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St. Paul launches effort to change the city’s driving culture — by enforcing crosswalk laws

MinnPost photo by Bill Lindeke
Volunteer pedestrians working at the Stop For Me event at Maryland and Green brier while a St. Paul police officer watches for infractions in the background.

Shelby Kokesch was killed last week trying to cross the street, on her way from the Minnesota History Center to the other side of busy Kellogg Boulevard. As Kokesch and her mother stepped out into traffic, one car stopped to let her pass, following the technicalities of Minnesota’s crosswalk law. But the second car, an SUV, did not.

I’m sure the driver feels horrible; nobody wants to drive into people. But the crash was a classic example of the tragedy of the crosswalk, where safety and laws say one thing, but speed and the street say another.

The death also marks an inauspicious beginning as safety advocates and the St. Paul Police Department launch the city’s most ambitious campaign yet aimed at changing St. Paul’s driving culture. All year long, teams of neighbors and police will conduct stings aimed at shifting the priorities of St. Paul streets, one ticket at a time. 

Crosswalk culture

The state crosswalk law states that pedestrians have right-of-way at every corner, marked or unmarked. Yet as I described earlier in this column, the way the crosswalk law works is often counterintuitive to drivers used to having unfettered claim on city asphalt.

“I live on a corner which has no painted crosswalk and it’s really challenging to cross there,” said Kevin Gallatin, a member of the Highland District Council. “Watching literally right outside my window how hard it was for people to cross the street, situations where kids were waiting on the corner and couldn’t get across. No cars were stopping. Kids were there for a minute or two. I’ve stopped what I was doing and walked them across the street.”

Two years ago Gallatin finally did something, and reached out to MnDOT and the state Department of Public Safety, which runs a program called Toward Zero Deaths, aimed at improving safety on Minnesota’s streets and highways. In 2014, Gallatin began organizing a crosswalk campaign in a few places throughout Highland. Lacking the teeth of tickets, the efforts were as much about raising awareness as trying to police behavior.

MinnPost photo by Bill Lindeke
This is the crosswalk where Shelby Kokesch was killed, where lanes on Kellogg Blvd narrow from 14′ widths.

“Near churches and schools, tough intersections,” Gallatin explained. “We did three sites in the first year, but we weren’t well covered. We tried to get press, and had a lot of family supporting me. It was successful, but there was no enforcement tied to it.”

Since then, Gallatin’s work has spread around the city. Last year, there were a series of official stings set up during “pedestrian awareness week,” where instead of angry drivers making obscene gestures at the Quixotic advocates, the police calmly explained the law. Still, the approach has clear limits. Few people are stopping at crosswalks, and in many places, it remains all but impossible to cross the street.

“Everybody is distracted,” Gallatin told me. “Drivers are not actively engaged. It’s such a mundane activity. People lock up on the bumper in front of them, and don’t pay much attention.”

Education campaign 2.0

This year, things are different because Stop For Me, an offshoot of the nonprofit Saint Paul Smart Trips, is launching a yearlong campaign, spread all throughout the city, to take another stab at changing the culture around the city’s crosswalk law.

Partnering with neighborhood groups, the campaign is holding 32 two-hour crosswalk enforcement sessions in different neighborhoods, where police and safety-conscious neighbors set up stings at particularly difficult corners. According to Kyle Mianulli, the program’s organizer, in one week there have been five events, 529 traffic stops and 129 tickets handed out to St. Paul drivers. Each ticket runs $168. Here is a report [PDF] on the kickoff events on March 17.

Sgt. Jeremy Ellison is the lead liaison for the program from the St. Paul Police Department. According to Ellison, during any event about five police officers, together with a dozen crosswalk advocates, set up operation. Every five or 10 minutes during rush hour an unmarked cop car waits on a side street by a difficult crosswalk ready to pounce. A group of two or three people, some wearing high-visibility vests, approach the street, wave their hands, and step out into the crosswalk. To help with precise legal matters, the police place orange traffic cones exactly 193’ feet from the crosswalk.

MinnPost photo by Bill Lindeke
Sgt. Ellison demonstrates safe crosswalk behavior: one foot out, hand raised.

(Two details: The number comes from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards based on estimated stopping distance and average speeds. Also, every crosswalk volunteer is trained to be assertive and to make sure their own safety is always a priority.)

Depending on the time and location, between one-tenth and one-fourth of drivers fail to yield to the crossing pedestrians, some of whom become visibly upset by the disregard. But then, in just a few seconds, the police car appears. The watchful “spotting officer” signals by radio, and the squad zooms down the street to pull over the driver.

“Typically, what I’ll do is walk up to the driver and say, ‘Hey do you know why I’m pulling you over today?’ ” Sgt. Ellison told me. “The reason I’m stopping you today is that you failed to yield to the pedestrian in the crosswalk. Then I’ll hand them the pedestrian safety cards, and have a conversation with them about why they didn’t stop. Typically what I’m hearing from people is that ’I didn’t see them.’ Well, why not? Were you distracted by your phone? Why didn’t you see them?”

Watching the sting in action is a bit strange for someone who often walks around St. Paul, like seeing the palpable schadenfreude. At one point, as the orange cop car sped down Maryland Avenue in pursuit of its target, quiet cheers rose up in the air around the gathered onlookers.

