turned to his neighborhood.

“I hate that it would take something like this to do it,” he said.

 

Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.

Emma Nelson is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.

 

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