Crossing Maryland

Last evening, Eric Saathoff, a teacher who lives in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood, demonstrated what he calls “the pedestrian experience” on St. Paul’s Maryland Avenue. It could’ve been anywhere in the city, however. It was hard crossing the four-lane section of the road. It wouldn’t take much to get killed.

He’s showing the difference between trying to cross the street that is a three-lane vs. a four-lane street.

Between Greenbrier and Johnson Parkway, Ramsey County has been testing reducing the roadway to three lanes: two travel lanes and a turn lane.

It’s an attempt to test a solution to problems including one we’ve discussed here numerous times: when a car stops (well, we can dream, can’t we?), the driver in the other lane doesn’t and hits the crossing pedestrian.

Robert Street, which was just reconstructed, provided a good example to me the other night when I was driving southbound in the right lane. The car in the left lane stopped and I almost didn’t because I couldn’t see the kid on the bicycle who chose a really bad place to ride his bike across the street (wasn’t at an intersection, for the record). The median and guardrails intended to discourage people from crossing the street there didn’t discourage the kid.

Maryland Avenue’s four-lane design of a street in a residential neighborhood, though, is what killed Elizabeth Durham last year. A truckdriver had waved her across Maryland Avenue at Greenbrier Street, but a car in the adjacent lane didn’t stop.

With the test ending, what happens now? Ramsey County is asking for feedback on the test.

“If the test goes well — if drivers act safely and neighbors react in a positive way — the Maryland experiment could mark the beginning of a transformation of Saint Paul’s streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces away from speed and danger and towards walkability and quality of life,” Bill Lindeke, the region’s principal advocate for safer streets, wrote on Streets.mn in May. “If it goes poorly, it might be years or decades before Ramsey County musters the political will to tackle its generational legacy of dangerous urban street design.”

As for drivers, it wouldn’t kill you to stop for a pedestrian in the road, even if it’s not a crosswalk.

  • wjc

    // As for drivers, it wouldn’t kill you to stop for a pedestrian in the road, even if it’s not a crosswalk.

    It might if I stop in an unexpected place, and the yahoo behind me who is texting doesn’t notice that I have stopped.

    That said, I try to be kind to pedestrians whenever possible.

  • Scott Rohr

    I think about this issue daily when I drive to work on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. It’s pedestrian-heavy, with lots of traffic, two lanes with a turn lane. Many cars seem to know to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. But I’m still amazed at the dance that goes on with the pedestrians not trusting that cars will stop (with good reason), and worse, the number of drivers that veer right around cars stopped for pedestrian traffic. Add to that the number of pedestrians crossing mid-block, and large SUVs, buses, and delivery vehicles compromising clear views at intersections: it’s actually surprising that more pedestrians aren’t hit, injured, or killed.

    • lusophone

      What makes Grand safer for peds is also the generally slower speed of traffic. Bill Lindeke makes the case for slower speed limits nicely here:
      https://streets.mn/2015/04/02/the-critical-ten/

    • Wayne

      This is where bump-outs help in discouraging drivers that like to pass on the right.
      The city just redid all the corners on Marshall where I live, and I was really disappointed when they didn’t install bump-outs.

      • Scott Rohr

        Agreed about the bump-outs. They’d be a huge help on Grand, as well as Marshall where you are.

    • Ann Husband Kraker

      I used to have to cross Grand several times a day for work. I had zero near-misses when jay-walking, and was REGULARLY almost-hit when crossing at an intersection – even one with a light.

  • Jerry

    Most four lane urban streets would be better served as 2 lanes with turn lanes. Bump outs at intersections help as well.

  • Al

    The scuttlebutt on East Side Facebook pages is that commenters hate the Maryland changes. Well, suck it up, folks. This is how we keep people safe.

    • TG

      Mostly a few vocal people.

  • Kassie

    On Lafayette, they put little signs that say stop for pedestrians in the middle of the street for the mid-block crosswalk that’s just North of 7th. It has helped tremendously in being able to get across the four lane road there. It also has slowed down the traffic. I’d like to see more of those, more 3 lane roads instead of 4, slower speed limits on all city streets, and sidewalks everywhere people walk.

    • JamieHX

      Mid-block crosswalks sound like a good idea. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen one. It would be good if there were signs for cars ahead of the crosswalk to let them know they’re approaching it.

