Minnesota safety campaign aims to clear way for pedestrians
James Gittemeier knows what it's like to be a pedestrian on a crosswalk with no place to hide. "It was at 10th Avenue East by St. Luke's," the Duluth man said. "The driver was trying to turn left onto First (Street). I had the crosswalk, and I wa...
James Gittemeier knows what it's like to be a pedestrian on a crosswalk with no place to hide.
"It was at 10th Avenue East by St. Luke's," the Duluth man said. "The driver was trying to turn left onto First (Street). I had the crosswalk, and I was walking across. The driver did not see me. I had to stick my hand out, and they stopped in time."
It's a close encounter of the worst kind, and it's the sort of thing that has led Minnesota transportation officials to a campaign to improve pedestrian safety.
The Share the Road campaign is an expansion of the existing campaign aimed at bicycle safety that began in 2003. The pedestrian focus is under way, with ads appearing this month on Duluth Transportation Authority buses.
But the official launch will be Tuesday, said Jessica Wiens, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. "Ambassadors" in five cities will cross busy intersections carrying banners with safety advice for motorists and pedestrians on both sides.
In Duluth, the ambassadors will cross at Lake Avenue and Superior Street between 3 and 6 p.m., Wiens said.
The campaign is inspired by a troubling consistency in the number of vehicle-pedestrian fatalities statewide, she said. Although the total number of traffic fatalities has been declining in recent years, fatalities involving pedestrians have plateaued at about 40 a year.
The fault lies with the drivers -- 50 percent of the time, Wiens said. The pedestrians are to blame just as often, which is why the campaign aims safety information at drivers and walkers. For both, distraction and inattention often are the root problem, she said. That can include talking on a cell phone, fiddling with a radio, eating, or listening to music on headphones.
For motorists, the biggest error is failing to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, Wiens said. One thing the campaign will emphasize is that every corner is a pedestrian crosswalk, whether or not it's marked.
For pedestrians, common errors are crossing in the middle of the street or walking along the roadway.
Gittemeier, who is transportation planner for the Metropolitan Interstate Commission, walks or rides his bike the 1¼ miles from his East Hillside home to his downtown office. He finds drivers generally observant of crosswalks, at least when they are marked, he said. The dangerous situations are when a driver is turning, as with that experience one winter day on 10th Avenue East. Motorists looking for a gap in the traffic in which to make a turn sometimes fail to look for pedestrians, he said.
The city has done a good job, especially over the past couple of years, in making sure marked crosswalks are restriped, Gittemeier said.
Another concern is sidewalks, or the lack of the same. Gittemeier said he has noticed how much safer sidewalks feel if there's space between the pedestrians and the moving vehicles, such as a boulevard strip or even parked cars.
A Duluth Sidewalk Study this year, led by the Metropolitan Interstate Commission's Andy McDonald, conducted an inventory of all the sidewalks in town and their conditions, Gittemeier said. Then a computer model was used to determine where sidewalks are most needed. The study will give the city a tool to consider in its future planning, he said.