When it comes to pedestrian safety, St. Paul police say they're going to keep trying until distracted drivers get it right.
Once again, after 188 pedestrians were hit by autos last year and another 54 have been struck so far this year, St. Paul and Ramsey County officials are renewing efforts to protect pedestrians, especially pedestrians with disabilities, as they cross the street. Officials on Monday kicked off the 2017 version of their "Stop For Me" campaign, which includes money from the National Highway Safety Administration to pay overtime to police and deputies throughout Ramsey County.
Through online videos, radio and television public service announcements, and stepped-up crosswalk enforcement operations, campaign organizers say they hope motorists get the message.
"Drivers need to absolutely slow down, pay attention and actively look for pedestrians," St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said.
This year's campaign, a partnership with the St. Paul Mayor's Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities, stresses that people with disabilities, especially those who get around with the help of scooters and wheelchairs, are hard to see. They often take longer to cross the street and require extra patience from often impatient motorists.
"We don't have the speed to get across before the light changes sometimes," said Scott Coleman, who uses a wheelchair. "Sometimes, people start turning before we're out of the intersection."
Kari Sheldon, who also uses a wheelchair, said she has had more close calls than she can count — always in a crosswalk and often involving drivers in a hurry to make a turn.
"People need to have patience," she said.
They also need to pay attention, said Mayor Chris Coleman.
A few days ago, he saw a driver on the freeway with a cellphone dangling from her rearview mirror. She was playing a game on her phone — at 60 miles per hour, he said.
Improving pedestrian safety begins with driver awareness, obeying the law and stopping completely for people in the crosswalk, whether it is marked or not, Coleman said.
St. Paul Police Sgt. Jeremy Ellison said police will conduct 60 crosswalk enforcement operations this year, the same number as last year. They will post large orange signs warning motorists of what they are doing, he said, adding that he thinks drivers are starting to get the message. He has seen more people stopping. Still, he encouraged witnesses to call police — after stopping or with hands-free devices — if they see motorists texting or failing to yield.
Mark Hughes, co-chairman of the mayor's advisory committee, said he has twice been struck by vehicles while crossing the street in his wheelchair, in 1994 and 2004. He was not hurt, but was certainly rattled.
"It think there is a lot of work to be done," he said. "We've just barely scratched the surface."