      • Kassie

        Come on by Lafayette Park to see one in action. It is between two state office buildings and used frequently.

      • 212944

        In Ontario, where they have installed “Pedestrian Crossovers” which are typically not at intersections, but always have signs, pavement markings and may have overhead lights and signs:

        https://www.hamilton.ca/streets-transportation/driving-traffic/pedestrian-crossovers

        There, the crossovers are “typically” not at intersections.

        It does seem like moving pedestrians to mid-block crossovers would make both intersections less crowded and confusing for drivers and actually crossing safer for pedestrians, who only have to look in two directions instead of three or four (or, in some places, more) directions to assess oncoming traffic.

  • Jeff C.

    // As for drivers, it wouldn’t kill you to stop for a pedestrian in the road, even if it’s not a crosswalk.

    No. Don’t stop for the pedestrian who is jaywalking and crossing outside of a crosswalk or not at an intersection. Everyone – drivers and pedestrians – need to follow the rules.

    https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/laws/Pages/bike-pedestrian.aspx
    Motorists must treat every corner and intersection as a crosswalk, whether it’s marked or unmarked, and drivers must stop for crossing pedestrians.

    Pedestrians must obey traffic control devices, and when no traffic control device is present, motorists must stop for crossing pedestrians within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk.

    • Kassie

      That’s great when there aren’t super long stretches without official corners. I’m thinking like Larpenteur where there are apartments on on side of the street and a cemetery or park on the other, as well as bus stops on the cemetery/park side. People have to cross to catch the bus, but there is no intersection for half a mile to cross. What is a pedestrian supposed to do?

      • Jeff C.

        I’m faced with the same problem where I work. When I’m a pedestrian I cross the street between the crosswalks, knowing that the cars have the right-of-way. Ironically it is very difficult to get drivers to NOT stop for me – I intentionally look in the opposite direction from them and stand several feet back from the curb, but they often still stop. If they would follow the rules they would pass me quickly and I would be 100% certain that they wouldn’t hit me when I crossed the street (because they would be past me). Instead, it takes me a few extra seconds to be certain that they have fully stopped and won’t hit me. (They then drive down the block and don’t stop for the pedestrian in the crosswalk!)

        • 1Opinion

          I’ve done this before even when at certain uncontrolled intersections. I’ll look the other way or crouch to tie a shoe because I never assume a car is going to do what I expect and if I don’t have a blazing crosswalk I’d rather just cross on my own time after they’re gone.

        • Ann Husband Kraker

          I used this same avoid-eye-contact method every day on Grand Ave. in St. Paul with great success. The only times I was nearly hit was when I was crossing legally at the crosswalks. Even worse if it was a light (Grand & Lexington).

      • Noelle

        There’s a lot of spots like this in Roseville. Snelling near Rosedale is the same way…

    • lusophone

      Jaywalking is a tool to marginalize the pedestrian. All of us motorists need to rehumanize.

      • 1Opinion

        No jaywalking is the attempt to funnel foot traffic into codified right of way zones like a crosswalk and/or intersection. Go scampering across the street willynilly and maybe you should be in the right, maybe not, but it’ll be a cold comfort to your family when they file the wrongful death suit. How about just cross the street 50ft down at an intersection and stay safe.

        • lusophone

          Crosswalks can also be very dangerous places for a pedestrian.

          • 1Opinion

            I’ll take a crosswalk over random middle of the road crossing any day. It’s not a forcefield, but inattentive drivers are moreso in places they don’t expect pedestrians to pop out from. It’s not a choice between mindful of vehicles and crosswalks. Do both. And this coming from someone who almost got pasted by a Ford Explorer at a T intersection when he blew his stop sign. I slapped the windshield on it’s way by, but was able to do so instead of flying over the hood because I don’t assume anyone is looking out for me.

          • lusophone

            Agreed, never assume the driver sees you. I also try not to assume drivers are being inconsiderate or malicious either, maybe the sun is in their eyes. I understand. But getting back to my statement about jaywalking, I think we need a culture change from a car first society. If we all say that safety comes first, then that means the pedestrian or the most vulnerable player should be considered first. I get your point about looking out for yourself and not being stupid, but we have to hold drivers responsible for their actions and value the lives of our pedestrians more than we currently do.

