Some parents are calling on the city of Duluth to improve school crosswalk safety. And at least one councilor has suggested Duluth could learn from the city of Superior's example.

Michelle Pierson said she and her husband, Chad, have three children who attended Congdon Park Elementary School, including one still enrolled there.

She said many students, including her own, regularly walk or bike to school from the surrounding neighborhood.

While her children cross Superior Street at the Hawthorne Road intersection, where traffic is controlled by a signal, Pierson noted that another crossing commonly used by people who live east of the school is located at Congdon Park Drive, where safely getting across the uncontrolled road can be far more challenging.

“A lot of people live around the school and can and want to walk and bike to school, but they don’t always feel safe. And when they don’t feel safe, a lot of the parents drive to school, and that adds to more congestion,” she said.

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Pierson suggested the city seek funds from Minnesota’s Safe Routes to School Program to improve the crossing by bumping out the curbs to shorten the distance students must traverse and by installing flashing beacon lights.

A resolution passed by the Duluth City Council on Monday won’t fulfill that wish, however, as 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress acknowledged.

“This resolution includes a request for funding that would make improvements at a variety of schools, including a lot of our elementary schools. And the improvements that are included for the Congdon School area are limited to some minor modifications at the stoplight at the intersection of Superior Street and Hawthorne,” he said.


Due to the application deadline for the program, Sipress said there was inadequate time for the city to complete the kind of study needed to garner funds to address the Congdon Park Drive crossing.

Nevertheless, he said: “I’ve been in communication with families and parents at that school for a number of years, and there’s a lot of concern and a lot of frustration with regard to the intersection at Congdon Park Drive. And the thing is: That’s where the Congdon Creek Trail crosses Superior Street. And it’s the natural crossing point for families and kids. It gets a lot of use, and I think the parents and others associated with that school have made a very good point that we need to look at safety improvements at that particular intersection.”

Arianna Ryan said she has three children, including a Congdon Elementary first grader and two younger kids who will soon reach school age.

“We are walkers. We walk to school every day, and I will tell you it is not a safe walk to school,” she told the City Council.

The Ryan family typically crosses Superior Street at Congdon Park Drive, a crosswalk Arianna called “treacherous,” due to speeding and often-inattentive drivers.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel safe, and parents are worried that there’s going to be a collision between a vehicle and a schoolchild,” Pierson said.

Ryan said children don’t always have a safe alternative to using the Chester Park Drive crossing.

“Often we’re told, walk down to Hawthorne. It’s just a couple more blocks from that intersection.. There’s a stoplight. There are crossing guards. The problem is, the city isn’t enforcing any type of shoveling mandate. So, oftentimes what you’re having is those sidewalks aren’t shoveled, and they’re not safe, and they’re forcing you to walk in the street. So, you’ve got little tiny legs, 2 feet of snow. Now you’re walking in the street versus walking directly to school at a safe crosswalk,” she said.

Ryan has witnessed some close calls, even as adults have accompanied children at the Chester Park Drive crossing.

“We have had parents in the past year almost get clipped by cars,” she said.

“So, we need something more than just a sign. We need some flashing lights; we need extended curbs — something to make it safe,” Ryan said.

Sipress said he takes encouragement from the city’s decision to conduct a traffic- and pedestrian-safety study looking at both the Hawthorne and Chester Park Drive intersections of Superior Street.

In particular, Sipress said he hopes the city will consider installing button-activated, rapid-flashing beacons at the Chester Park intersection.

“There’s been some resistance to pursuing or looking at that option within the city of Duluth. And every so often, I get a suggestion from a resident that there’s a location where we should consider putting one of those things. And the answer I usually get is: We don’t do that,” he said.

“Now I’m not going to speak to the value of doing it at any given location, because that depends on the circumstances. But I can say this: That I think we could learn something from the city of Superior here,” Sipress said.

“The city of Superior has been very forward-thinking and very aggressive in pedestrian-safety improvements on their busy streets, including rapid-flashing beacons. And the research demonstrates that these rapid-flashing beacons work. MnDOT’s own bike and safety manual states that rapid-flashing beacons are a proven safety countermeasure for marked sidewalks. And the Federal Highway Administration cites research that says rapid-flashing beacons can reduce pedestrian crashes by as much as 47%,” he said.

“I can tell you, from personal experience driving in the city of Superior — and I drive there every day going to work — they’re working in Superior. It’s amazing the way even on some very busy streets when those lights flash, cars all come to a stop. I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” Sipress said.