In Burnsville, where officials are striving to create a "walkable" downtown, traffic whizzes by on Nicollet Avenue as pedestrians try to cross to and from a public commons.
Drivers don't always stop for pedestrians trying to step into crosswalks, even though it's required by law, Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said.
The problem isn't contained to families trying to cross Nicollet to the ice cream and sandwich shops across from Nicollet Commons Park, she said. There are trouble spots sprinkled throughout the city, from the Vista View Park area to Fairview Ridges Hospital.
Problems related to pedestrian safety have cropped up with new intensity not only in Burnsville but in suburbs from St. Louis Park to Lakeville as officials strive to create pedestrian-friendly areas next to busy roads.
The City Council has adopted a policy it hopes will improve pedestrian safety in several ways, including alerting drivers to crosswalk locations.
"We're looking into the possibility of what kind of signage and blinking lights and that sort of thing," said Council Member Charlie Crichton. "There's quite an argument going on as to what is the most effective way of communicating that."
In the Nicollet Commons area, officers regularly witness drivers who zip right past pedestrians.
"You see them standing sometimes for a few minutes even before they can even step off the curb to try to cross," Police Chief Bob Hawkins said.
Officials launched a public education campaign and engineers studied intersections near the Heart of the City area along Nicollet and in other spots where people frequently cross, Kautz said. And beginning this summer, police ramped up enforcement.
In addition, community service officers are watching trouble spots, such as near Nicollet Commons, and recording license plate numbers of drivers who violate crosswalk laws. Warnings are mailed to vehicle owners, Hawkins said.
Nobody has been hit near the Heart of the City, but in the past few years, two pedestrians were killed in separate accidents at Hwy. 13 and County Road 11. Both fatalities involved people trying to cross the busy road at night, against the traffic light, the chief said.
"We expect everybody to obey the laws at all times," the chief said. "That way you have the safe flow of vehicular traffic and of pedestrian traffic."
He added: "Obviously in the Heart of the City area, part of the design was to be pedestrian friendly. That's why we really want people to be tuned in to it down there -- and at all the crosswalks in the city, too. And it's not just in Burnsville. It's any place you go."
Hawkins said the problems near Heart of the City were the worst over the summer, when kids were out of school and families often crossed Nicollet Avenue at 126th Street.
The problem may only intensify after December, when Burnsville plans to open its new $20 million regional Performing Arts Center in the Heart of the City. Officials expect 100,000 visits a year.
On Nicollet, just east of Nicollet Commons, the city will install a traffic semaphore. Pedestrians must assume responsibility, too, by crossing only at the intersection, rather than jaywalking, Hawkins said.
Under state law, drivers must stop and remain stopped for pedestrians until they have cleared the lane in which the driver is traveling or the lane into which the driver would be turning.
But many drivers don't understand that when there is a single crosswalk, even in just one lane of a two-lane road, drivers in both lanes must stop, the chief said.
To raise public awareness, the city has in recent months included informational packets with water bills and spotlighted the law in a quarterly bulletin and press releases, newspapers, fliers, and even bumper stickers that say "I brake for people."
The problems with pedestrian crossings have emerged on Burnsville Parkway and Upton Avenue near Neil Park, around schools and in areas where disabled residents in wheelchairs regularly cross Burnhaven Drive at 143rd Street to go to the Burnsville Center or cross County Road 42 to go to other stores.
The Fairview Ridges health campus, on the south side of Nicollet Boulevard, serves patients and visitors who cross the busy boulevard from an overflow parking lot on the north side.
Police began their heightened enforcement in June and so far have written more than 50 tickets for misdemeanor violations, which carry fines of up to $500. But police would rather be getting the word out.
"We're not interested in writing tickets," Hawkins said. "We're interested in people being safe."
Joy Powell • 952-882-9017