Drivers in St. Paul need to do a better job stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks, and researchers hope blue signs showing the percentage who actually stop will provide the motivation needed to improve.
Last fall, University of Minnesota researchers found a woeful 31 percent of drivers citywide yielded to people on foot. Since the signs along eight heavily traveled corridors went up last month, compliance with the law that requires them to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk — marked or unmarked — has risen to about the 45 percent. One week, observations showed that 52 percent of drivers stopped, the highest so far.
“It’s exciting,” said Nichole Morris, director of the U’s HumanFIRST Laboratory, which is behind the study. “Slowly but surely, the numbers are going up. I’d like to see things change faster, but culture change is slow.”
Morris has sent team members to 16 of St. Paul’s “high-risk” intersections twice a week this summer and had them cross the street 20 times. Team members counted the number of vehicles that stopped, passed or braked hard. The results from the week’s 640 crossings are posted on the signs as a friendly reminder for drivers to look out for the most vulnerable users of the road, she said.
The numbers posted are cumulative, not for each individual intersection. And compliance ranges widely.
Last week, at the test intersection of Snelling and Blair avenues just south of Hamline University, 61 percent of drivers stopped. That was up from the low-20 percent range when the study began. The biggest improvement was at the “scary site” of Dale Street and Jessamine Avenue near Marydale Park. Compliance hit 63 percent one week last month, Morris said.
Success has not been replicated everywhere. The intersection of White Bear and Nebraska avenues on the city’s East Side has seen no improvement Only 24 percent of drivers yielded the right of way to pedestrians last week. Drivers’ obedience on Maryland Avenue has lagged, too, she said.
The signs are part of a multipronged approach to improve safety in St. Paul, where there have been 92 vehicle vs. pedestrian crashes resulting in 83 injuries and two fatalities this year. As part of the city’s “Stop for Me” campaign, safety advocates also recently enlisted Mayor Melvin Carter to star in a video to remind drivers to never pass a motorist who has stopped at a crosswalk, particularly on a road with more than one lane in each direction.
Starting Monday, police will be watching for violators and ticketing offending drivers. They did that this spring, too, and issued more than 1,076 warnings and 633 tickets.
“I don’t like to write tickets,” said Sgt. Jeremy Ellison. “Please tell everybody you can to stop for pedestrians. We want compliance.”
In the fall, drivers can expect to see signs made of flexible material placed in the center or on the sides of streets to mark crosswalks and alert drivers to stop for pedestrians.
“There’s something psychological about driving between two signs,” Ellison said. “It makes them slow down. They ask, why are the signs here? and [it] subconsciously makes them look for pedestrians.”
The signs have brought an 80 percent compliance rate in other cities where they have been used, Ellison said.
“We hope to replicate that in St. Paul and keep the city safe for pedestrians and bicyclists,” he said.