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Everything you’ve always wanted to know about crosswalks

MinnPost photo by Bill Lindeke
Special pedestrian flags at a Grand Avenue crosswalk are the High Winds Fund’s latest attempt to increase safety.

On May 27, it happened again. Two students were crossing Snelling Avenue on the east edge of the Macalester College campus. After a car stopped for them, the two women stepped into the crosswalk. But the next car coming up Snelling sped around the slowed traffic and struck the women, sending  both of them to the hospital. One of the women, Sowinta Kay, 20, suffered a traumatic brain injury and was only recently released.

The problem was particularly frustrating because Macalester College, through a special neighborhood improvement foundation, had focused a lot of time and money installing special crosswalks on this very spot. Tom Welna heads the High Winds Fund, and crosswalk safety is one of his main concerns. “The problem of traffic safety manifests itself on Snelling and Grand, but it is a citywide and metrowide problem,” he told me.

Over the years that he has been working with the Macalester area, Welna has seen many students, employees and neighborhood residents get hit or killed by cars. Welna blames frenetic driving and a culture of entitlement to the public roads, and he has desperately tried to improve driving safety in St. Paul. But so far, as people continue to get hit while trying to cross the street, the efforts have seemed fruitless. A local safety group, St. Paul Walks, recently joined the effort and has launched a citywide campaign to increase awareness of the problem. 

The next step for Welna and Macalester College is to redesign the crosswalks yet again. After months of lobbying the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Welna has gotten permission to install a high-visibility pedestrian activated (or HAWK) signal at Lincoln Avenue. Welna hopes that this new crosswalk technique will finally provide safe passage for the hundreds of people trying to cross Snelling.

The tragedy of the Macalester crosswalks prompts the question: Do crosswalks actually  improve safety?

Crosswalks 101

The more you look at them, the more the science of crosswalks is not that simple. At first glance, crosswalks are just some white paint on the asphalt. But, as the recent statewide crosswalk safety campaign will tell you, “Every corner is a crosswalk.”

For many people, the official state law remains difficult to understand. If crosswalks aren’t just white paint, but exist at every corner, what do you do? If you’re a driver, how do you know when to stop for someone crossing the street? If you’re on foot, how do you know when to step out into traffic?

Last week I went to the Minneapolis offices of Toole Design Group, a leading urban planning firm, to find out everything I could about crosswalks. Eric Mongelli is a Toole engineer based in Washington, D.C. He explained to me that, at the most basic level, there are four kinds of crosswalks: marked and unmarked, and controlled and uncontrolled. Marked crosswalks are the iconic stripes of white paint, while unmarked crosswalks are the implied, invisible crosswalks that legally exist at every corner. Meanwhile, controlled crosswalks depend on a traffic signal or a stop sign, while uncontrolled crosswalks do not explicitly force cars to stop.

And within these different crosswalk types, there are many subtle design decisions.

“There are a few general rules of thumb,” Mongelli told me. “If you have to cross 60 feet or more of pavement, you may want to put in refuge islands or other treatments that can break up that crossing. And as far as the style of marking goes, on busier intersections with multilane roadways, uncontrolled crossings or a lot of pedestrian activity, we recommend high visibility markings, like on the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” cover.”

According to Mongelli, high-visibility crosswalks can come in all sorts of subtle varieties, ranging from the basic crosswalk (two simple lines) to “continental” or “piano” crosswalks (thick white lines perpendicular to the traffic lane) to “zebra” crosswalks (white lines at an angle).

Finally, there are different types of crosswalk application technology. Most crosswalks are simply marked with white paint that needs to be repainted frequently. Other kinds of pavement markings might last longer, but are also more expensive.

“It’s a balancing act between not wanting to go back and re-mark them versus not wanting to spend the money up front,” explained Hannah Pritchard, a traffic engineer in Toole’s Minneapolis office. “It’s all a series of tradeoffs.”

Just in the city of St. Paul, as Kari Spreeman in the Public Works Department informed me, there are approximately 1,700 crosswalks. And because of the harsh winter weather, they repaint each one annually, on average, and use two different designs depending on the intersection.

The diminishing returns of signage

Where crosswalk safety really becomes tricky is when you start factoring in the interactions between crosswalks and their surrounding street environment. When faced with a dangerous street crossing, at first glance it might make sense to simply add more signs. But that isn’t necessarily the case.

Courtesy of Toole Design Group

“The faster you’re driving the less you can see,” Pritchard explained to me. “The human brain can only take in  so much information. If you’re going about 15 mph your view is pretty wide. But the faster you go, you have to zero in on what’s in front of you; your brain can’t process everything that’s going on.”

The hard line between speed and perception means that crosswalks cannot be considered in isolation. Instead, their effectiveness is always held hostage to the larger street design, and particularly the “design speed” of any given street. (“Design speed” is the speed for which road details are built, which is not necessarily the same as the speed limit). In other words, no matter how many signs you have, or how much paint you put down, if the road is designed incorrectly, the crosswalk will remain dangerous.

