Columns, Features, Love Thy Neighborhood

Love thy neighborhood: Advocating pedestrian improvements

For most Macalester students, being a pedestrian is a part of everyday life.

Macalester’s location in an urban neighborhood provides more busy streets and potential pedestrian problems than colleges in rural areas.

Recent projects on campus included the construction of pedestrian islands on Grand Avenue and Snelling Avenue. These created “safe spots” for pedestrians when crossing these busy thoroughfares.

But the question I would like to ask is whether we are doing enough for pedestrians. Considering that all students, faculty, staff and visitors are pedestrians at some point during their time on campus, do we pay enough attention to their unique needs and safety concerns as pedestrians?

My response is no. As a pedestrian, I believe the infrastructure, including crosswalks and sidewalks, is lacking and there is tremendous room for improvement.

The recent announcement of the addition of new wayfinding signs at Macalester is exciting. For too long, Macalester has lacked markers that provide crucial information for visitors and reflect a true urban campus. I can’t count the number of times visitors have asked me for directions.

I certainly hope that the signage isn’t only contained to campus. How wonderful it would be to have pedestrian wayfinding signage down Grand Avenue in both directions as well as Snelling Avenue.

Not only does the Macalester community frequent the stores at the corner of Grand and Snelling, but our campus is part of many of these intersection (Snelling and Selby, Snelling and St. Clair, Grand and Fairview) and the areas in between. I would love to see signage up and along all these corridors. It would be a benefit to not only the Macalester community but the businesses and neighborhood as a whole.

With regard to pedestrian islands, I think the beautiful planted safe areas for people crossing the street are great, but not enough. Many cities have begun to experiment with speed tables, so called surfaces that are even to the sidewalk—not as jolting as a speed bump, but a gentle rising slope that becomes level with the sidewalk, and then declines back to the street level. Many cities have used this to slow traffic down further, and make easier crossings for pedestrians.

This should be considered for Grand Avenue. Slowing traffic down in this area is crucial as Grand Avenue bisects campus. Additionally, it would provide an enormous benefit for handicap users who are required to go to Grand and Snelling or Grand and Macalester street to cross.

Also, along Grand Avenue between Snelling and Macalester Street, cars legally have the right-of-way and are not required to stop for pedestrians. I think it would be great if Macalester would get behind a plan to change the law in St. Paul, to give pedestrians the right-of-way in this span.

Another major concern I have is at the intersection of Macalester Street, Summit Avenue and Fry. The pedestrian signage is minimal and the crosswalks look terrible with missing paint. This intersection needs enormous improvement and is a major safety concern with so many students living north of campus.

Another intersection that needs improvement is Grand and Macalester. The recent addition of pedestrian right-of-way signs has been a tremendous improvement and more cars than ever are stopping for pedestrians. I would like to see these signs made permanent, as well as planning for wider pedestrian bump-outs—to make the distance pedestrians have to cross shorter. In this area, there are already no-parking restrictions for 30 feet from the corner. Expand the pedestrian bump-outs to cover this area.

Talking about pedestrian bump-outs, how great would it be if they removed the right-turn lane on Snelling Ave. and replaced it with a pedestrian bump-out. Hopefully something like the A-line a.k.a. Snelling Avenue Bus Rapid Transit will make this possible with the construction of a station at this intersection.

Let’s also reduce the speeds allowed on these streets. When a car is traveling at 40 mph and a pedestrian is hit, the likelihood of that pedestrian dying is 85 percent. At 30 mph it is 45 percent. At 20 mph it is 5 percent. For Snelling Avenue and Summit Avenue, the speed limit is 30 mph and many drivers drive at speeds faster than this.

It is time to bring these speed limits down. Yes, these are busy corridors, but with so many pedestrians in this area, which aren’t just Macalester students; I’m talking about the many students at Ramsey Junior High, the businesses around here, neighborhood residents, etc. We cannot afford the risk of someone getting hit anymore. Yes, we live in a progressive metropolis that has above-average pedestrian and biking infrastructure. But other cities like Copenhagen, Portland, NYC, London, etc. are adding pedestrian infrastructure that is making it incredibly safe to be a pedestrian.

These are all common-sense improvements that we should rally behind. Our safety from point A to point B is crucial. Improvements have and are being made, but the room for improvement is tremendous. Let’s invest more in pedestrian infrastructure, let’s make it safe for everyone, and let’s be a model to other urban colleges and neighborhoods on how to successfully pedestrianize its entire campus and surrounding community.

November 8, 2013

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