MinnPost photo by Bill Lindeke
East Side resident Stuart Knappmiller tallies driver behavior during a Stop For Me event on Maryland Ave.

Traffic as technological peer pressure

Online and in person, the reaction to the sting campaign reveals the gap between people on the inside and outside of the automobile. Negative comments on St. Paul Police Facebook page range from outrage to confusion to guilty confession.

Part of the problem is the inherent inertia of the automobile, how our streets and crowds of cars seem to thrust forward collectively, in ways that have little to do with anyone’s individual choices or decisions.

“What is it that compels drivers? Lot of ways to answer that question,” Lars Christiansen told me this week, when I asked him about the crosswalk sting campaign. Christiansen teaches sociology at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and has spent the last year doing research for a book about the relationship between the body, transportation technologies, and social conventions.

Christiansen calls our current expectations “motordom” — the idea that drivers and cars have the default right of way on the street — and argues that it is not a natural state of affairs. If you go back before the 1930s, for example, pedestrians walking out into city streets was far more normal. Drivers of vehicles were expected to be paying attention, and to yield to the vulnerable.

A busy street in San Francsico in 1906, before cars had claim to the street.

In other cities and cultures – say Berkeley, California or Hanoi, Vietnam — people have very different ways of crossing the street. That said, in the current driving culture in the Twin Cities and the vast majority of the country, not stopping for pedestrians is simply the default social behavior. So that when he hears the “excuses” offered by drivers, Christiansen is empathetic. 

“When we’re driving, the car becomes our body, and we’re in movement together as a group,” Christiansen explained. “One feels the heat of the other cars around you as you’re moving, so to do something unusual [like stopping for a pedestrian] feels dangerous.’’

“Where I see a problem with the stings is that it’s not that simple,” Christiansen told me. “It’s not a matter or illegal or criminal individual behavior. This isn’t about an individual flouting the law, it’s a very real feeling of pressure from motorists.”

Christiansen believes that a more radical shift in the culture of the street needs to happen, where drivers become far more attentive to the urban world around them.

“With the stings, I fear we over-rely on them,” Christiansen said. “We rely on enforcement as the solution to the problem, though it seems to be a very effective way to get people to start looking differently at things. But then there’s all this ambiguity with the pedestrian, especially with the second lane. Someone stops, but then the second car whips around, which leads to death.”

That said, Christiansen believes that the yearlong campaign, and events like the one at Maryland and Greenbrier this week, remain a good step forward. Watching people begin to connect the dots between driving and safety — it’s nice to think that something good is coming out of it.

“The main goal of today’s event is safety. I don’t want anybody to get hit or anybody to get hurt,” Sgt. Ellison told me. “People are slamming on their brakes at the last minute. They’re not looking for pedestrians. They need to increase awareness, pay attention, slow down, put down the distractions, and drive carefully.”

As I was leaving the scene of the crosswalk, a group of three people in orange vests had just walked out between the white lines. One car stopped to let them cross the street, but then there was a sudden screech of tires. A taxi — a white minivan — hadn’t seen them, and hit the brakes just in time.

As the sun set off in the distance, Sgt. Ellison’s eyes riveted on the cars lining up on Maryland Avenue, fixed in a thousand-yard stare. The last thing anyone wanted was for someone to get hurt.

Comments (43)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/25/2016 - 09:15 am.

    Just this morning . . . . .

    Just this morning on my way into work I encountered road rage from another driver because I had stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross (and in so doing had created delay for this other driver).

    It can be really frustrating for a driver out there trying to do the right thing. Hopefully this effort will have success in spreading awareness of this law.

  2. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 03/25/2016 - 09:20 am.

    My biggest adjustment in moving here from California, or corruption perhaps, was in losing my habit of always stopping for someone trying to cross a street at an intersection or crosswalk, something drilled into CA drivers from the beginning. Folks her seldom start across a multi lane road until it is completely safe, and they are not wrong in doing so. I hope things change, but the part of me prone to satire that invented a “rabid transit” company to launch parachute equipped pedestrians from catapults and trebuchets and was also to provide them an Edgar Rice BurroughsTarzan-like system of vines to cross the street and get places (less amenable to the disabled than getting flung across), was awakened by Bill’s article:

    This sting using volunteer pedestrians is ridiculous as they should be deputized and armed with the most powerful handgun each can handle. As drivers who will not yield to a pedestrian are armed with a car, these pedestrians tempting fate can fire as many rounds at them as they like in self defense, providing effective driver reeducation at the same time. I suppose they need not be deputized given the circumstances.

    • Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 03/25/2016 - 10:12 am.

      interesting but…

      I’m not sure Sergeant Ellison would approve of your plan

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/28/2016 - 08:53 am.


        How about pedestrians carry the largest hammer they can and the power to beat the crap out of any car that violates their pedestrian space? You know, like that car that makes a left turn immediately in front of pedestrians? Or the one that parks their car right in the middle of the crosswalk because they don’t like the white lines keeping them from owning the whole road? Or the ones that come to a screeching halt because they weren’t paying attention, causing the pedestrian to nearly die of a heart attack? BAM! I bet they don’t do that again.

        • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 03/28/2016 - 12:17 pm.


          Some people call this the ‘pocket rocks’ approach. It’s not quite a hammer, but for people who care more about the paint on their car or a cracked windshield than a human life it can send the same message.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/25/2016 - 02:26 pm.

      I’m inclined

      … to agree with Bill Lindeke that the police are unlikely to approve of your response.

      That said, I’ve had my own near-death experience as a pedestrian, and not even on a 2-lane road.

      On the return leg of my daily constitutional one morning, when I got to an ordinary 4-way residential intersection, with a stop sign for the street I was crossing, but not for the more heavily-traveled street with which it intersected, a pair of cars were headed in the opposite direction from me, and both wanted to turn left onto the street I was crossing. The lead driver stopped (I’m not a native, and I had no idea Minnesota law was so heavily in favor of pedestrians…) and waved me across, and as I started to do so, the kid behind him decided we were wasting his time, pulled out to the *left* and turned onto the street I was crossing on the inside of the corner, missing me by the width of a hand. My initial, gut response was very much in line with yours. If I’d been “carrying,” I might well have put a couple rounds into the shiny new, bright yellow Camaro convertible of the young man who came within inches of running me down. Fortunately for both of us, I was not, and do not, “carry,” but it was an object lesson. When I’m a pedestrian, I trust drivers not at all unless I’ve made eye contact and gotten some signal from them that they won’t try to kill me if I step off the curb.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 03/25/2016 - 07:51 pm.

      I’m reasonably certain that

      I’m reasonably certain that—never mind anyone on in the SPPD—no one would go for my “plan;” that is why I labeled it as satire.

      My “rabid transit” satire came up when proposed medians on Snelling Avenue near Macalester College, now in place, were discussed in an online forum. These medians do seem to help, but we’ve some arteries in the Twin Cities where I really would appreciate a parachute and a catapult.

      I am a little foggy on the actual wording of California law, but I think a pedestrian actually has to have a foot in the intersection or crosswalk for a driver of a vehicle to be required to stop for them and I just don’t remember exactly what it had to say about stepping out in front of vehicles with no chance of stopping in time (probably there).

      • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/26/2016 - 07:04 am.

        California codes

        I went and found the California code which includes:

        “Vehicle Code Section 21950.(b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.”

        So in that respect, it reads fairly similarly to applicable Minnesota Statute which I cite below.

  3. Submitted by Richard Callahan on 03/25/2016 - 01:17 pm.

    Two lanes are dangerous

    I’m one of those who always stops for pedestrians, but I’ve had far too many experiences where I stop, but the people in the other lane don’t and the pedestrian almost gets clipped. I’ve even held my hand out to get the other driver to take notice, but it seldom works.

    For that reason I will no longer stop for a pedestrian on two lane roads if there is anyone anywhere behind me. It may be agains the law, but it’s a dumb law, and it’s unsafe.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/25/2016 - 12:35 pm.

    It would nice to see some actually data

    Do MN really KNOW the law or not? I think a lot of drivers think they don’t have to stop unless it’s a marked crosswalk, but a lot of pedestrians are getting run over in marked crosswalks to maybe that’s not the issue either. Still, it’s would nice to know.

    All of our cars are equipped with brakes and I don’t think it’s too much ask that drivers use them regardless of road designs or psychological “pressures”. When I stand at intersections with my dogs waiting to cross I get the feeling that driver’s failure to stop isn’t about design or momentum, or whatever… they just don’t want to stop, they’re going someplace.

    On the other hand I always survey the entire intersection and all of the lanes and I never step in front of a car unless I know they’re stopping for me, frequently by making eye contact. I could complain about having to do that for 50 years… but I rather just have a lifetime of not getting run over.

    So anyways, yeah we should be giving out tickets to drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians, and I’d like to see more education and PSA’s to make sure EVERYONE knows what the law is.

  5. Submitted by Jan Arnold on 03/25/2016 - 01:54 pm.

    Why Just on the Driver

    Why is the responsibility of pedestrian safety just on the driver of a car? We were taught as children to look both ways before crossing the street. Pedestrians step off the curb in front of a car with no regard to what the consequences are for the driver of the car, does the car have enough distance to stop, how many cars are going 30+ mph behind the lead driver, can all the cars safely stop, can all the cars see why the lead car stopped, etc. The example in the lead was on a multi-lane, highly traveled road. The right hand car stopped the car on the left didn’t see the pedestrian and did not stop. Why wasn’t the pedestrian watching traffic to ensure their own safety? The death of the woman was tragic, the left side car was suppose to stop, but why didn’t the woman check as she was crossing that all the traffic would/could stop? It should not be all the driver’s fault, pedestrians need to use common sense when crossing the street. Because of this law many pedestrians seem to think they don’t need to look and wait until it is safe – they have the right of way and they are going to take it. I have seen this many times at unregulated crosswalks (no signal) the pedestrian gets to the curb and just keeps on going, doesn’t even look. There are some streets I try to avoid because of this – some day I will hit the person talking on their phone as they assume they have the right of way and didn’t have to look (or they will bounce off the side of my car as they walk into it).

    • Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 03/25/2016 - 02:24 pm.

      not sure about that

      The only place where I see people not looking for traffic is by the U of MN, and drivers there are very careful as a result.

      • Submitted by Jan Arnold on 03/25/2016 - 03:48 pm.

        Snelling has two places, by Macalester and Hamline are usually bad. At Snelling and St.Clair I had a girl actually walk into my car when I was stopped at the light. I got a hand signal that I was in the wrong.

        • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 03/28/2016 - 09:34 am.


          If they walked into your car at an intersection, it means your car was in the crosswalk, so you *were* in the wrong. Cars are supposed to stop at the line before the crosswalk, not in the middle of it as so many people here seem to think. I purposefully walk into the sides of cars that do this all the time to make a point and I’ll gladly give you some sign language if you block the crosswalk.

          • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/28/2016 - 11:20 am.

            Were you there?

            Perhaps the pedestrian was outside of the crosswalk (due to lack of attention on said pedestrian’s part). If you weren’t there, you don’t know.

            However, I do agree that cars need to pay better attention to making sure they stop short of the crosswalk line.

          • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/29/2016 - 09:42 am.

            Not necessarily

            I’m not sure where you’re living where pedestrians are always in the right and drivers are always in the wrong. I see people crossing at non-intersection points all the time and in lots of places, or cutting away from a crosswalk in order to shorten their walk. If a pedestrian literally walked into a stopped car, chances are that the pedestrian wasn’t paying attention–there are distracted walkers, too, and it’s pretty hard to miss a stopped car if you’re paying attention. It’s very possible that the pedestrian didn’t have the right of way, or they weren’t actually at a crosswalk. When that red hand comes up, you’d better be either on your way to the other side already or waiting on the curb. I’ve seen plenty of situations where pedestrians start crossing the street after the red hand comes up. Also, it’s perfectly legit to stop your car in a crosswalk while waiting to turn on a green light.

      • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 03/25/2016 - 08:19 pm.

        Some intersections in the Midway are pretty bad, especially since the Green Line went in; folks are pretty impatient and frustrated about what happened to University Avenue, not that it was ever all that easy to get past for pedestrians.

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/28/2016 - 09:08 am.

        Lots of places

        There are lots of places where pedestrians either unintentionally or intentionally step out into traffic at unsafe times. Check out Central Ave. north of about St. Anthony Parkway at night (crosswalks? we don’t need no stinking crosswalks! Or light colored clothing, for that matter!). In other places, pedestrians don’t clearly signal to a driver that they intend to cross–I would LOVE if pedestrians waved when they intend to cross, as in these stings. At the very least, pedestrians need to use assertive body language so that a driver can assume that they intend to cross the street (and quit lollygagging when the light turns, too!) As a pedestrian, I don’t cross unless I make eye contact, even if I have the little white stick figure on a sign. I don’t trust drivers to see me. And sometimes it’s legitimate that they don’t–streets and traffic can often hide pedestrians. I remember one time I felt like a total jerk because I ended up stopping in the middle of a 4-way stop intersection, with 2 lanes of traffic each way, because I didn’t see a pedestrian who timed her crossing exactly with the cross traffic and she was running so she wasn’t visible till the car was through the intersection…and she wasn’t. It doesn’t help that many vehicles on the road are big and bulky, and so easily hides the body mass of a human (or several).

        On a separate issue, I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with sidewalks in my neighborhood. From my perspective, they’re well maintained and clean, and I walk on them wherever they’re available. Yet lots of people will walk in the street, dragging their dog and children with them. What’s up with that?!

        • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 03/28/2016 - 12:15 pm.

          Here’s an idea

          Why don’t drivers honk their horn, roll down their window and do the hokey pokey every time they want to cross an intersection? Expecting a human being WALKING (the most basic form of human locomotion outside of crawling, mind you) to take extra measures just to cross the street so you can feel allowed to pay less attention while operating dangerous heavy machinery is pretty absurd. I’d also like it if drivers had to roll down their window and lean out to press a button to get a green light. If it’s acceptable to make pedestrians request to cross the street, why not cars? Cars are the interlopers, and no amount of rewriting history to suit the automobile industry’s narrative is going to change that.

          • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/28/2016 - 01:33 pm.

            It’s not a request . . . .

            It’s not a request I’d like to see. It’s a notification.

            I approach a pedestrian standing at the curb. I stop. I wait. The pedestrian doesn’t move, doesn’t even look at me. After a couple of seconds, I move on.

            This kind of thing happens all the time. Do you really think that encourages harmonious interactions between pedestrians and motorists?

            A hand in the air to indicate intent for motorists far enough away to stop safely is not that big a deal. It just isn’t.

            • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 03/29/2016 - 12:25 pm.

              Stop! Wait A Minute Mr. Driver

              I personally laud pedestrians who make it clear that they intend to cross the street. Heck I actually get a kick out of it when I shovel the sidewalks in the winter. I get down to the corners after the plow has gone by and hit the piles so people can actually use the sidewalks without having to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. (Both peaks, thank you very much.) On the way back across the busy street in front of my house I’ll hold up the shovels, one in each hand, to let people know I’m here and I’m crossing. I wait to see the car’s hood dip ever so slightly as then I know they’ve seen me and are braking for my passage.