Cindy Zerger is an architect for Toole Design Group, and deals with the human factors of urban design.

“Crosswalks rely on dealing with the design speed of the road,” Zerger told me. “You have to do both hand in hand.” This relationship is why, for streets like Snelling Avenue, where the design speed is higher than the speed limit, building safe crosswalks becomes extremely difficult.

The all-new Hiawatha Avenue crosswalks

Snelling Avenue is not the only Twin Cities’ street with problem crosswalks. Across the river in Minneapolis, Hiawatha Avenue has been a trouble spot for years as people dart across the busy road trying to reach light-rail stations. In response, the state Department of Transportation recently rebuilt all of Hiawatha’s crosswalks in an attempt to increase safety.

Photo by Sam Newberg — Joe Urban
Hiawatha Avenue has been a trouble spot for years as people dart across the busy road trying to reach light-rail stations.

But without radically changing the design speed of the street, the Hiawatha Avenue crosswalks remain a difficult problem. Sam Newberg is an urban design consultant who thinks the new crosswalks do not do enough to increase safety.

“It’s just like Frogger,” Newberg told me. “Human nature takes over in the pedestrian and the cycling realm, and its every person for themselves.” According to Newberg, while the new crosswalks have some improvements — more median refuges and shorter crossing distances — the street design retains fast-moving corners and long waits at the traffic lights. Newberg doubts it will meaningfully reduce the number of people darting across traffic.

“We need to shift from accommodating pedestrians and cyclists to actually prioritizing them,” Newberg explained. He’d like to see Hiawatha transformed into a slower, more urban street with two lanes in each direction and buildings right up to the sidewalk.

“It’d be a complete change of the street,” Newberg told me, “much more humane. The speeds would be 30 miles per hour, and the crosswalks could be straightened and dignified. When you start to get rid of those crazy highway geometries you can have a much more pleasant environment.”

The question of problem crosswalks has no easy answers. So much depends on the street as a whole. While state law requires all cars to stop for pedestrians all of the time, the real world is not so simple. Next time you reach a crosswalk, take a glance at the paint under your feet. While you’re there, you might also want to check for speeding cars.

Comments (49)

  1. Submitted by Presley Martin on 07/08/2014 - 10:57 am.

    Multiple Lanes in one direction

    Streets with multiple lanes in one direction are obviously the worst to try and cross. It seems like the law should be different for multi lane roads, and maybe every corner should not be a crosswalk. So often it plays out just like what happened on Snelling, the car in the right lane stops for the peds, but drivers in the left hand lane don’t. Unless there is a stop signal or stop sign I won’t cross the street if the car in the right hand lane stops for me, I’ll smile, shake my head and wave them on and wait until all lanes are clear. I used to live next to a three lane one-way street with a high-visibility pedestrian activated (or HAWK) signal, and it arguably made crossing more dangerous, because the car closest to you would stop, effectively blocking the site of you for other drivers, and the cars in the other lanes would ignore the hawk signal.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 07/08/2014 - 02:24 pm.

      Possible problem

      If I’m a driver and you wave me on, and I take you up on it, then I believe I’ve just broken the law.

      Does anyone more knowledgeable know how this would play out if such a scenario happened and a police officer witnessed it?

      • Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 07/08/2014 - 04:13 pm.

        In my understanding (from conversations with people in law enforcement over the years), these kinds of laws are very rarely enforced. If an officer saw this, they’d probably do nothing.

        There are lots of laws like this, by the way, including speed limits, the bike/bus lane on Hennepin Avenue, and “rolling stops” for cars and bikes.

        • Submitted by Dave Hafner on 02/25/2015 - 02:06 pm.

          Right of way laws

          This mysterious law would not be enforced because it simply does not exist. William is right however in his contention that many laws are not enforced .Vehicles travelling down a street are where they belong, where they are expected to be, and typically driving straight and at a consistent speed (albeit too fast). Of course they have the right of way. Now if they were driving down the sidewalk, THAT would be another story ( and a significant problem).
          The answer to our problem is so simple that it evades our consciousness. The solution is to teach people how to cross a street safely. And how does one cross a street safely? Cross behind the car(s). Not in front if them.

        • Submitted by Dave Hafner on 02/25/2015 - 02:34 pm.

          Pedestrian Safety.

          Bill, thanks for your nice article on crosswalks. I really admire how you can discuss such a hotbutton issue in such an informational and low key manner. I wish I had that skill. You appear to be genuine and helpful on the subject of safety, as opposed to the all too numerous extremist self interest groups who are muddling the issue at the expense of our health and welfare.
          I believe you could prevent many accidents and injuries if you could focus on Minn. State Statute 168.21 And educate the public on its spirit and intent, which is to impress upon waiting pedestrians that they in fact do NOT have the right of way and subsequently that it is against the law to step out in front iof oncoming traffic.
          This idea that pedestrianansre privileged and entitled is not only false, but it’s not working. It’s killing us-literally.
          Also, informing people that all intersections are crosswalks ia not helpful. Drivers already know this rendering the statement as rather insulting.