          • 1Opinion

            But there is a difference between being more conscious of pedestrians (pedestrians always having the right of way inherently because vehicular manslaughter is already a crime) and acting on that by wandering out into traffic wherever a person pleases because hey, you better not run me over. If an intersection truly isn’t set up for foot traffic then a cross walk should be set up elsewhere. There just needs to be order when unequal sized trasportation meets. No difference than cars vs. trains. I watch terrible drivers interacting with terrible pedestrians on Lake Street every day. Both need to follow current laws better.

          • lusophone

            “…wandering out into traffic wherever a person pleases because hey, you better not run me over.” Don’t see where anyone on here has said this or argued in favor of this option.

            And actually the opposite plays out more often than not, hey you better get out of my way, because I can run you over, just because, and kill you and nothing is going to happen to me. That’s what needs to change. I know you haven’t argued that latter scenario, but it seems like our society has basically endorsed it.

          • KTFoley

            Not really an excuse to jaywalk, though.

          • lusophone

            My comment is a nod to our priorities. If you look at the still on the video of Eric crossing Maryland at Jessie, it almost looks like he is “jaywalking.” I bet many of the drivers were thinking, “what is this crazy man doing walking in the street?” I just think we need to realign our priorities.

    • Subd. 3.Crossing between intersections. (a) Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.
      (b) Any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.
      (c) Between adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are in operation pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk.
      (d) Notwithstanding the other provisions of this section every driver of a vehicle shall (1) exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicycle or pedestrian upon any roadway and (2) give an audible signal when necessary and exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or any obviously confused or incapacitated person upon a roadway.

  • JMR

    I live close to the Greenbrier/Maryland intersection (just moved over there back in October) and was always curious about the balloons/flowers on the corner. I personally prefer the 3 lane to the 4 lane – it feels much safer for turning from one of the cross streets and tells me what the drivers without their turn signals on are planning on doing. It’s also nice feeling like there is actual space to drive down the road – Maryland felt incredibly tight with 4 lanes of traffic.

    However, the other night my husband and I were driving down Maryland to the Lake Phalen area and some ding-bat decided he didn’t like the 3 lanes and just drove down the turn lane. Saw a cop, put his turn signal on, and then proceeded to keep driving down the turn lane after passing the cop.

    • lusophone

      That’s frustrating. There have been reports of this now and the cops should know this is happening and pull over people who are using the turn lane incorrectly.

  • Brad Griffith

    My opinion is that the 3 lane configuration improves pedestrian safety, calms vehicle traffic and, in general, enhances the quality of life within the corridor.

  • JamieHX

    I think the ‘stop for every pedestrian crossing at any intersection whether marked with a crosswalk or not’ is a bad law. There are too many places where you can’t see a pedestrian until it’s too late or you have to slam on your brakes, causing problems for the traffic behind you. And there are too many overly cautious drivers who stop for pedestrians who aren’t even ready to cross the street yet, also causing the slamming on the brakes and potential rear-endings.
    Where Grand Avenue goes through the Macalester campus is one especially tricky place. Even before the rule was passed (or newly enforced?), students were crossing Grand Avenue all over the place — including not at intersections — and drivers were often stopping for them, causing major traffic tie-ups. Somebody (the City or Macalester?) installed paths across the street that SORT OF look like crosswalks, and people think they can cross anytime because of those, I think. I haven’t driven through there in a while — I avoid it — so I don’t know if it’s still like that.

    • Grand Ave thru Mac is an abomination. Grand goes right thru the Quad and should be slowed to 10 mph and students should be allowed to cross whenever and wherever they want. Cars are guests there and should be treated as such.

      • JamieHX

        I disagree. It’s a major thoroughfare and Macalester students and staff don’t have special rights. They should grow up and observe the rules of the road.

        • It isn’t a “major thoroughfare”, it is a road through a college campus. It has commercial districts on both sides of this block. I think you’ll survive if you slow down to 15 mph and stop for some students going to class.

  • RachaelHD

    Mn law states that pedestrians have the right of way at protected or *unprotected* intersections. All of those cars should have stopped! Striping and other tactics would help, but can we also educate motorists (and police) about the actual law!?!