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MnDOT wages October campaign for pedestrian safety

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Temporary memorial
A temporary memorial was set up at the junction of Park Ave. S. and E. 27th St. in Minneapolis, where Louise Laugen was hit and killed by a vehicle while crossing the street on Dec. 30, 2011. The intersection was recently upgraded with traffic lights and a crosswalk signal.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

October is the most dangerous month for pedestrians. The days are shorter, the nights longer, and drivers have a harder time seeing pedestrians.

With that in mind, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials will be out waving signs in busy intersections today to encourage drivers and pedestrians to watch out for each other.

Safety messages will appear on banners at busy intersections in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, St. Cloud and Rochester. The campaign also includes billboards and ads on the radio and on buses.

That kind of vigilance, officials say, could help prevent fatal injuries, like those Louise Laugen suffered last December when she was hit by car while walking home with groceries in Minneapolis.

Laugen, 69, was one of 40 pedestrians killed last year across the state. More than 800 pedestrians were injured. So far this year, two dozen pedestrians have died.

Public safety officials are concerned that the number of pedestrian deaths and injuries have remained consistent in recent years, while the number of fatal vehicle crashes has declined.

"I think it's just a little bit harder of a nut to crack," said Sue Groth, the state's traffic engineer.

Crossing Park Ave.
Pedestrians cross Park Ave. S. at E. 27th St. in Minneapolis, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. The intersection was recently upgraded with traffic lights and a crosswalk signal after Louise Laugen was struck and killed by a vehicle last year.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"The laws are harder to enforce, and it involves both motorist and pedestrian behavior," Groth said. "A lot of this could be solved just with pedestrians and motorists looking for each other, making eye contact and following the laws."

Groth said many motorists don't yield to pedestrians who are in the crosswalk, and many pedestrians either don't pay attention or cross the street against the light or away from the crosswalk.

The numbers bear that out. Because motorists and pedestrians are equally at fault, transportation officials are targeting both groups with the safety campaign.

Fall is a good time to get people's attention, Minnesota State Patrol spokesman Lt. Eric Roeske said.

Describing intersection upgrades
Ebenezer Park Apartment resident Elizabeth Smith describes the recent upgrades at the junction of Park Ave. S. and E. 27th St. in Minneapolis, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. Smith was an acquaintance of Louise Laugen who was struck and killed by a vehicle at the intersection last year.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"Everyone's back at work, back at school," Roeske said. "We see the sun setting earlier, so there's more pedestrians out after it's dark compared to the summer months, and therefore it could make them a little more difficult to see."

When Laugen crossed Park Avenue South just steps away from her apartment building, the intersection had no stoplight. 

Elizabeth Smith, one of Laugen's neighbors, helped organize the effort to persuade city officials to install the new traffic signal at the intersection. She prepared data for the city showing that 85 of the high rise apartment building's residents use scooters, walkers or wheelchairs, 17 have low vision and 38 are hearing impaired, although Laugen wasn't among them.

"I could see it happening to somebody that was totally disabled because, you know, they didn't have a chance, but Louise was perfectly healthy and that," Smith said. "They just didn't see her."

At Park Avenue South and East 27th Street, Laugen's friends have tied a bouquet of flowers to a sign post. They hope to install a more permanent memorial soon to remind everyone why it's finally easier to cross the street.

LIST OF DANGEROUS TWIN CITIES INTERSECTIONS

The Minnesota Department of Transportation says it's difficult to single out the most dangerous intersections because of limited data. But the intersections listed below have been identified as problem areas because of frequent crashes or a high number of crashes that resulted in serious injury or death. The crash statistics listed are from 2007-2011.

• Lake Street in Minneapolis: 137 crashes, including 12 fatal or serious injury crashes
• Washington Avenue in Minneapolis: 102 crashes, including 13 fatal or serious injury crashes
• Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis: 81 crashes
• University Avenue in St. Paul: 67 crashes
• Highway 5 in St. Paul: 66 crashes, including 12 fatal or serious injury crashes
• Highway 65 (Central Avenue) in Minneapolis and Columbia Heights: 13 fatal or serious injury crashes
• U.S. Highway 61 (Arcade Street) through St. Paul: 10 fatal or serious injury crashes.

BY THE NUMBERS

• 40 — The number of pedestrians killed on Minnesota roadways in 2011

• 859 — The number of pedestrians injured on Minnesota roadways in 2011

• 52 — The highest number of Minnesota pedestrians killed in the last 10 years (2003)

• 25 — The lowest number of Minnesota pedestrians killed in the last 10 years (2008)

• 9 — The number of pedestrians killed in 2011 whose blood alcohol content was above .10 (only 33 of the 40 people killed were tested)

• 73 percent — The percentage of 2011 pedestrian fatalities who were male

• 25 percent — About a quarter of all pedestrian deaths and injuries in 2011 occurred when the pedestrian was crossing at a place with no crosswalk and no signal

• 35 percent — The percentage of pedestrian crashes where the officer listed a driver's failure to yield as a contributing factor

• 30 percent — The percentage of 2011 pedestrian crashes that happened during weekday rush hours