A few weeks ago, controversy erupted on the app Nextdoor in the University area. I hate to admit that I use it, but it's a nice way to gauge what the 50+ year old demographic is thinking about the neighborhood right now.
A contributor, who I will not name, posted about jaywalking in the University area saying, "Please do not walk across traffic where not marked to walk and you stop the flow of traffic or walk across streets where there is no walking marked."
The comments then became chaotic. Everyone had an opinion about the lack of safety for pedestrians. A number of solutions were proposed to make roads safer: bright yellow winter jackets, wrapping yourself in lights from a running store, car horns and defensive driving skills.
But no one had a real solution related to actually changing what our streets look like, besides adding more formal crosswalks. Although it was a bottom-of-the-barrel Nextdoor street fight, it was emblematic of the collective confusion that people and governments have about pedestrian and cyclist safety. Bright clothing won't make walking in Minneapolis safer; only redesigned streets and rethinking urban transportation will.
Last week a cyclist was hit and killed by a truck in downtown Minneapolis, just a month after a pedestrian was killed while crossing Lyndale Avenue, a Hennepin County road, in South Minneapolis. The cyclist was the 13th to die this year in Minnesota — the highest count since 2015.
All across the country, and especially here in the Twin Cities, newspaper editorialists and letters-to-the-editor have lamented a supposed "war on cars." But only one person is in control of a two ton steel box. A car or its driver won’t get hurt if I walked into it, only I would. However, that same car could kill me if it ran into me. That’s apparent in the data: 6,227 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles last year — the highest in 28 years.
The threat of pedestrian collision is becoming increasingly important because cars are becoming more dangerous for walkers and bikers. SUV's are now America's best selling car, and their high grills and blunt front ends create catastrophic results for pedestrians.
A 2015 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) examined 12 independent studies about injury data. They found that pedestrians are two to three times more likely to die if struck by an SUV or a pickup truck.
The NHTSA recommended overhauling its vehicle-safety rating program by adding a pedestrian safety score, but it never made the addition once the Trump administration took office.
The responsibility then falls on our cities, counties, and states to do the right thing and make our roads safer to reduce crashes. Their goal should be to not have a pedestrian safety score matter at all.
But they've dropped the ball.
On Sept. 20, 2017 the Minneapolis City Council adopted a Vision Zero resolution. It’s part of a national movement to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries, but as we've seen, pedestrians and cyclists keep dying. The state of Minnesota has a similar plan called Toward Zero Deaths (TZD), but this year's count of 326 traffic fatalities is above the goal of 300 by 2020.
Hennepin County, the state's largest county and the manager of many of the city's busiest roads like University Avenue and Lyndale Avenue, has no such plan.
There's been very little commitment from anyone about safety. No government is making pedestrians and cyclists a priority over the cars that so often hurt them. By doing so, our streets would be safer. But until then, our streets will continue to be unsafe.