      • Submitted by Dave Hafner on 02/25/2015 - 01:51 pm.

        Traffic Safety

        Pat, you would be breaking no law so your fears are unfounded. You would however be surrendering your right of way to pedestrians who do NOT have the right of way. And you would be setting them up to get run over. Approach such pedestrians with caution and be prepared to stop if they step out into the steet (which IS against the law). If you question my advice Google “Minn, State Statute 169.21” to verify my info. Very few people have actually taken the time to read the Minn. State Statutes. They listen instead to the media, and bicyclists, and bicyclist organizations instead. They are disseminating overwhelming amounts of false information and misinformation . Macalester representatives as well. If you want to die prematurely take the advice of the director and associate director of the Macalester College High Winds Fund (whatever that is). Your odds of getting run over will increase exponentially. Hope this answers your question and good luck crossing the street!!!

      • Submitted by Dave Hafner on 12/02/2017 - 12:38 pm.


        Newspaper articles NEVER tell anyone “everything there is to know about anything.” The pedestrian waving you on does NOT have the right of way. Never did. Never will. The only pedestrian that has the right of way is the one that is already physically in the crosswalk, PROVIDED that they did NOT step out in front of oncoming traffic.
        Most lawyers will not represent a pedestrian that is guilty of stepping in front of an approaching vehicle because they will lose their case in a court of law. At the least, the pedestrian will be held partially responsible because they played a significant role in causing the accident. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

    • Submitted by Dave Hafner on 02/25/2015 - 01:32 pm.

      Crosswalks and pedesteian safety

      I agree with Presley Martin that traffic signs represent a significant part of the problem. No paint or sign, or blinking light, or signals, or signs in the streets, or red or orange flags will improve safety or reduce accidents if we allow them to confuse the issue. It is against the law to step out in front of oncoming traffic and to do so represents a serious breach in behaving safely. There is no law that states that pedestrians always have the right of way. There never was, there is none presently, and hopefully there never will be. Pedestrians who merely intend to cross a street do NOT have the rightway of way. Only pedestrians who are physically in the street have the right of way. The process starts when cars stop to let someone cross the street. This is a basic mistake and incredibly dangerous. While it is not technically against the law it is setting up the pedestrians to get in a serious accident. Pedestrians who mistakenly believe they have the right of way will get suckered in every time. This is what happened to the Macalester College students. My best advice would be to react as Presley Martin suggests. Wave them on and cross behind the cars. You will never have a problem. And make sure you teach your children the same.
      Minn, State Statute 169.21 states clearly and unequivocally that: Drivers must stop for pedestrians CROSSING at crosswalks, whether crosswalks are marked or not. It does not say or suggest that pedestrians WAITING. to cross a street have the right of way. A police officer would not give you a ticket but might suggest to refrain from slamming on your brakes every time you confront a pedestrian who wishes to cross a street. A few years back 85% of the PEDESTRIANS we’re losing their cases in court. Experts claim it’s closer to 50/50 today, but accident and personal injury lawyers claim this is only because most cases are settled out of court when pedestrians discover that they in fact were the ones who broke the law and caused the accident, thereby skewering the data. May your children lead long, healthy, and prosperous lives.

  2. Submitted by Bruce Brothers on 07/08/2014 - 12:20 pm.

    safety first

    As a runner/cyclist/motorist, I try to remember what Mom drummed into my head when I was about 5 years old: Look both ways and do not cross when a car is coming! Just because there’s a crosswalk, it does not give me permission to step into traffic.

    • Submitted by Dave Hafner on 02/25/2015 - 02:11 pm.

      Traffic safety

      Bruce, thanks for your words of wisdom and for sharing such a common sense approach. I was taught to do the same by my parents and the advice appears to be foolproof. I believe there is a legitimate reason why you have never been involved in a vehicle/pedestrian collision. Keep spreading the good word!!!

  3. Submitted by Samantha Henningson on 07/08/2014 - 12:27 pm.

    detail question

    Bill, regarding the info from St Paul Public Works — is it 1700 crosswalks, or 1700 MARKED crosswalks? If the latter, how many total crosswalks?

    • Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 07/08/2014 - 04:14 pm.


      I’m sure it’s marked crosswalks. The number of unmarked crosswalks must be absolutely massive. There must orders of magnitude more unmarked crosswalks than marked crosswalks. It’s one of the reasons why this crosswalk situation is so complicated.

    • Submitted by Dave Hafner on 02/25/2015 - 02:16 pm.

      Pedestrian Safety

      Forget the crosswalks. They are nothing but bandaids that are clouding our vision and common sense. And their killing us. You are getting sidetracked.
      Remember what you learned in kindergarten-cross behind the vehicles, not in front.

