Come January, the speed limit on the section of Diffley Road that passes three schools in Eagan will be lower, at least when schoolchildren are coming and going at start and dismissal times.
The Dakota County Board on Nov. 26 unanimously voted to designate the section of Diffley between Lexington Avenue and Dodd Road as a school zone. The move allows the county to reduce the speed limit from the current 45 mph and put up additional signage to require motorists to drive slower "when children are present," said Dakota County Engineer Mark Krebsbach.
It's a good start, said Commissioner Joe Atkins, who brought the measure to the board for immediate action after scores of Eagan residents overwhelmingly pushed for something to be done following the death of 13-year-old Patric Vitek, a seventh-grader who was hit by a car and killed last month while biking to Dakota Hills Middle School.
"I don't know if this would have prevented what happened Nov. 1. We do know this will improve safety in the area," he said during the board meeting. "We also know that this can't be the last thing that can ever happen there. There is more to be done."
It's not clear what the school zone speed limit will be. That will be determined once the county has results from a study looking at traffic speeds and the safest routes for children walking to school, among other factors. State law says it can be no lower than 15 mph, but it's unlikely to be set that low, Krebsbach said. Best results come when the school zone speeds are 10 to 15 mph below the posted limits.
"If you go too low, you get noncompliance," he said. "We have to be sure we are not creating more problems than we are fixing by lowering the speed limit. We'd like to go as low as possible."
The speed limit on Diffley will remain at 45 mph at times when the school zone speed limit is not in effect.
In February, the County Board held an open house to get feedback on plans to install sidewalks and make other safety upgrades at the intersection of Diffley Road and Braddock Trail. That led to a broader discussion of what to do along the entire corridor. Then after Vitek's death, residents spoke up again. Public sentiment demanding action spurred Atkins and the County Board to fast-track the school zone measure.
Krebsbach said school zones can be an effective safety tool. But new signs and a lower speed limit won't fix all the safety issues, he added.
On Wednesday, the board will host an open house from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Eagan Community Center to share ideas for long-term safety upgrades. Those include retiming traffic signals; installing fences to steer students to appropriate places to cross Diffley; putting in better lighting; and building an underpass to separate pedestrians and bicyclists from vehicles.
"We have no specifics, but we are holistically looking at improvements that could be made down the road," Krebsbach said.
Resident Jennifer McGovern, who has one child attending Eagan High School, a second at Dakota Hills Middle School and a third at Glacier Hills Elementary, would welcome anything.
"As we enter the holiday season, please keep Patric Vitek and his family in your hearts and thoughts," she told the board. "And may it compel you to do everything in your power to make more safety changes for the students and the greater community."
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