The Drive: A $200,000 primer on pedestrian safety

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 23, 2014 - 5:38 AM
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In May, 2014, a woman was struck by the shcool bus as she was crossing the street at North 2nd Avenue and 5th street in Minneapolis, according to witnesses.

Photo: Star Tribune, Joel Koyama

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Pedestrian safety thrust itself into the local headlines in May when two Macalester College students were struck by a car while crossing Snelling Avenue in St. Paul and a woman was hit by a school bus in a downtown Minneapolis crosswalk.

Sadly, cases like that happen all too often.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, a pedestrian is killed every two hours in crashes involving motor vehicles, and one is injured every eight minutes. In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians nationwide were killed in traffic crashes and another 70,000 were hurt.

Here in Minnesota in 2012, we saw 878 crashes in which at least one person on foot was injured or killed by a motor vehicle. That was a 2.5 percent increase from the previous year, according to the latest figures from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Those sobering statistics are a reminder that we can’t hear or see the message about putting safety first enough. This summer the Minnesota Department of Transportation is spending nearly $200,000 to drive that message home through an advertising and public relations campaign. The goal is to get both motorists and pedestrians to take responsibility for their safety.

Billboards that read, “Hey Drivers, Stop for Pedestrians at Every Corner,” “Distracted Walking is Dangerous Walking” and “Walkers Look Twice Before You Cross” have been appearing on Snelling and University avenues in St. Paul, both major arteries that have high numbers of walkers. Transit stations have been plastered with posters in three languages and light-rail cars on the new Green Line have been wrapped with safety messages.

“We saw the launch of the Green Line [June 14] as an opportunity to grab pedestrians’ attention,” said Sue Mulvihill, MnDOT’s Deputy Commissioner. “We hope this campaign helps raise awareness and makes people pay extra attention at intersections.”

From 2011-2013, MnDOT says there were 11 crashes involving pedestrians on Snelling between University and St. Clair Avenues, resulting in two serious injuries. During that same time period, there were 24 pedestrian crashes and one fatality on University between Hwy. 280 and Jackson Street.

For the record, here is the state law concerning both pedestrians and motorists regarding crosswalks and street crossings:

“Where traffic-control signals are not in place or in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop to yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk, or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk. The driver must remain stopped until the pedestrian has passed the lane in which the vehicle is stopped. No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.”

Apparently we have forgotten the basics of safe walking: crossing the street only at designated crosswalks, carrying a flashlight and wearing retro-reflective clothing at night, walking on a sidewalk when one is present or facing traffic when walking in the street if one is not. Above all, walkers must be careful at intersections where drivers making turns may fail to yield the right of way to pedestrians.

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