  4. Submitted by James Ferstle on 07/08/2014 - 03:28 pm.


    On Sunday, the final day of the PHC 40th Anniversary celebration. Was walking along Snelling when another dog walker talking with the police officer who was stationed at the intersection to stop traffic when a pedestrian wanted to cross. The walker was suggesting that overpasses were the solution. Problem obviously is cost, but it also sends the message that the road is the property of the car and everyone else must defer to them. That is the culture that needs to change or pedestrians will continue to be at risk crossing anywhere but at a stop sign or light. There has been some progress on “sharing” the road between cars and bikes, but it is still dangerous. The concept that the car owns every road is a big problem in search of a solution.

    • Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 07/08/2014 - 04:16 pm.


      Overpasses are one solution, but are extremely impractical and lead to situations like the downtown Minneapolis skyway system where the actual street level sidewalk is often barren.

      There are better solutions, but all of them involve dramatically decreasing the design speed of roads, which is something that MNDOT and most cities are very unwilling to think about. (i.e. it’s still against the law for any city to have a speed limit under 30 miles per hour, unless they get explicit permission from MNDOT).

    • Submitted by Hillary Drake on 07/08/2014 - 04:46 pm.


      There was talk of an overpass over Grand west of Snelling when I was a student at Mac 10+ years ago – the challenge then was that there isn’t enough space in built up city blocks to make them handicap accessible. They either need elevators or ramps that are a block long.

    • Submitted by Dave Hafner on 02/25/2015 - 02:53 pm.

      Thanks James for your wisdom. We certainly need more advocates like you. The crazies seem to be taking over. Hopefully teaching people to behave dangerously will lose its appeal someday. But it doesn’t appear that it will be anytime soon. My personal theory is that there is too much money to be made.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/08/2014 - 03:57 pm.

    Ditto on Bruce

    I’m not saying it’s all pedestrian’s fault but as a cyclist, a pedestrian, and driver, I have to say that soooo many people seem to shut off their brains when they walk. I think the engineering and education emphasis on drivers may be misguided to some degree.

    Pedestrians constantly wander out in front of bikes and cars, and I think some painted crosswalks are actually worse because people just assume everyone will stop. If I had a dollar for every time I saw a pedestrians wander out into an intersection without even looking to see if traffic was slowing down or for an indication the driver sees them… I’d be a millionaire I tell ya.

    Pedestrians also seem to assume that just because there’s a stop sign of some kind drivers are going to stop, and again, just step off curbs without even glancing up from their smart phones. It doesn’t seem to occur people that drivers may not see a stop sign, or otherwise be distracted or having a medical or mechanical problem. Its not a matter of who’s got the right of way, if that car fails to stop you will have a very bad day.

    “how do you know when to step out into traffic?”

    It’s simple, NEVER step out into traffic. Always make sure traffic is stopped or stopping, and take a second to look up from your phone and look both ways.

    When I’m driving a car or a bike I always assume pedestrians are clueless and I give them a wide birth… but that’s me.

    By the way, that guy that hit the girls at Macalester is gong to jail right?

    • Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 07/08/2014 - 05:00 pm.

      The way things used to be…

      I’d be curious Paul what you think of this movie: It’s San Francisco’s Market Street in 1906, two days before the great earthquake. It’s amazing to watch so many people interact so smoothly.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2014 - 08:51 am.

        What a hoot!

        I love that film!

        Well, for one thing it helps if nobody’s going faster than 5 mph, you see people walking as fast as traffic and even out running traffic if need be. And the pedestrians are all very aware of the the traffic that they’re sharing the road with, no one is assuming that anyone will stop for them, and in fact, you don’t see anyone stopping for pedestrians. The cable car carrying the camera doesn’t seem to slow down at all for anything, even when that big damn wagon saunters out in front of it!

        Today, even the slowest cyclists are going twice as fast at that turn of the century traffic, it’s hard to coast slower than that.

        Pedestrians today have all kinds of good and bad reasons for assuming traffic will stop for them or otherwise work around them.

        By the way, the building containing the machinery that runs the cables for the cable cars is open for tours in San Francisco and it’s well worth your time to see how that system runs. And it is now unique, I don’t think any other city is using a cable system like that.

    • Submitted by Dave Hafner on 02/25/2015 - 03:11 pm.

      Pedestrian (and driver!) Safety

      Paul, I have read many comments on many blogs. But yours is by far the best. You really have a gift for expressing yourself and getting critical points across. I wish I had your talent. In case you think I am jesting,cO am not. I am 100% serious. It is refreshing to hear from people who have it figured out and are willing to express themselves. I also like the sarcasm in your last statement. It’s obvious you didn’t attend Macalester College. They really have their students drinking the coolaid. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.
      I attended 7 different colleges and universities and I don’t recall crossing a street as being a problem at any of them. Somehow I can’t bring myself to believe that the challenges students face at Macalester are happening by chance.