              (I confess–I have a shovel collection. Hey you need different shovels for different types of snow. Don’t judge!)

              At the same time though, it would be great if drivers would pay less attention to the phones, radios, TVs, and laptops in their cars and more to the road and objects near them. (Yes, I have seen someone on a laptop while driving–a Minneapolis police officer, of all people.) It’s dangerous out there, people are distracted, and pedestrians have their lives on the line.

              Just this morning I was crossing the street with my wife when a car coming from the opposite direction and tried to make a right turn directly into us. It wasn’t dark out and while I had a dark coat on, my wife was wearing a brightly colored cape. We’re in a marked crosswalk and the signal gave us the right of way. Yet I had to stick my hand out to get the guy to stop so we could continue. We’re in the middle of the street and he paused ever so slightly while he calculated if he could cut in front of us. My hand made it clear that we’re here, we’re crossing, and you’re putting us in danger. Back off, buddy!

              One of the points Wayne is making is why do we expect pedestrians to go through all these gyrations to avoid being maimed or killed, yet we don’t expect similar behavior from the drivers who are doing the killing. There seems to be this expectation that the roads belong to the drivers and someone on foot is an annoying interloper that is to be grudgingly tolerated, but only if they first do a cartwheel with a little song and dance. How about we couple the pedestrian’s hand gestures with a little driver education to boot?

              Is that too much to ask?

              • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/29/2016 - 01:15 pm.

                Round and round and round we go

                I can only speak for myself, and for myself, I believe both pedestrians and motorists share the responsibility to make sure motorists aren’t running down pedestrians.

                I also think all of this will work better if things are viewed more as a cooperative venture and less as an adversarial showdown.

                So motorists are obviously obligated to keep their attention focused so that if they see a pedestrian crossing or about to cross that they will come to a safe stop and yield to that crossing.

                And in the spirit of cooperation, it would be nice if pedestrians who are actually going to cross were to provide some sort of notice of their intent so as to distinguish them, for example, from someone who is standing there waiting for a bus.

                Of course this won’t work out 100% of the time. You had someone run the risk of hitting you because they didn’t see you or didn’t want to wait. And I had someone swing around in front of me and then slam on their brakes on a freeway onramp because they were mad I had stopped for a jogger to cross, thereby blocking *their* left turn onto the same ramp I was waiting to make a right turn onto.

                These situations occur. Sure it sucks when they do. But it doesn’t mean we don’t just keep working on raising everyone’s awareness, because that’s the only way these situations will ever become so rare as to hardly be worth mentioning.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/30/2016 - 12:32 pm.

        Everywhere not just the U.

        I see pedestrians behaving carelessly everywhere, not just the U. campus. And I see both in my car and on my bicycle, and when I’m walking myself.

        Pedestrian caution has to be a part of solution, you can’t design around it.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/25/2016 - 02:30 pm.

      Pedestrians have responsibility, too

      From Minnesota Statute 169.21 Subd. 2: “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.”

      Notice that this is addressed in how the “sting” operation referenced in the article was set up in that they set up cones at 193′ from the crosswalk (presumably the distance a car should be from a pedestrian who expects that car to be able to stop for them).

      So no – this is not “just on the driver”. Both parties share in the need to act responsibly in observing this law.

      • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 03/28/2016 - 12:24 pm.

        Not like you think

        That language is designed to indemnify the driver if someone (usually a child) runs out in front of them and it really is a horrible accident. It’s not designed to justify drivers ignoring pedestrians on street corners they can clearly see, but legal weasels love to willfully misinterpret statutes to get clients out of trouble for bad behavior, so it’s morphed into a de facto justification for never stopping for pedestrians or keeping police from even attempting to prosecute vehicular manslaughter for running down those just trying to cross the street legally. Look at how much focus drivers trying to justify their callous and inhuman behavior put on that one caveat while ignoring the rest of the laws (like stopping BEHIND crosswalks or not making right turns when pedestrians are crossing).

        So yes, the onus for safety really is on the driver, but the lack of any serious attempt to properly enforce the existing law (until now I guess?) has eroded its true meaning to the point of uselessness.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/28/2016 - 01:27 pm.

          So you’d prefer . . .

          So you’d prefer I slam on the brakes and get rearended when a jogger bursts out from behind a building and into my path rather than requiring the jogger to pause to be sure cars are at a safe stopping distance before crossing? (Yes, this has happened to me. Not the rearended part, but the slamming on the brakes because the pedestrian wasn’t visible until the last moment part.)

          No, the law was written to acknowledge that both parties need to behave responsibly as they approach and cross intersections. I’m not sure why you find it necessary to reframe a set of commonsense wording into such an adversarial light

          • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 03/28/2016 - 01:49 pm.


            Your car is not worth their life. If you are driving too fast to stop reasonably quickly in an urban area that has multiple users, you are the problem, not the person jogging. If you’re rear-ended, the other driver was following too closely and their insurance will pay for your car damage. If you run over the pedestrian their life is over. Period. Done. There’s no fixing that.

