Paving the way for safer walking

City’s pedestrian crash report will guide efforts to protect pedestrians

The Lake & Hennepin intersection ranked fourth in the city for most pedestrian crashes 2007–2016. Photo by Dylan Thomas

A deep look into a decade’s worth of crash data has drawn a detailed picture of where, how and why vehicles strike pedestrians in Minneapolis and where city officials might focus their safety efforts.

Eighty percent of pedestrian crashes reported between 2007 and 2016 occurred on just 10 percent of Minneapolis streets. Five percent of streets accounted for 75 percent of the most serious pedestrian crashes — those involving fatalities or incapacitating injuries. And county roads, including Lake Street and Franklin and Lyndale avenues, are overrepresented on the study’s list of high-crash corridors.

The city report arrived less than three months after Minneapolis officials dedicated themselves to eliminating all fatalities and serious injuries from traffic crashes in a decade. Public Works Director Robin Hutcheson said the pedestrian crash study would guide the city’s work on that initiative, known as Vision Zero.

“At its heart, it is built on good data, and what we lacked was the essential information about pedestrian crashes in order to begin our efforts on Vision Zero,” Hutcheson said at the Nov. 28 meeting of the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee, where the study’s findings were presented.

The study examines two sets of data: one compiled from a variety of sources that includes 3,016 pedestrian crashes reported between 2007 and 2016, including 39 fatalities; and a three years of police reports that give more detailed information on a subset of 878 pedestrian crashes between 2014 and 2016.

Intersections are a hotspot, accounting for 85 percent of pedestrian crashes. In most cases, those intersections were controlled by traffic signals.

While signal-controlled intersections tend to carry the most traffic of all types — motor vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian — it shows that crashes are still happening in areas with some of the most robust safety features, noted Steve Mosing, a city traffic operations engineer.

“What I see us doing is really taking a look at intersection treatments,” he said. That could, for example, mean deploying more sidewalk-extending bump-outs that limit the amount of time pedestrians spend in the roadway.

Nearly half of pedestrian crashes involved a turning vehicle, and left turns in particular stood out in the study. One common crash scenario involved a pedestrian crossing in a crosswalk and being struck by a left-turning vehicle moving across the walker’s path.

Vision Zero

Launched in September, Vision Zero will build on efforts already underway in Minneapolis. This year, the city repainted about 3,000 crosswalks to a high-visibility, zebra-stripe design. And it has experimented at intersection like Hennepin & Lake with leading pedestrian indicators — early walk signals that give pedestrians a head start on motor-vehicle traffic.

Hodges included $400,000 in her proposed 2018 budget to launch Vision Zero. Next up is development of an action plan that will detail specific strategies.
“This really is a big step in that initiative,” Mosing said.

It could also guide investments in the city’s capital improvement program, he added.

The study’s findings highlight the role of street design in pedestrian safety.

Streets with fewer lanes have lower pedestrian crash rates. Speed is another factor linked to safety; while the vast majority of crashes occurred on streets with a 30 mph posted speed limit, major injury crashes were more likely on streets with higher speed limits. Parkways, where speeds are limited to 25 mph, have notably fewer pedestrian crashes, the study found.

“If traffic flow is something that might be sacrificed in order to provide a safer roadway system, I would say that is an effort the city is willing to really investigate and implement when it’s justified,” Mosing said.

Most pedestrian crashes appear to be the driver’s fault. The city’s analysis determined the driver was at fault in 62 percent of crashes. About 33 percent of the time, it appeared to be the pedestrian at fault in the crash — by darting into traffic, for instance. In a smaller segment of cases, it was determined both the driver and pedestrian shared blame.

Mosing said pedestrian safety is a “shared responsibility,” adding that driver inattention and failure to yield were two leading contributors to pedestrian crashes.

County roads

Shaina Brassard, a member of the city’s Pedestrian Advisory Council, said the findings highlighted the role the county has to play in protecting pedestrian safety. She noted 17 of the 25 intersections with the most pedestrian crashes include at least one county road.

David Sheen, a safety engineer in the county’s transportation department, said the county was “dedicated to improving safety for all country road users,” adding that the county was collaborating with the city to identify priority projects.

“By their nature, our county roads in Minneapolis are high volume roads for people driving, walking, biking and with accessibility needs. And by their history, they are popular corridors for transit, commuting, business and commerce,” Sheen said. “We do make adjustments and investments for safety as we are able, balancing things like construction schedules, available funding and community interests.”

But some advocates say the county is moving too slowly. Brassard is one, and she said it was time for a “culture shift” in transportation planning.

“We reconstruct a road every 50 years,” she said. “We can’t wait for reconstruction.”

Carla Stueve, a manager in the county’s Transportation Planning Division, said Sheen, a recent hire, and two bicycle and pedestrian planners were developing recommendations for improvements.

“We are continuously prioritizing where we can make improvements,” she said.

In December, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin successfully moved an amendment to the county’s 2018 budget that dedicates $2 million to a roadway safety fund.

“We’ve been a participant in a national movement toward zero deaths on highways for a long time, but I thought we needed a special fund for safety in order to maximize our effort,” he said.