  6. Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 07/08/2014 - 08:34 pm.

    Every corner is NOT a crosswalk

    Every corner at an “intersection” is a crosswalk – and “intersection” in Minnesota has a very specific meaning. An intersection is the area where “the roadways of two highways which join one another at, or approximately at, right angles or the area within which vehicles traveling upon different highways joining at any other angle may come in conflict.” Every corner does not meet this definition – and we all need to understand the difference.

  7. Submitted by Monica Millsap on 07/08/2014 - 10:33 pm.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve heard that the US has the highest incidents of pedestrians deaths and injuries. Having traveled to other cities I both the US and other countries, very few (if any) cities of any significance have slow moving 1 laned traffic. Many cities, like Paris and Moscow, have underpases. Moscow’s are rather eleborate with vendors. San Francisco, Montreal, and Honolulu (amd others) have intersections in which pedestrians have all way right of way crossing signals. These seem to be serious solutions to pedestrian safety. In the Twin Cities, solutions that I keep hearing are “traffic calming” as if pedestrians themselves are traffic calming devices. Well, guess what. We don’t want to calmauto traffic. We just want to efficiently get to our destination like everyone else. Other metropolitan areas have figured out how to not kill pedestrians. It’s time we stopped being the deer in the auto headlights and started looking at solutions that actually keep people from dying.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2014 - 09:25 am.



      It is interesting to make comparisons. I seem to remember reading that we have a high number of pedestrian casualties as well. I think part of the problem is that here in the US we gave priority to automobile traffic while giving “right of way” to pedestrians. Our culture promotes a strange mixture of personal entitlements that results in a variety of clashes not seen so much elsewhere.

      Americans are constantly “asserting” their entitlements in a variety of ways and one expression of this is the traffic “calming” behavior you describe. I’ve been critical of the vehicular cycling movement or “bike driving” because it’s based on the bizarre premise that cyclists will calm traffic if they ride out in it, defend their lanes, etc. I always cringe when I hear bikers talk about it, and it is an unique American biking attitude. Everywhere else people have realized keeping bikes and traffic separate is the key to reducing accidents.

      Your right, the problem with these “calming” theories that promote assertiveness is they assume that the drivers you’re calming are paying attention, not having any medical or mechanical problems, see you, and care. All bad assumptions to make when a one ton or greater vehicle traveling 30+ mph is barreling towards you. The driver that hits you is almost never the driver that see you so don’t assume that every driver sees you. And drivers run stop signs and light all the time, so don’t assume people are going to stop even at controlled intersections.

      I walk my dogs around the lakes frequently. To get back to my car I have to cross the street. I will stand right next to a pedestrian crossing sign and watch ten cars zip by before one finally stops to let me cross, cyclist are even worse. Yeah, I have the right of way, those drivers are supposed to stop, its the law. But the reason I’ve never been run over is I’ve never stepped in front of a moving car, you can tell when a driver is going to stop. Maybe I could be more assertive, but the laws of physics will trump my entitlement every time, a car either stops or it doesn’t, right of ways don’t stop cars… brakes stop cars.

      I’m not saying we shouldn’t or couldn’t design better crosswalks, but I think we also need to look at pedestrian behavior and attitudes. We all know we’re not supposed to run over pedestrians with our bikes and cars, so right of way really isn’t the issue.

  8. Submitted by David Frenkel on 07/08/2014 - 11:16 pm.

    Law Enforcement

    Article misses one important piece which is enforcing crosswalk laws. CA has been decades ahead of MN in enforcing crosswalk laws and while not perfect crosswalks are a little safer in CA because drivers know they will get tagged as opposed to MN where I have never heard of anybody getting a ticket for violating crosswalk laws.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2014 - 09:50 am.


      They’ve been running “sting” operations in MPLS for a few years now. They put a pedestrian at a crosswalk and stop and tag drivers that fail to stop. I don’t know how “common” it is, but they are doing it.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/09/2014 - 08:44 am.

    The problem at Macalester

    is that many of those kids aren’t from here and come from states like California where if a pedestrian steps off the curb, all traffic comes to a halt.

    Drivers don’t do that here much to the out-of-state students’ shock and dismay.

    I’m reminded of the tragic accident of the Mac student from Paris who was here only a day when she was run over and killed as she crossed the street by Green Mill pizza. The woman who hit her assumed the girl would wait on the curb when she saw the SUV coming. But she didn’t.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2014 - 09:46 am.


      I spent days walking around Paris. Traffic does not halt whenever someone steps off a curb. A lot of people get run over in California as well.

      College campus’s have always been a problem. For one thing, there are simply far more pedestrians and American drivers are not super experienced at dealing with pedestrians. Think about it, unless there’s a sports event we just don’t have a lot of people walking around our streets with few exceptions like NY and Chicago. Here in MN our major downtown’s are pretty mush devoid of pedestrians who either just aren’t there as in St. Paul, or are up in the skyways in MPLS. How many people do you see walking around the suburbs? That idiot that sped around the other cars and hit the Macalester students for instance probably never even considered the possibility that there were pedestrians in the street.