            The fact that you think getting rear-ended is somehow worse than running over a person is … appalling. You expect human beings to cower in fear of death because you’re afraid of damage to a vehicle? That attitude is exactly why so many pedestrians die every year for daring to cross the street. Most of them die in crosswalks with signalized right of way too, but let’s keep up the victim blaming where a hypothetical rear-ending is worth treating someone who dared to use their own two feet like subhuman garbage that deserves to be consigned to a lifetime of second-class status because they’re not behind the wheel of a dangerous hunk of metal moving at unsafe speeds.

            I’m not sure why you find it necessary to look for ways to shift the onus for safety off of the person operating the dangerous vehicle to the victim. In pedestrian-automobile collisions there is a very clear victim, and trying to say they’re at equal fault to the person operating the equipment that in all likelihood killed or maimed them is insulting at best, inhuman at worst. Should people killed by guns have been more careful not to walk in front of bullets? Or do we blame improper use of the person that fired the gun?

            You might balk at the analogy, but the result for the person getting shot by the gun or hit by the car is very similar. Both objects are dangerous, both (arguably) have a utility, and both generally require some form of licensure to own and operate. But killing people with a car is just because those darn victims got in the way, while killing with a gun is at the very least manslaughter if it’s an accident. Why do drivers get a free pass on killing people? Because you think you can operate a car in a reckless manner and face no consequences?

            This issue is only adversarial because automobile drivers refuse to accept that their behavior is dangerous and illegal. It is a matter of life and death to people who walk as their primary means of transportation, and it’s a constant struggle just to do normal day to day things because drivers with attitudes like yours. So yes, I will absolutely become adversarial when you throw victim blaming out there like it’s acceptable.

            • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/29/2016 - 09:46 am.

              Not safe

              Preferring that a car get rearended for lack of practical consideration on the pedestrian’s part isn’t safe or smart. If a car gets rearended, the driver of the car has absolutely no control over the car, including the direction and speed of their car, and the chances of the pedestrian getting fatally hit actually increases. The better action is for everyone in the situation to be smarter than the situation. Runners…don’t assume anyone can see you. It’s less healthy to be hit by a car than to not run for the half a second it takes to look for cars. Also, it’s illegal for a pedestrian to dash across the street without consideration for the safety of himself or traffic. So, there’s that. It’s literally a two-way street.

            • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/29/2016 - 01:26 pm.

              Oh for Pete’s sake

              Of course I wasn’t saying that getting rearended would be worse than killing someone. I was just using that as a vivid illustration of how quickly I’ve had to hit the brakes in a situation like that. Alternatively, I could have just said that I had to break so hard that my brakes squealed. The point is the suddenness with which the not-visible jogger appeared and proceeded directly into the street in front of me without pause.

              Although Rachel’s point about the dangers to the jogger of my being rearended is also well-taken

              In the scenario I’m thinking of, my only other option would have been to come to a complete stop at every intersection – signed, signaled or not. And given how clearly you detest cars and everything about them, I’m sure that would be absolutely fine with you. But it’s not very realistic, especially when a little attention and cooperation by both involved parties would do much more to effectively address the situation.

  6. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 03/25/2016 - 02:12 pm.

    The matter, and therefore the law, is problematic.

    I walk and bike when I can, and I detest automobile culture. But I also drive, and I find the law much less than optimal.

    First, I am loathe to stop when there is a car behind me, for fear of being rear-ended by a driver who doesn’t know the law, isn’t paying attention, or may not even be able to see the pedestrian I see and benefits from no visual signal that the car in front of him is about to suddenly stop.

    Second, the intent of people on street corners is ambiguous. Some clearly wish to cross the road on which I’m driving – this is the easy situation. Some intend to do so but prefer to wait until after I’ve passed. Some are preparing to cross the intersection parallel to me. Some are waiting for the bus. Some are just standing there. Some aren’t focusing on the question of their navigational future but then form an intent at the last moment, at which time braking to a halt would send my groceries onto the floor. My need to stop rests on the very often indiscernible intent of the person on the sidewalk, which often results in a dance of partial breaking and ambiguous non-verbal communcations that only increases uncertainty and risk for the footed person, me the driver, and any other motorists in the vicinity.

    Finally, when I am walking I always prefer that cars continue and that I wait for a gap, for environmental reasons – the micro-consumptions of gas and micro-pollution of brake pad and tire materials that result from unnecessary braking. It takes much less energy for a person to stop and start than for an automobile to do so. Of course this is more problematic for some less hearty members of our demographic.

    There is no ideal solution, but I think it’s important to recognize that there are public non-idealities and risks arising from the law as written, and not just because it constrains the motorist’s sacred right to propel his behemoth to its destination without consideration of others.

    • Submitted by Dan Berg on 03/25/2016 - 02:34 pm.

      Well stated

      Very well put.

    • Submitted by Chad Haatvedt on 03/26/2016 - 10:35 am.

      I agree with some of your points…

      I too will wait for cars to pass if I can see an opening in traffic. But it really sucks to be standing in cold windy temps waiting for people in their warm SUVs who won’t pause for a minute to let me cross a busy highway or street.

      As for signaling my intent, isn’t standing at the curb at a crossing point of an intersection, while looking for an opening intent enough?

      • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/26/2016 - 04:35 pm.

