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New study reveals Minneapolis’ most dangerous streets for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers

Bike Route sign
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
The report emphasizes that a majority of crashes have occurred at intersections — and on streets with higher speed limits and traffic volume.

A new transportation study by the city of Minneapolis has revealed a startling fact: The city has had more traffic fatalities per capita than New York City in recent years.

According to the recently study, “Vision Zero Crash Study,” an average of 95 people have died or suffered serious injuries on Minneapolis streets annually over roughly the past decade. That equates to about four deaths per every 100,000 people. (Minneapolis has a population of about 422,000.)

Meanwhile, St. Paul, Hennepin County and even New York —  where traffic deaths have declined after a renewed focus on improving safety have had fewer severe crashes by the same measurement. In fact, the country’s largest and most densely populated city tallied roughly two deaths for every 100,000 people in 2017.

Minneapolis’ 76-page study compiles crash data that researchers analyzed over a year and a half to guide policy work to curb fatalities and injuries among pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers. The data shows areas of Minneapolis that have the highest concentration of crashes and by what mode (bicycle, foot or car) people were traveling when they were hit.

It offers data bolstering some common-sense theories: More traffic volume means more chances of crashes; speeding lowers safety; and bicycle lanes help keep cyclists protected from cars. But traffic engineers are also exploring the less obvious conclusions from the data, like why Minneapolis streets are roughly twice as fatal as New York City’s per capita. “That one we’re going to have to dig into a little bit,” said Minneapolis’ Traffic Operations Engineer Steve Mosing in an interview.

Identifying trends just the first step

The first-of-its-kind report will serve as a guiding document as Minneapolis officials decide where, and to what extent, they should invest in street improvements or boost law enforcement. The in-depth look at travel patterns aims to provide statistical evidence behind goals in the city’s long-range plans, including Minneapolis 2040 and the Minneapolis Transportation Action Plan, about which the city is currently seeking public feedback and hopes to complete early next year.

The report emphasizes that a majority of crashes have occurred at intersections (most had light signals) and on streets with higher speed limits (more than 25 mph) and traffic volume. Four-lane roads divided only by paint are the least safe roadways in the city, and the majority of severe crashes involving pedestrians happen on roughly 5 percent of the city’s streets, according to the study.

Researchers were also able to pinpoint driver behaviors that often cause the collisions. Drivers are often turning when they hit someone, and for driver-pedestrian collisions, cars are more often making a left turn. Speeding, impaired or distracted driving or failing to yield are other common factors of crashes.

“A lot of our right-of-way is tight, so a lot of traffic that’s occurring is competing for space,” Mosing said.

Crash concentration corridors for all modes
Source for Bicycle and Vehicle Crash Data: Vision Zero 10-Year Dataset, for Pedestrian Crash Data: Pedestrian Crash Study 10-Year Dataset
Crash concentration corridors for all modes
The study also highlights the overrepresentation of bicyclists and pedestrians in serious or fatal collisions in Minneapolis: Almost 20 percent of all trips around the city are via foot, but pedestrians account for nearly 30 percent of all severe crashes. Meanwhile, about 5 percent of trips are by bike, but cyclists take up more than 15 percent of fatal or serious crashes.

But identifying troubling trends is just the city’s first step. City officials and engineers will study the report’s finding over the next several months, analysis that will consider the city’s history of investments: why certain areas of Minneapolis have been prioritized over others. The study shows that areas of the city with a high concentration of crashes have more residents of low incomes.

“That’s something with the crash study that we’re going to look at and evaluate,” said Mosing. “From this first step, we can take a deeper dive on the city streets and sidewalks to see what, maybe, the behavior is out there, or what is going on out there, in regard to this (a concentration of crashes in areas with more low-income residents). It could be any number of reasons or a combination of reasons for this. We’re just not quite sure.”

Study part of larger initiative

City Council members began the step of analyzing the data this week, at a Transportation and Public Works Committee meeting where Mosing and others presented the results for the first time.

Council President Lisa Bender, who represents neighborhoods south of downtown, emphasized the city’s responsibility to improve safety conditions, regardless of where someone gets hit and if the city or county owns the street. She said the efforts are especially important now as Minneapolis prepares to grow and tries to disincentivize driving.

“If people try walking in their community and feel terrified and unsafe, or know someone who got hit by a car, or got hit by a car themselves, they’re not going to walk when they have another choice,” Bender said. “I know for a lot of my constituents, they don’t feel safe.”

Some council members, however, expressed hesitation about relying too heavily on the crash study’s data to guide street design changes as part of long-range planning. Among them was Council Member Steve Fletcher, who represents some downtown neighborhoods, including North Loop and areas east of the river. He said the study does not address some “hotspots” in his ward, and he urged the city to be proactive instead of reactive; he does not want the city to wait for severe crashes in a location before it decides it needs safety improvements.

Number of fatal and severe injury crashes (2007-2015)
Source for Crash Data: Vision Zero 10-Year Dataset
Number of fatal and severe injury crashes (2007-2015)
“Crash data is a starting point, but I really hope we get a lot further in thinking about the safety of every street,” he said.

The crash study is part of an initiative involving similar research projects across the country all of which have goals to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries — called Vision Zero. Mosing said researchers in Minneapolis have stayed in touch with engineers in Denver, for example, to learn what they are doing to improve safety there.

“The goal of Vision Zero is zero fatalities and zero serious injury crashes before the year 2027,” Mosing said. “From a global perspective, this gives us and is the first step in trying to achieve that goal.”

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Alex Schieferdecker on 01/24/2019 - 12:08 pm.