      On a college campus you have a double whammy, first there are far more pedestrians than the typical American driver is accustomed to dealing with, AND you have a lot young people who are prone to making bad assumptions about a lot of things.

    • Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 07/09/2014 - 10:28 am.

      Not sure about this one.

      As anyone from California would know, that doesn’t happen there outside of Berkeley. And many people, not just students, have been hit by cars on Snelling, including long-time residents and native Minnesotans. So I don’t think this idea has a lot of legs…

      Still, even if it did, that wouldn’t excuse this kind of problem. Maybe the solution is to make Twin Cities’ driving culture more like Paris?

      • Submitted by Monica Millsap on 07/09/2014 - 02:19 pm.

        And that’s the thing- San Francisco is dealing with pedestrian deaths and injuries just like we are. Read the SF Chronicle and many articles are devoted to how to deal with pedestrian safety. In fact, one article a few monrhs ago from the Chronicle noted that while SF gets high walkability marks, it gets low marks for pedestrian safety.

        As for making driving culture more like Paris, can you elaborate what you mean? From my days in Paris, no pedestrian crosses the street unless there is a signal to so, at least not the multi lane streets. Cars aren’t going 20 miles per hour, they’re moving like they do on Snelling. And for the busiest of streets, they have short tunnels that get you safely to the other side.

        Paul may have nailed the issue in another comment when he said that the attitude of all of us (peds, bikers, transit riders, and drivers) is the issue.

  10. Submitted by Sheldon Mains on 07/09/2014 - 08:45 am.

    It is really just about enforcement

    In Minnesota, cars must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks where there are no traffic signals and where they are crossing on a green or walk signal.

    There is NO enforcement of this law in Minnesota–whether the car is going straight or making a turn (yes, you must yield to pedestrians!)

    If we enforced this law like California enforces the law (a very similar law), we’d reduce the car/pedestrian crashes. If we prosecuted people for homicide who killed a pedestrian in a crosswalk, we’d reduce car/pedestrian crashes.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2014 - 10:41 am.


      MPLS has been setting up “sting” operations for drivers who fail to stop for a couple years now. Ticketing isn’t the solution, we hand out thousands of speeding tickets… does it stop speeding? Not that we shouldn’t enforce laws, but laws don’t stop cars, brakes stop cars.

      Listen, we ought to have laws and rules, and we do, that’s fine. The thing is laws and rules don’t determine what actually happens the real world. People need to exercise good judgement and there are limits as to how much we engineer around bad judgement. When your standing on a curb thinking about crossing a street, the law doesn’t determine whether or not you should step into the intersection, THAT’S a matter of judgment. You need to assess whether or not it’s safe, not whether or not you have the right of way. Just because you see lines painted on the street doesn’t mean it’s a “go”.

      The same principle applies to drivers of all kinds, the question isn’t whether or not that pedestrian is or isn’t in a crosswalk, the question is whether or not that pedestrian is going to step in front you. You need to be aware of all pedestrians and watch them for the tell tale signs that they’re gonna walk in front of you- crosswalk or not. That’s not only the law, it’s how you avoid running people over. I’ve had so many clueless pedestrians step in front of me in my car and on my bike that I just assume they’re gonna do it. Tell me your experience is different?

      The law isn’t the primary issue, people getting shmushed is the primary issue. Laws in these matters don’t typically come into play until AFTER the fact. Its the shumushing, not the legality a any particular shumushing that we need to be thinking about here. Yes?

  11. Submitted by Bjorn Awel on 07/09/2014 - 10:19 am.

    what is more important, traffic safety or vehicle speed?

    the HAWK signal will help a lot, has a good track record.

    It isn’t just about enforcement, the fact is that vehicles are traveling too fast, as the Toole design folks point out. If you want to reduce crashes, then reduce speeds. You can do so through a number of speed reduction measures that change the design of the road but do not negatively impact traffic. If anything, allowing cars to travel at a more consistent speed timed to the lights can help flow, just at speeds safer for pedestrians.

    What would be good all around the campus is to establish a low speed zone.

    • Submitted by Dave Hafner on 02/26/2015 - 07:35 pm.

      HAWK signal

      Any device that encourages pedestrians to step in front of a vehicle will still cause accidents. There is only one way to reduce, prevent, and absolutely eliminate accidents, and that is to cross behind the vehicles. One accident is too many. Obviously, I am not referring to controlled intersections.
      The HAWK signal does appear to be an improvement on the classic intersection lights. What are the odds that the old lights be replaced with the Hawk system? Probably would be too expensive. However, they could still be installed on all new construction.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2014 - 10:39 am.


