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Just Drive event in Monticello aims to end distracted driving

From left to right: Julie and Dave Wik, Amy LaVallee and Christine Secord organized last year's Just Drive event.

The bright orange shirts emblazoned with the words "Just Drive" succinctly says what Greg LaVallee wants all motorists to do while they are behind the wheel. In other words, he implores drivers to put down the phone.

"Our mission is simple, end distracted driving,"said LaVallee, whose son, Phillip, a decorated cross-country runner, was killed in 2013 when distracted driver hit him while he was out for a run.

For the second year, LaVallee, Monticello boys’ cross-country coach Dave Wik, and several people have joined together to put on Just Drive Day, which will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Monticello Middle School. During the six hours, people can walk, jog or bike along a 3-mile course around town that will be lined with facts about distracted driving and the sobering reminders of those killed in crashes. Posters featuring the faces of those, like Phillip, who have been killed in crashes involving distracted drivers.

"The goal we hope to achieve is that it will change the social norm," LaVallee said. People get in a car and "they pick up the phone. It's a social expectation to use the phone while you drive. There should be a stigma around distracted driving like there is drunken driving."

Participants are encouraged to wear orange. The color, Phillip's favorite, is bright and symbolizes the effort to shed light the growing problem of distracted driving. At least 25 percent of traffic deaths are blamed on distracted driving, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Representatives from the Minnesota Safety Council, Minnesotans for Safe Driving also will be on hand

Last year more than 100 people turned out for the first Just Drive Day. This year the effort has spread to nearby Albertville where the St. Michael-Albertville Women of Today will put on a small event.

The Great American Smoke Out, an effort to stamp out smoking, began in Monticello. LaValley hopes Just Drive will spread across the nation in the same way.

Phillip, 19, earned all-state honors as a senior in cross country, then ran for South Dakota State as a freshman.

"We hope more people will get concerned about the problem," he said. "We don't want Phillip's legacy to be distracted driving. We are trying to take action and make his life matter."

Hwy. 169 turmoil prompts effort to oust city leaders in Hopkins

Photo by Hopkins police

A group of Hopkins residents, fed up with rogue motorists cutting through neighborhoods to bypass the official Hwy. 169 detour, has launched an effort to oust the mayor and four City Council members, claiming they have not done enough to address the problem.

Traffic levels have soared exponentially on 11th Avenue, Smetana Road and residential streets in the southern part of the city since the Minnesota Department of Transportation closed the Nine Mile Creek bridge on Hwy. 169 in January and displaced nearly 90,000 motorists a day. The bridge, between 5th Street/Lincoln Drive and Bren Road, is being rebuilt and is expected to reopen this fall.

On Thursday a group called Hopkins Minnesota Mayoral Recall Campaign pointed across the border to Edina, where traffic mitigation efforts in the upscale Parkwood Knolls neighborhood yielded yielded success, and said elected officials in Hopkins have done too little to curb the influx of cut-through traffic that has clogged streets and put residents’ safety in the Parkwood Valley and Peaceful Valley neighborhoods at risk.

“Help us protect Hopkins by recalling our Mayor, Molly Cummings, and our four City Council members, Katy Campbell, Jason Gadd, Kristi Halverson and Aaron Kuzina and replacing them with representatives that listen to us and act,” a news release formally announcing the recall campaign said. “While the City of Hopkins has made efforts to reduce traffic in Hopkins residential neighborhoods, the results have been dismal,” the release continued.

Messages left for the Hopkins Minnesota Mayoral Recall Campaign group were not returned Friday. It’s unclear who is behind the effort and how much support it has.

The group wants the city to close 11th Avenue, but that is not practical, said Sgt. Mike Glassberg of the Hopkins Police Department. The street is a north-south thoroughfare used by emergency vehicles, and school and Metro Transit buses. Unlike the streets that were blocked off in Edina, both 11th Avenue and Smetana Road run through a high-density area with both businesses and residences.

He said the group’s effort to recall elected officials is misguided.

“This is a traffic issue and the police department deals with that,” said Glassberg, who issued three tickets to drivers for stop sign violations Friday morning while out on traffic detail. “There are a lot of logistical things to consider. We have been on top of this from the beginning.”

Last month, in response to resident complaints, Hopkins deployed extra police during rush hours at the busy 11th and Smetana intersection to crack down on speeding drivers. Police (on overtime being paid for by MnDOT) also at times are prohibiting turns from Smetana onto 11th Avenue when traffic stacks up, especially between the busy 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. windows.

Officers have also worked to shoo trucks and nonlocal traffic over to Shady Oak Road to keep extra vehicles out of neighborhoods. And the city also put up signs to remind drivers that 11th Avenue in Hopkins is for local traffic only and that motorists passing through should stay out of the neighborhoods.

But that has not done the trick, and traffic jams have persisted, the group said.

In the days following the bridge closure, traffic in Edina’s Parkwood Knolls neighborhood jumped fivefold from 1,000 to 5,100 vehicles a day. On the quiet meandering streets that don’t have sidewalks, traffic jams formed, sometimes so thick that mothers with strollers were forced to play “Frogger” as they crossed streets.

They brought their complaints to City Hall. After a persistent fight, the city agreed to put up barriers to keep incoming and outgoing traffic from using Dovre Drive on the neighborhood’s south end. Since they went up in March, traffic levels have returned to near pre-construction levels.

“The City of Edina was much more responsive to its citizens and was able to cut traffic back to pre-detour levels, which in turn pushed still more traffic onto Hopkins residential streets,” the group’s news release said.

The mayor and council members did not return messages left Friday.

Soon to compound matters is a construction project in the Peaceful Valley and Park Valley neighborhoods in which streets will undergo full reconstruction with new curbs and gutters this spring and summer.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768