Twin Cities residents are not driving as much as they were before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but they are walking and biking a lot more.

Data from the Minnesota Department of Transportation show a 51% increase in walking and bicycling in the metro area over the past five weeks — since Gov. Tim Walz issued a peacetime emergency and enacted a stay-at-home order — when compared to the same time frame over the past few years.

Statewide, those activities are up 72% since mid-March, based on information collected from MnDOT's permanent and portable pedestrian and bicyclist counters.

"It's great to see people out," said Amber Dallman, MnDOT bike coordinator.

They have been out in droves on West River Parkway in south Minneapolis. The daily average of people walking and biking is 144% higher than the daily average from 2017 to 2019. That equates to 21,000 more people walking and bicycling there between March 13 and April 19, Dallman said.

With streets and paths more crowded, it's more important than ever for drivers to slow down and be watchful for those traveling on foot and two wheels, said Sgt. Jeremy Ellison of the St. Paul Police Department.

By now, Ellison has usually held a few of the city's Stop For Me events, but the coronavirus has delayed the start of the 2020 program. The annual campaign designed to get motorists to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks will be back soon, however, with a goal of hosting 100 outreach and crosswalk enforcement events this year, he said.

A study by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, published in the March edition of the Journal of Transport & Health, found drivers of "higher status" vehicles were the least likely to stop for pedestrians. The odds of a driver stopping fell 3% for every $1,000 increase in the car's value, based on pricing categories from Kelley Blue Book.

The study also found that overall, motorists yielded less frequently for men and for people of color waiting at midblock crosswalks than for women and whites.

Ellison said the study provides something to think about, but really, "it's all about human behavior."

That's why Stop for Me training will focus not only on motorists, but also on pedestrian behavior. The campaign will show pedestrians how to safely cross the street and point out why crossing midblock puts them in danger.

"The likelihood of getting hurt is very high," Ellison said. "You should use a crosswalk or cross at a light."

A stoplight for Natchez

The Scott County Transportation Department has the green light to install a traffic signal at 185th Street and Natchez Avenue.

The County Board on Tuesday approved $465,000 for the signal. The board also authorized highway engineer Tony Winiecki to order hardware and equipment so that it's on hand when a contractor is chosen to install it.

"We want to construct this as fast as we can," Winiecki said during the board meeting.

He said his department had looked at various options for traffic control at the intersection in Credit River Township where there have been two fatal crashes in the past 15 months and 17 wrecks since 2006.

Ultimately the department opted for a traffic signal as "being the right solution for intersection control at this particular intersection," Winiecki said.

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