Cities of Minneapolis, Saint Paul partner with University of Minnesota researchers to kick off new pedestrian program aimed at making crosswalks safer

July 14, 2021

The Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul’s Public Works Departments are teaming up with University of Minnesota researchers to make meaningful changes to how drivers respond to pedestrians in crosswalks. The research program, funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and led by Nichole Morris, director of the HumanFIRST Laboratory in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, will measure how many drivers stop for people crossing the streets, and how various engineering treatments may affect pedestrian safety at crossings.

A crosswalk project study sign in Saint Paul.

“It’s no secret that speeding, aggressive driving, and all-out unsafe behaviors have really intensified during the pandemic. We know a problem this serious cannot be solved by any one agency. It’s critical that we work with our partners and community members in new ways to calm down our streets to make them safer to travel regardless if you are walking, biking or driving,” said Sean Kershaw, director of City of Saint Paul Public Works.

In the last five years, there have been over 2,598 pedestrian crashes in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Of those, 402 involved youth, including 183 involving children 10 and under. Fatal and severe crashes that involve speeding or reckless driving have increased significantly over the last 18 months in Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and across the country. Last year, more than 70% of fatal crashes in Minneapolis involved high speeds.  

Last week, 52% of drivers were stopping for pedestrians at study locations in Saint Paul and 36% at locations in Minneapolis. A previous effort in Saint Paul, conducted in 2018, saw driver stopping at crosswalks improve from 32% to as high as 83% based on researcher observations. (The cities hope to achieve similar improvements this year.)

“I’m hopeful that we will see an improvement in safety behaviors with this program over time like we saw in the last program. More immediately, I expect that this program will start many conversations among friends and families where I hope we will all begin to push one another to slow down and travel in a way that ensures everyone makes it home safely,” Morris said.

“Starting this week, eight intersections in each city will receive various engineering treatments designed to improve pedestrian safety as part of the research study,” said Brette Hjelle, interim director of the City of Minneapolis Public Works Department. “Each city will also begin posting the average rates of drivers yielding to pedestrians on large blue signs to raise local awareness of pedestrian safety issues and help communities track their progress in improving the safety of our roadways.”

The improvements in this research study will build on other planned safety improvements in both cities. Minneapolis is installing “quick-build” safety improvements on five High Injury Streets this summer with more improvements planned for fall and next year. 

The new safety program, the Twin Cities Safety Cup, is also challenging community members in Minneapolis and Saint Paul to practice safety behaviors on our roadways. Community members are encouraged to take the Twin Cities Safety Pledge that helps drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists commit to safe practices on our roadways, such as following the new Minneapolis and Saint Paul citywide speed limits of 20 mph unless otherwise posted, stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks, and crossing roadways in a predictable manner.

Additional details on the pedestrian safety research project, including the study locations, can be found at tcsafetycup.umn.edu/study-information.

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