    “But traffic engineers are also exploring the less obvious conclusions from the data, like why Minneapolis streets are roughly twice as fatal as New York City’s per capita.”

    This is no great mystery.

    New York City has packed, chaotic, often-narrow streets with high numbers of pedestrians. Cars move slowly because of the traffic, the uncertainty, and the dominance of people on foot. In contrast, Minneapolis has uncongested, uncomplicated, and wide streets, with small numbers of pedestrians. Traffic speeds because of the lack of traffic and the width, while drivers don’t pay attention because pedestrians are far less frequent.

    It’s a clear indication of the problem that a Minneapolis traffic engineer would be so bamboozled by such a predictable fact.

    • Submitted by George Carlson on 01/24/2019 - 10:50 pm.

      As I read this article and as someone who has been to Manhattan and Brooklyn 50 or so times, I was thinking exactly the same things you stated.

      I especially agree with your thoughts about “a Minneapolis traffic engineer.”

    • Submitted by Michael Hess on 01/26/2019 - 01:14 pm.

      Another point. The NYC Subway system moves almost 6 million people a day. About 2.5M daily on city busses. It’s really hard to be hit by a car when you are underground in a train for most of your commute!

  2. Submitted by Hans Gasterland on 01/24/2019 - 12:42 pm.

    This point is exactly right. Riding my bike in Manhattan traffic felt much safer then riding in Minnesota. I will also add that here in Minneapolis riding downtown is much safer than riding in the suburbs. When the streets are crowded with cars they are going slowly and they’re paying attention.

  3. Submitted by Brian Simon on 01/24/2019 - 01:02 pm.

    A quick perusal of the map shows one unexpected stretch of roadway for higher fatalities; 54th street between 35w & lyndale. Was there so.e kind of anomaly there?

  4. Submitted by Benjamin Osa on 01/24/2019 - 04:48 pm.

    I was surprised to see 54th between Lyndale and 35W on this list also, especially since that is a designated bike lane with the exception from Blaisdale to 35 W where it’s a sharrow.

    My only guess is that bikers in the bike lanes located in the gutters aren’t being watched for by traffic turning onto 54th from side streets?

    Due to the curves and hills, some of these intersections might be moderately blind intersections.

    I bike commute this stretch frequently and drivers seem to nose out into the bike lanes which could be deadly for me biking 25mph down a hill.

    I recommend the city look closely at these areas during the Vision Zero initiative and redesign the roads as appropriate.

  5. Submitted by Scot Kindschi on 01/24/2019 - 05:12 pm.

    Some of already know it, but all of the data shows it… Minneapolis drivers are the worst in the entire country.

  6. Submitted by Steven Bailey on 01/24/2019 - 06:54 pm.

    In NYC and all of NY it is illegal to use a cell phone for calling or texting while driving. In my car I have been smashed into while stopped at a stop sign or stop light 4 times in the past 10 years and 3 of the people were using their phones when it happened. The Netherlands had a similar problem years ago but came up with a solution to the problem of vehicles killing pedestrians and bicyclists. The liability for injuring or killing a pedestrian or bicyclist with a vehicle is crushing. We need the same. You will never get people to drive more safely until not doing so really hurts! Another thing that needs to really hurt is the penalty for running a stop sign or stop light which is now epidemic here.

  7. Submitted by james herzog on 01/25/2019 - 08:22 am.

    Something I have noticed is on one way-streets such as 26th or 28th, where they have put in bike paths, bicyclists are going the wrong way, and if you are driver looking for traffic coming from the one way, you do not think to look the other way — then those bicyclists are in danger. It almost happened to me — I looked right, did not think of looking left, and just before I went a bicylcist went through from the wrong way — I honked my horn, and they flipped me the bird.

  8. Submitted by Paul Flaming on 01/25/2019 - 10:54 am.

    A very simple step would be to replace a lot of the stoplights with four-way stop signs. People accelerate to “beat the yellow” but this doesn’t happen with a stop sign. Safer for pedestrians and bike riders.
    Another comment, as an occasional bike rider, I find that a lot of times bike lanes have ruts and pot-holes, making it necessary to move briefly into the traffic lanes, not sure what to do about it but it’s just another reason to be alert when passing a bike.

  9. Submitted by William Hoffmann on 01/27/2019 - 03:02 pm.

    Slower speeds at intersections would reduce the severity of crashes and injuries. Should there be a law for drivers to slow down as they approach intersections?

    See below, an excerpt on speed limits from the MN Driver’s Manual.

    The logic behind traffic round-abouts is to slow vehicle speed, thus reducing the severity of crashes and injuries. I’m not a fan of round-abouts, but the design is most likely effective.

    Autonomous vehicles are coming and are intended, among other things, to improve safety.

    Page 27 (on-line) of the Minnesota Driver’s Manual:
    Speed Limits
    Excerpt: The faster you drive, the less time you allow yourself to react to events on the road and around you. Traveling at faster speeds increases the likelihood of crashes. And when crashes occur at excessive speeds, victims’ injuries tend to be more serious and death is more likely to result.
    Minnesota’s basic speed law requires you to drive at a speed no faster than is reasonable under existing conditions. These include weather, traffic, and road conditions.
    Note: If you approach an intersection at an unlawful speed, you lose the
    right-of-way privilege associated with driving at a lawful speed.
    The following Minnesota speed limits apply under ideal driving conditions,
    unless traffic signs indicate otherwise:
    10 mph — in alleys
    30 mph — on urban or town roads
    55 mph — in all other locations that are not specified in this list

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