    People keep talking about California, does anyone have data that CA has fewer pedestrian accidents per capita than the rest of the country?

    I’ll tell what California does have, for a variety of reason they have more pedestrians on and near their streets. For one thing the climate is different, no one is walking around skyways in any CA city. San Francisco is an extremely walkable city unlike St. Paul or MPLS. It stands to reason that in a place where there are more pedestrians both pedestrians and drivers might simply more experienced at dealing with each other.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2014 - 11:00 am.

    Slower speed might help but…

    Once make slower speed limits you might just be moving a deck chair around because then enforcing the low speed limit become the issue.

    I think most people know the rules and maybe that’s part of the problem. Any existentialist worth their salt will tell you that sometimes the more you focus on rules the less you rely good judgement. I wonder if the solution isn’t to somehow find a way to promote better judgment by drivers and pedestrians? It’s not the rules it the reality in front of you that determines whether not something’s safe.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2014 - 11:03 am.

    Speaking of good judgement, here’s a suggestion

    I always look at the driver for cues as to what their going to do. Listen: apparently several thousand times a year in a variety of circumstances, older drivers accidentally hit the accelerator pedal instead of the brake pedal. When I see an older driver behind the wheel I don’t step in font that car until that baby comes to a compete stop.

  15. Submitted by Bruce Brothers on 07/09/2014 - 11:50 am.

    Common sense…

    is the rule for all. … If you stop for a pedestrian, will the vehicle two cars behind you know why? Drivers are too often distracted and if a crosswalk is 50 feet ahead, they can be unaware until traffic suddenly (and for no apparent reason to them) comes to a halt. It’s a rear-ender waiting to happen. Put away the phones, drivers. As well, too many drivers screech to a halt when they see a bicycle at a crossing. That’s just wrong. And while I’m ranting, can we all agree that using turn signals is a good thing?

    • Submitted by Todd Adler on 07/09/2014 - 04:29 pm.


      Sadly, I annoy the hell out of a lot of drivers because I do usually stop for stop signs and red lights. I come to a complete stop, take a moment to look around me and make sure someone isn’t in a blind spot, and only then roll forward. In the meantime there’s often someone behind me having a meltdown because I didn’t do the slow & go routine.

      People would get along a lot better if they would simply slow down a mite and enjoy the ride.

  16. Submitted by Todd Adler on 07/09/2014 - 12:07 pm.


    My personal method for crossing streets is to walk it like I own it. I watch far too many people hesitate at the edge of the crosswalk, too timid to cross. And the cars just keep rolling on by until some kind soul who knows the rules (and cares) actually stops.

    My body would perish and turn to dust if I used that method near work or home. So I look like I’m stepping into the street and ready to cross, even though I’m ready to stop or leap back if the driver does something stupid. Body language carries me through 90% of the time and for the other 10% I’ve got my gesture nailed down. It does involve fingers, but not the one you’re thinking of. I throw both my arms up horizontally, one in each direction, palms facing traffic in the universal sign to STOP!

    That covers the people who aren’t paying attention and have edited pedestrians out of their vision.

    The most dangerous one I’ve found are the people who have stopped at a stop sign or light. These days cars just pause rather than really stop and people don’t take the time to look around them and assess the situation. Many times I’ve had to slap the hood of someone’s car as they lurch ahead, ready to run me over if I’m not fleet of foot.

    Need I even point this out? Of course the people who are on their cell phones are the worst offenders. It’s not your hands that are the issue here, folks: it’s the mind. Driving a 2000 pound steel contraption should be your primary task when you’re behind the wheel.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2014 - 12:51 pm.

      When not if baby

      “Many times I’ve had to slap the hood of someone’s car as they lurch ahead, ready to run me over if I’m not fleet of foot. ”

      Many times? I’ve NEVER come that close to getting run over yet somehow I’ve managed to get across the street every single time in the last 51 years. I hope your luck holds.

      Wait, I seem to remember having to slap a trunk of a car once in a parking lot because they were going to back over me… but I wasn’t acting like I owned the parking lot.

      This reminds of a comment by a vehicular bike rider once who talked about having had several collision’s with cars.

      So we have two distinct theories here:

      1). Share the streets
      2). Own the streets.

      You decide.

      • Submitted by Todd Adler on 07/09/2014 - 04:23 pm.

        Raw Hide!

        Paul, judging from your posts you’re a much safer pedestrian than I am. I tend to get out in front and be bold, to the point where it scares my coworkers and wife. You’re much more sensible than I am.

        Truth be told though, I don’t ever rely on luck, so I don’t need to hope it holds. I’m always cognizant of the situation around me, knowing full well that many people are not paying attention to their surroundings. A good example: the gentleman’s post below talking about pulling a fellow pedestrian out from in front of a delivery truck. There are a lot of people out there in cars, on bikes, and walking who are oblivious to the dynamics of the world around them. In this case it’s best not to join the crowd.