        No, it’s not actually all that clear

        That’s the same thing people waiting for buses do. I’ve stopped for a lot of people who are waiting for buses (many of whom don’t bother to wave me on or take a step back from the curb when they see me stopping).

        Then there’s the cute little move of stepping off the curb, back up on the curb, off the curb, back up on the curb, off the curb . . . . I’ve seen THAT delightful little dance more than once.

        I kinda’ like Sergeant Ellison’s idea of “One hand up, one foot out”. Clear and unambiguous and visible from far enough away to be able to brake to a safe stop.

        • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 03/27/2016 - 03:39 pm.

          Stop It!

          I used to frequent the Guthrie Theater, which has a well-marked crosswalk midway along the block, complete with signs by the side of the street, in the middle of the street, and bump-outs on either side to make it less of a challenge for people to cross. There’s also a stop sign half a block down and an entrance/exit to a parking ramp, all of which tends to slow traffic down.

          And even with all those signals and techniques in place, I would frequently have to dodge cars going down the street in both directions. Some people would see me and figure they could could just drive around that pesky obstacle in the street. Most though simply weren’t paying attention. They were distracted by their next appointment or wondering what they were going to have for lunch that day.

          I finally adopted the technique of flinging both arms up, one in each direction, with palms out in the universal sign to STOP! The broad gesture did a good job of grabbing people’s attention and letter them know there’s a vulnerable pedestrian who is in the crosswalk. Most of the time that was enough to get people to stop so I and those around me could get the chicken to the other side.

          One thing I don’t see addressed too often is target focus. Some people are simply distracted with radios and phones, but others are concentrating on their driving and don’t notice objects by the side of the road, people included. Studies have found that the faster a car goes, the more narrow the focus becomes and the mind simply edits out the seemingly irrelevant information on the periphery. Signs, light poles, and even other vehicles don’t even register on the conscious, which is why you hear so many people who were in an accident exclaim “he came out of nowhere, officer!”

          Maybe a little street calming is in order to slow cars down and widen that area of focus. I know I’ve missed more than one person by the wide of the road because I didn’t spot them until I was going by and it was too late to halt. And I’m a guy who actively looks for pedestrians and habitually stops for them.

  7. Submitted by Dan Berg on 03/25/2016 - 02:32 pm.

    Multi-lane and more

    With multi-lane cross walks it isn’t knowledge of or desire to follow the law that is the main issue. It is the fact that when a pedestrian is in front of the car which is slowing or stopped in the right hand lane it is often impossible for a driver in the next lane to see the pedestrian of the pedestrian the oncoming car. It is very difficult to make uncontrolled crossings safe on multi-lane roads. In those specific spots it would be better to increase the number of pedestrian controlled signals like those recently added to Cleveland in Highland.

    Another thing that may help is to actually eliminate the marked crosswalks at intersections with only one lane in each direction as we help educate everyone that pedestrians have right of way at all intersections. Having some marked and others not marked adds an inconsistency that leads to confusion.

    As somebody who lived in California, like a poster above, I learned the proper communication regarding crossings. Drivers were very good at stopping but so were pedestrians good about signaling their intent. Clearly signaling their desire to cross by positioning themselves at the curb in a way that shows they are prepared to cross. Most of this on both the drivers and pedestrians side ends up being common courtesy that gets engrained into the culture. It failed when either side believes they more rights to the public space than the other.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/26/2016 - 07:10 am.

      Signaling their intent

      I was a little surprised (pleasantly so) at one of the pictures in this article which included the caption “Sgt. Ellison demonstrates safe crosswalk behavior: one foot out, hand raised.” This is the first time I’ve seen overt discussion of what constitutes “safe crosswalk behavior”, and I think more wide usage of this sort of “signaling of intent” would help clear up a lot of confusion in these situations.

      On the flip side, I’d fear that pedestrians might interpret such “signaling” to mean “If I put up my hand and put out a foot, I am now safe to cross no matter how close an oncoming car might be”. That, also, might require some further education into how the statute actually reads (see my comment above).

      But overall, I like the notion that pedestrians should somehow do something that “signals intent to cross” besides just idly standing near the curb staring out into space (which is also what they do when they are, for example, waiting for a bus).

  8. Submitted by Chad Haatvedt on 03/26/2016 - 10:28 am.

    Special crosswalk markers are bad for pedestrians

    I am a walker. I live in a rural city in Northern Minnesota. I walk 2.5 miles to and from work, and have to do battle with cars every day in order to cross two busy highways and one busy street. I know the frustration of waiting at a corner in temps of -10°F and 15MPH winds for a chance to get across without having to sprint.

    My community thinks they are raising awareness by putting little signs in “special” crosswalks downtown that say state law yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.×500.jpg

    I know the intent is good, but drivers seen to get the impression that they only needed to yield when one of those signs is present. We’d be better off if the signs were not there at all, and get drivers to respect peds at any crosswalk / intersection.

  9. Submitted by Craig Johnson on 03/27/2016 - 07:46 am.

    Drivers Rights

    We must pass an examination to get a license to drive. Drivers have no rights. Any thought that we have a right to drive, must have a car to go to work, that we have a right to text, email, read, etc on a phone while we drive is vacuous in the extreme.

