Coon Rapids is watching out for walkers

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 30, 2013 - 3:57 PM

Police in Coon Rapids are promoting pedestrian safety on several fronts.

Brad Johnson, a detective with the Coon Rapids police department, did a little acting last month.

Dressed in plainclothes, Johnson served as a “decoy pedestrian” at the crosswalk on Northdale Boulevard in front of Coon Rapids High School. It happens to be one of the city’s busiest crosswalks.

At this crossing and several others across Coon Rapids, drivers all too often fail to stop for pedestrians, even though state law says the walkers have the right-of-way, Johnson said.

Right now, pedestrian safety is a top priority for many cities across the state. In 2012, there were 40 pedestrian deaths in Minnesota, the same number as in 2011 — a marked increase over previous years, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). The department cites driver inattention as the biggest cause for pedestrian-related accidents.

To respond to the problem, MnDOT last year launched a marketing campaign with the slogan “Share the Road.”

A number of other cities are following suit with marketing campaigns of their own, or, as in Coon Rapids, educational initiatives.

Even some individual schools are taking action, like North View International Baccalaureate World School in Brooklyn Park.

This past spring, the school put together an educational video on the topic, which it showed to students during the school day. Also, as a part of its “Be Safe, Cross at the Crosswalk” campaign, the school mounted signs and banners on its entryway and gave out treats for using the crosswalk. The school took on the issue because “Many of our walking students are in the habit of unsafely crossing 69th directly outside our front doors,” the school’s Facebook page reads.

Many cities are also making improvements to crosswalks and stepping up enforcement of the state law.

For example, in downtown Anoka, a crosswalk on East Main Street between Second and Third Avenues has a pedestrian-activated system that even includes flashing lights that are embedded in the ground, according to Tim Cruik­shank, the city manager of Anoka. The city was able to install the system as part of its Main Street reconstruction project last year.

“It’s pretty cool and it’s unique. I haven’t seen any others like it,” he said.

In the past, “People were crossing anyway without controlled methodology,” he said. But in places like East Main Street, “There’s so much traffic that we need to do it in the safest way possible,” he said.

An educational event

During the Coon Rapids event, to play the part of an ordinary pedestrian, Johnson simply walked across the crosswalk over and over within the course of an hour. Each time, he tried to outwardly convey to drivers his intention to cross the road.

Nearby, a patrol officer, Steve Beberg, watched the scene unfold from an unmarked police car. He was ready to pull over the drivers who didn’t yield to the undercover Johnson.

At one point, three cars in a row sped through the crosswalk. A dozen drivers altogether didn’t stop, and there was one near miss, where Johnson had to jump back.

Beberg didn’t cite anyone, but he did speak to drivers about the need to be mindful of pedestrians.

When asked why they didn’t stop, most drivers claimed that “they saw him but they didn’t think they had time to stop. A couple didn’t see him at all,” Beberg said.

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