        I believe you’re misconstruing my intent though if you’re trying to “own the streets” as nothing could be farther from the truth. My intent is to share the streets. In this case, that means letting people know that they’re not just for cars and that other people also share our public spaces.

        Sorry, but I refuse to be a wall flower in the world.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/10/2014 - 12:20 pm.

          Uh huh

          “My intent is to share the streets. In this case, that means letting people know that they’re not just for cars and that other people also share our public spaces.”

          On the off chance the universe isn’t quite as concerned about your intentions as you may think, you may want to make your health insurance is up to date.

          The driver that runs you over won’t be the one who’s watching you teach us a lesson about sharing the streets, it’ll be the driver that: A) Has the same attitude about “sharing” as you. B) Didn’t see you or imagine you’d step in front of his/her moving car.

          People with internal loci of control attitudes never think they’re relying on luck, but for some strange reason they rarely blame themselves when their luck runs out.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 07/09/2014 - 02:10 pm.

      Cell phones are also a problem

      with pedestrians. A couple of years ago, I was waiting to cross Washington right by Cuzzy’s, when a guy walked right past me, phone glued to his ear and stepped out into the crosswalk without looking. I grabbed him by the back of his shirt and yanked him back towards me just before he would have been spattered by a delivery truck. The guy stood there a few minutes afterwards just shaking….and so did I.

  17. Submitted by Kevin Gallatin on 07/08/2015 - 11:29 am.

    Major enforcement activity planned for Ped Safety Week

    Saint Paul will again participate in Pedestrian Safety Week the first week of August. MnDOT is sponsoring the work through its Toward Zero Deaths program. This year the Saint Paul Police are very engaged with the community and are planning a major enforcement effort in support of pedestrians demonstrating the legal use of crosswalks. Motorists in violation of the state crosswalk law will be cited and SPPD is taking pains to ensure the citations hold up in court.

  18. Submitted by Thomas Woodward on 12/22/2015 - 04:42 pm.

    The problem with crosswalks as they are now

    The biggest problem with crosswalks is the 2nd car that you can’t see. When you are crossing as a pedestrian, the car nearest to you often has no trouble whatsoever seeing you and will come to a stop. The danger then comes from a car in the next lane who only sees a stopped car but who cannot see you. You also cannot see the other car that could be speeding ahead as it is obstructed by the first car. If you continue crossing, you may be hit or killed by the 2nd car. If you stop and wait, the first car may get impatient and start honking at you, not realizing the reason you have stopped in traffic. This is a very real problem, and is not properly addressed with the current setup. As a result, this makes crosswalks more dangerous on 2 lane roads than on roads with a single lane.

    One way to solve this issue would be to add warning lights above the road that would change from orange to red that could be activated on the sidewalk by the pedestrian. This model has already been implemented successfully in at least one university campus area. This would go a long way to making crosswalks much safer and reduce unnecessary deaths and injuries.

    • Submitted by Kenyon Potter on 02/17/2016 - 06:21 pm.

      The problem with crosswalks as they are now

      In most states, drivers generally have an obligation at least yield the right of way to a pedestrian who is crossing in a marked crosswalk and also at an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. Some states have stricter requirements and the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) from a state-by-state summary (see link below):

      Yes, there is an increased hazard to pedestrians if a road has multiple lanes in the same direction as compared to a road with a single lane in each direction. Since vehicles may slow or stop for many reasons in the right most lane (e.g. vehicle turning right, vehicle slowing to parallel park, etc.), a driver can intentionally ignore a slowed or stopped vehicle and proceed to pass the slowing or stopped vehicles. Therefore, a slowing or stopped vehicle is not an adequate warning of a pedestrian crossing. A critical issue is the visibility of the crosswalk which is often suboptimal. At a minimum, a marked crosswalk should be made sufficiently visible by using retroreflective pavement markings (e.g. thermoplastic paint with glass beads instead of standard white paint) or better a signalized with flashing yellow or red stop light when in use by pedestrians. Ideally, a crosswalk at an intersection should be controlled with either stop signs (4 way) or signalized controls including crosswalk safety lights.

  19. Submitted by Von Williams on 04/04/2018 - 09:38 am.

    CROSS WALK COLORS – Crossing Laws in California

    A few years back .. many cities started painting cross walks from white to yellow.
    These crosswalks were in front of Schools, Hospitals and some public and federal buildings.
    No information was available … but folks were getting tickets for NOT waiting until the cross walk was Totally Empty. Apparently the rules changed from those that were established for White Crosswalks.
    At that time I tried researching it on California web sites and even at the State DMV. They new nothing. It has been several years now and am taking a drivers refresh course prior to renewing my drivers license. The drivers test prep book says nothing about cross walk rules and the instructor also knew nothing about the crossing rules. Even the police I have spoken to do not seem to be aware of the crosswalk rules …. except that one should proceed only if “Safe To Do So”
    Sure wish I could locate the rules …. if any ??

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