    As technology brings closer to self driving cars and relieves us from reliance to an attentive responsible driver, we will hear more from the troglodyte crowd about how their rights are being challenged. Once again an expression of rights where they are nonexistent.

    Perhaps I’m jumping the gun, but simple facts are that a 3,000 to 4,000 pound car guided by a doof with their head not in the game must be considered to have the right-of-way over a pedestrian. Not, because the pedestrian does not have a rightful access to the street, but that in a dispute the car wins every time.

    Perhaps we should heighten the sense of responsibility to drive safely and provide for quick and absolute confiscation of any vehicle being operated unsafely. That coupled with the immediate revocation of the operators driving license would work to effectively provide balance in the man versus machine battle.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/28/2016 - 09:22 am.

      No kidding!

      I wish cops would pull over and ticket drivers operating a vehicle under the influence of stupidity. I watched a person driving a Jeep on I-35 just south of Forest Lake last night driving in the left lane tailgating a vehicle that was already exceeding the speed limit. I knew they were driving too aggressively (putting it nicely) and kept my eyes on them even after they passed us, and I even a passenger, not the driver. Not long after, the Jeep veered wildly to the right and landed in the far right lane after crossing the middle lane without pause, almost taking out a smaller car in the right lane, which had to swerve into the shoulder (at 70 mph) to avoid being hit. You know that the person driving the Jeep probably drives like a so-and-so all of the time, and apparently gets away with it. All. Of. The. Time. Yet, I’ve never seen someone pulled over for driving like a jerk, and I highly doubt that most distracted drivers ever get a ticket. Yet, these are the people most likely to cause a wreck with other cars and pedestrians. Until that attitude costs people money, their licenses, and/or their vehicle, pedestrians will always be in danger, and should take precautions no matter who has the “right of way.”

  10. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/27/2016 - 09:02 pm.

    Left Unsaid So Far

    Is that all of these issues are compounded after dark. While I’m 100% in favor of the current crosswalk law, I think there should literally be a sunset provision. It should not apply after dark. I’ve seen way too many pedestrians in dark clothing who expect drivers to stop as they do in the daylights hours, and it is way too hard to see them. Cars going 30 MPH, peds in dark clothing, and poorly lit intersections, a terrible combination.

    When I bike after dark, I always have lights on and a reflective vest.

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 03/28/2016 - 12:11 pm.

      Uh, no

      So your solution is to declare open season on pedestrians and cyclists after dark? Don’t let the sun set on you here if you’re not in a car? That seems to recall another altogether unpleasant part of American history I think most would like to move on from, not recreate with a different group of people.

      Maybe drivers should be more mindful and pay more attention after dark–after all they are operating heavy machinery that requires special licensure. Nobody says a crane operator is free to drop stuff on people after dark, why should this be any different? If you can’t operate a vehicle safely after dark without killing someone, you probably shouldn’t have a license for it.

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/29/2016 - 09:32 am.

        Anti auto

        I’m afraid that putting ALL the onus on the driver is neither helpful nor practical. It’s not just drivers that need to put their brains in gear before operating their means of locomotion. While I don’t agree that there necessarily needs to be a sunset rule for what crossings a pedestrian might use, I do believe that pedestrians should not only look both ways before crossing a street, but wear visible clothing. Love of black clothing as a pedestrian at night could get you killed, and it wouldn’t be the driver’s fault. Some basic level of self-preservation should be in effect when you’re crossing the street, night or day, but particularly at night.

        I agree that more should be done to increase pedestrian safety and reduce car use. (Personally, I favor the repurposing of a significant portion of roads for pedestrian/bike use only, or their removal altogether…pipe dream, I know. More practical is the enforcement of anti-distracted driving laws and arresting aggressive drivers.) But cars are here and they’re here to stay. Being completely antagonistic of drivers to the point of denying common sense is foolish. When a car and a pedestrian meet, the pedestrian loses. Dead is dead, no matter whose fault it is. No amount of finger pointing or jail time will bring dead back to life.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/30/2016 - 12:58 pm.

    Blame is liability and prosecution, not safety

    Look, we can change designs and wring our hands but in the end a pedestrian gets run over because they stepped in front of a moving vehicle. I’ve been walking around for 50 years and it’s actually NOT that hard to NOT step in front of a moving vehicle. Sure I’ve seen hundreds of drivers run lights and signs and fail to stop at crosswalks etc…. I’ve never got run over because I didn’t step in front of those drivers and their moving vehicles.

    I’m not bragging I’m making a basic observation. And yeah, the more lanes there are, the more careful you have to be, you can’t assume that just because one car stops they’ll ALL stop.

    Whether your in a crosswalk or a parking lot don’t step in front of a moving car. I’d rather go about my day frustrated and ticked off at the guy who would have hit me in the crosswalk that get hit and console myself that it was the drivers fault.

    I’m not saying we can’t imagine instances where a pedestrian has absolutely no fault, but any attempt to reduce these accidents has to include pedestrian awareness and caution. Absolutely we need to make drivers aware, and surely they are expected to stop and be aware of the laws. I think it’s a great idea to put out decoys and ticket drivers who run crosswalks, but from safety perspective we also have to promote pedestrian caution.

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