Spokes & soles // Minneapolis is fantastic for walking when done safely

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October 1, 2012 // UPDATED 2:00 pm - December 31, 2012
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

Is walking your thing? We take it for granted, but walking is far more popular as a commuting mode than bicycling. More people in Minneapolis walk to work (5.8 percent) as ride bikes (3.4 percent).

Minneapolis is a Gold-Level Walk-Friendly Community, according to a recent ranking by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, which cited the city’s plans and policies for keeping pedestrians safe and comfortable. Among Midwestern cities, Minneapolis ranks first for pedestrian commuters, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey.

In the walkable neighborhoods of the Twin Cities, it’s easy to collect walking stories. I have friends who love their walking commutes to downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota — both prime walking destinations. I talked with a bank teller who lives in Uptown and basically walks everywhere — to the gym, grocery, out to meet friends, etc. I used to walk after work from my job near the Metrodome to meet friends at Loring Park, and it was a great 30-minute stroll. While evening traffic downtown inevitably stalled, I kept moving. 

Walking is also pretty much an easy year-round activity. At my prior job, I especially remember the night I left work and the new-fallen snow sparkled and the sky shone. I hope you have had a similarly sublime walking experience.

That said, walking has lately become far more hazardous for some pedestrians. So far this year, 23 pedestrians have been killed by vehicles in Minnesota, compared with 14 at this time a year ago. This includes the recent high-profile death of a 19-year-old Macalester College transfer student from France, who had been in the United States for one day, killed while attempting to cross Hamline Avenue at Grand Avenue in St. Paul.

Fatalities such as these recently helped spark the state’s first pedestrian campaign in nearly 15 years. The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) Share the Road campaign for pedestrian safety, now featured on billboards, bus signs and radio ads, reminds drivers and people walking to be aware and look out for each other. 

People I know who walk regularly would love to see what this campaign asks: for motorists to look both ways when trying to turn — because maybe there’s a person trying to walk across the driveway or intersection where you are stopped. The MnDOT campaign also reminds walkers and runners to make eye contact with drivers before crossing the road and clearly show your intention to cross the road.  

You might think that motorists cause the majority of pedestrian/vehicle crashes, but according to MnDOT, the ratio is approximately 50/50. Motorists cause about half of pedestrian collisions due to failure to yield, distracted driving and inattention. Pedestrians are the cause due to ignoring signs or signals, inattention and crossing streets mid-block.

Of course, in any collision between pedestrians and cars, the person loses. A vehicle’s speed makes a big difference in whether a person lives or dies. If a car is going 20 mph and hits someone, 9 out of 10 times, that person will live. But if the car is going 40 mph, the opposite is true, and only 1 in 10 lives.   

There are ways to design roadways to make them more pedestrian-friendly. Since 2007, through a federal pilot program, Bike Walk Twin Cities has been helping local cities improve their sidewalk and roadway infrastructure to provide safer and more accessible routes for pedestrians and bicyclists. Here are three improvements that make walking safer:

More bike lanes mean safer sidewalks. When bicycles have a clear place to ride, they are less likely to ride on the sidewalks, making sidewalks better for their primary use: by pedestrians. 

Road diets make streets safer for all users. An example in Minneapolis is 10th Avenue Southeast, where four lanes were converted to two (one in each direction) plus a center turning lane and two bicycle lanes. The bikes now have their own space and people crossing the road do not encounter what traffic wonks call “the double threat” — the attempt to cross two lanes of traffic at once. 

Bicycle boulevards have many features that make them “complete streets” — roadways that can be used for multiple modes of transportation by people of all ages. Bicycle boulevards slow vehicular traffic (with roundabouts, for instance) and provide refuges at major crossings that help people walking or riding bicycles get across more safely. For instance, see the medians on Franklin Avenue where the Bryant Avenue bicycle boulevard crosses, or along the RiverLake Greenway along 40th and 42nd streets in south Minneapolis.

To learn more about the MnDOT “Share the Road” campaign, visit sharetheroadmn.org.  

Hilary Reeves is communications director for Bike Walk Twin Cities.