$100 to $130 fines send the message quickly
Metro Transit Police officers began cracking down on wayward motorists and pedestrians disobeying traffic rules near the Downtown stretch of the light-rail transit (LRT) line earlier this month.
The saturation patrols began days after the New Year along the LRT line, which spans 5th Street from the Warehouse District to the Metrodome. By Jan. 6, Transit Police had made 68 traffic stops Downtown, issuing 57 warnings and 10 tickets, said Bob Gibbons, Metro Transit director of customer services.
The tickets run steep: jaywalking comes with a $100 fine, while failing to obey traffic signals is $130.
Stepped-up patrols follow a flier campaign aimed at Downtown workers and residents. Parking ramp operators have distributed more than 10,000 rail safety brochures to drivers, and additional mailings have be sent to residents.
"'Look, listen and live' is the theme," Gibbons said. "We wanted to do this because the pace of testing is going to increase in Downtown."
To stay safe, officials are urging motorists and walkers to stay off the LRT tracks, walk only when the crosswalk light is green and obey other traffic signals and signs posted along the line.
He said police have observed fewer pedestrians jaywalking and motorists parked on or near the tracks since the crackdown began.
Many violations appeared to stem from confusion.
"When the rush hour was over, that's when the violations actually increased. We think that it is more the infrequent visitor to Downtown who's not quite aware," Gibbons said. "For example, we stopped a minister from St. Paul who was taking a parishioner to the hospital to a doctor's appointment. We also stopped the same woman twice within a three-block area. She was very confused."
The saturation patrols come in the wake of recent light-rail accidents in Texas, which gave officials working on the Minneapolis line pause and added fuel to the safety campaign. In one of the December accidents, a light-rail train struck and killed a woman and her child after the woman reportedly became distracted and drove through a gate arm intended to keep traffic away from the oncoming trains.
Since Houston opened its 7.5-mile light-rail line New Year's Day, there have been four LRT-related accidents. The incidents were minor and no serious injuries occurred.
The Metropolitan Council, which oversees the Hiawatha LRT project, expects the 12-mile LRT line to begin partial service in April, with trains running between the Warehouse District and Fort Snelling. Full service is expected to begin in December to the airport and the Mall of America.
Train tests will continue in coming months to replicate the schedule planned for April. The time of day dictates the frequency of the trains. At peak service during morning and evening rush hour, the trains will run every 71/2 minutes. At other times, the trains circulate at between 10-, 15- and 30-minute intervals. Train service stops between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m.
The trains will operate at top speeds of 25 mph Downtown. The trains will operate with no engine noise -- another fact LRT officials repeatedly stress since motorists and pedestrians will have to be especially alert to stay clear of oncoming trains.
Gibbons has seen some people exercising special caution in light of the safety campaign. After conducting an early-morning radio interview Downtown, he recently came across a particularly conscientious walker.
"I came off the platform and was ready to cross 5th Street to go south on Nicollet Mall and a woman was standing there, and she looked at me and said, 'I'm afraid to cross the tracks after all the publicity.' So there we stood, and we waited probably 30 seconds even though there was nothing in sight," he said.