City takes action on pedestrian safety

The Minneapolis Public Works Department installed bump outs in the form of vertical posts at the intersection of 43rd Street and Nicollet Avenue. Photo by Michelle Bruch

Pedestrian safety is getting a fresh look in Minneapolis after a deadly hit-and-run and several other pedestrian fatalities this past year.

Minneapolis saw six pedestrian fatalities in 2016, including the November death of 74-year-old Barbara Mahigel as she was crossing Nicollet Avenue South at 43rd Street. The driver fled the scene and has not been found by police.

The crash was one of more than 260 that involved pedestrians in 2016, according to Steve Mosing, the city’s traffic operations engineer.

The city has installed bump outs at several high-volume intersections and piloted pedestrian-refuge islands at several others in an effort to improve safety. Ward 8 City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said she expects even more energy on pedestrian-safety issues under new city Public Works Director Robin Hutcheson.

Glidden said, historically, there has not been enough emphasis placed on pedestrian safety. That, plus more drivers distracted by cell phones, has created even more urgency on the issue, she said.

The public works department installed temporary bump outs using vertical posts at 43rd & Nicollet in late December. The department had originally planned to install the bump outs in the spring but accelerated the improvements after Mahigel’s death.

Mosing said the goal of the bump outs is to minimize the crossing distance for pedestrians. That tightens the turning radius for drivers and forces them to drive at a slower speed.

The bump outs also prevent other cars from passing cars in front of them, he said.

The public works department has also installed curb extensions at the intersections of 38th & Stevens, 31st & Freemont and 31st & Emerson. It will install them at intersections along 35th and 36th streets, Glidden wrote on Facebook last month.

Those efforts come as the Minneapolis Bike Coalition prepares to make pedestrian advocacy a more central part of its mission. Executive Director Ethan Fawley said the organization will be announcing its priorities for pedestrian safety within the next couple months but added he’d like to see the city be more proactive in working to address problem areas.

“We need to have that more systematic approach across the whole city,” he said.

Improvements appreciated

Police don’t know how fast the driver who hit Mahigel was going, but Sgt. Catherine Michal said a witness stated the vehicle appeared to be going 50 to 60 miles per hour. The department has conducted extra patrols near 43rd & Nicollet in the wake of the accident, Michal said.

Mahigel’s son, Mike Mahigel, said in an email that it’s important for city stakeholders to come together to “find solutions for burgeoning areas of the city where infrastructure is lacking.”

“If we let something as simple as pedestrian safety slip through our hands, it should shake our confidence when considering larger issues facing the development of the city,” he wrote.

Melina Ascanio, who works at Vicinity Coffee, which is at the intersection, said it’s always been difficult to cross Nicollet Avenue. She noted that the new safety improvements don’t look that different.

“It’s still fairly dangerous to cross but does help you see a little bit better,” she said.

Residents of other neighborhoods say they have appreciated pedestrian-safety improvements from the city. CARAG neighborhood executive coordinator Scott Engel said drivers have slowed down since the city installed the bump outs on 31st street, which he said residents for years have considered extra dangerous.

CARAG will be hosting a meeting this month to address safety concerns at 32nd & Freemont. Engel says that intersection has poor sightlines and that many parents are concerned about their kids crossing it.

Residents in Northeast said they have appreciated the pedestrian-refuge islands Public Works has piloted where 2nd Street Southeast meets Third Avenue Southeast and at Johnson & 22nd.

Zach Wefel, president of Windom Park Citizens in Action and a candidate for City Council in Ward 1, said his neighborhood has been concerned about safety on Johnson Street in general and particularly about the intersection of 22nd & Johnson.

“People seem to go faster than 30, which makes it difficult to cross,” he said. “A lot of traffic tries to go around and go into the parking lane when someone has to turn.”

He said the association has received complaints from residents who have had their vehicles hit while they’re parked in front of homes on Johnson.

“It’s definitely been a sore point,” he said.

The neighborhood association worked with the public works department and Ward 1 City Council Member Kevin Reich to install the temporary set up. The association also hired a consultant to conduct a small-area transportation plan.

Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association Vice President Bob Stableski said the pedestrian refuge at the intersection of 2nd & 3rd has helped neighbors feel safer.

“Drivers actually follow the law and stop for peds,” he said. “I think it’s been great.”

Stableski said his condo and the neighborhood association had been after the city for years to do something about the intersection. He said that drivers have been following the law more since the instillation and that there have been fewer accidents.