Dakota County officials this week will unveil the final design aimed at improving bicycling and pedestrian safety on Diffley Road in Eagan, where a 13-year-old boy was fatally hit by a car while riding his bike to school.
The county in concert with the city and the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District will spend $5.3 million to slim Diffley Road from four lanes to a single lane in each direction and add a median between Lexington Avenue and Braddock Trail.
The plan also calls for roundabouts at two intersections and a new access road from Diffley to Northview Elementary and Dakota Hills Middle schools. In a late addition, the county said it will install pedestrian-activated flashers at crosswalks in the roundabouts.
Last year, the area was designated as a School Zone, which allowed the county to drop the speed limit to 30 mph during school arrival and dismissal times. The county will ask the Minnesota Department of Transportations to conduct a speed study, with hopes of earning permission to lower the speed limit from the current 45 mph, said Erin Laberee, assistant transportation engineer for Dakota County.
"We spent considerable time listening to concerns of residents," she said. "Our focus is on pedestrian safety and lowering vehicle speeds. That is what this design is about."
But some residents who have been pushing for changes on Diffley for nearly a decade still have concerns. Holly Jenkins, a neighborhood resident, questions the decision to build a roundabout at Daniel Drive, where seventh-grader Patric Vitek lost his life when he was hit by a car at 7:20 a.m. Nov. 1, 2019 while biking to Dakota Hills Middle School.
The intersection already has a driveway leading to Northview Elementary. A new access road connecting to Eagan High and Dakota Hills Middle schools will feed into the intersection. Drivers departing the nearby bustling Diffley Marketplace will also be directed to the Daniel Drive roundabout, which will bring an endless stream of traffic to the area, she said.
"There will be buses, trucks and cars trying to use it when people are walking to school," Jenkins said. "It just seems wrong to push all that traffic through the very corridor which is the most natural location for pedestrian crossings."
With no traffic signal to stop traffic and provide a safe crossing, she said, "I feel like they are discouraging students from walking and biking to school."
Jenkins said she would like to have seen the roundabout located in front of the marketplace, so drivers leaving the shopping center would not have turn around in front of the elementary school.
Derek Leuer, a MnDOT traffic engineer, said roundabouts offer increased protection for pedestrians. Unlike a signalized intersection, the design of a roundabout forces traffic to slow when entering the intersection, and pedestrians only see traffic approaching from one direction. Pedestrians only have to cross one segment of road at a time and have refuge islands between segments.
In a 2018 study, MnDOT found crashes involving pedestrians were 60% lower than at other types of intersections. A report from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program said roundabouts increase the likelihood of drivers yielding to pedestrians, reduce the frequency of crashes involving pedestrians and reduce the severity of injuries if they occur.
"A roundabout has a lot of good things going for pedestrian safety," Leuer said.
Project managers will talk through specifics and take questions during live online presentations Monday through Thursday.
Jenkins said she has registered to attend all three meetings — scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday and noon Tuesday — "to keep them honest."
Construction is expected to begin in June.
"Time will tell if we are dead wrong, but there are still lots of concerns," Jenkins said. "There needs to be signals somewhere for kids to safely cross. This plan will further discourage walking, biking to school, which is the opposite of what many residents were striving for."
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768