Crosswalk safety project to boost awareness

Brad Johnson strolled across the pedestrian crosswalk outside Coon Rapids High School on Northdale Boulevard many times over a two-hour period the afternoon for June 18.

Coon Rapids Police Officer Brad Johnson crosses Northdale Boulevard using the crosswalk outside Coon Rapids High School as a vehicle approaches during a crosswalk awareness and education event put on the police department June 18.

Coon Rapids Police Officer Brad Johnson crosses Northdale Boulevard using the crosswalk outside Coon Rapids High School as a vehicle approaches during a crosswalk awareness and education event put on the police department June 18.

The Coon Rapids Police officer, who was in plain clothes, was doing so with a purpose:  bringing awareness to and educating drivers, cyclists and pedestrians about safety at crosswalks in the city.

According to Johnson, drivers need to be aware of pedestrians about to use a crosswalk and be prepared to yield as required by state law.

But pedestrians must be cognizant of the fact that they must take care, too – not just assume the driver is going to stop and also give drivers time to do so, Johnson said.

“Pedestrians just can’t step off the sidewalk and into the crosswalk without being aware of traffic,” he said.

Instead, Johnson recommends that pedestrians step off the curb and onto the edge of the crosswalk, then make eye contact with the approaching driver indicating the intent to use the crosswalk, but not start walking until it is clear the motorist is going to stop.

Johnson had backup for the education and awareness event June 18.

Sitting in a Coon Rapids Police squad car with the engine running in the parking lot in front of the high school tennis courts was Officer Stephen Beberg.

If a motorist traveling west on Northdale did not yield to Johnson as he was about to use the crosswalk, then Beberg sprang into action, making a quick right turn out of the parking lot with the squad’s lights on and siren activated to stop the offending vehicle.

The driver did not get a ticket, but a warning, according to Beberg. He made drivers aware of the law about yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk and being alert to them, Beberg said.

“Some said they did not see anyone waiting to cross, others said they were talking and distracted,” he said.

In one case, Beberg snagged both a car and a motorcyclist, which was right behind the car, when both went through the crosswalk as Johnson was waiting at the side.

According to Beberg, it would have been tough for the motorcyclist to see Johnson with the vehicle in front of him.

The fine for a ticket for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk is $125, Beberg said.

Johnson, who is police liaison officer at the high school, said the effort produced better public awareness.

“We let people know the rules they should abide by,” he said.

The crosswalk on Northdale that separates Coon Rapids High School from the school’s tennis courts, football field, athletic track and baseball and softball diamonds is the busiest in the city, especially during the school year, according to Johnson.

While there is a crossing guard at the crosswalk during school arrival and departure times, there is not at other times when, for example, students in physical education classes are using the crosswalk to get to and from the athletic fields.

But it is also busy when school is not in session because of all the other activities at the school during the summer months, Johnson said.

Johnson recalled one incident at the Northdale crosswalk that was not the fault of the driver, he said.

“One boy on his bike rode out into the crosswalk without stopping or looking and struck a truck,” Johnson said.

That’s why is it important for pedestrians and bicyclists to be aware as well as motorists, he said.

Options for eliminating the crosswalk at the high school have been considered, but neither a bridge nor a tunnel are feasible from an engineering standpoint because of lack of room, according to Johnson.

But this is not the only crosswalk in the city with issues.

Last year, the city of Coon Rapids installed a solar-powered pedestrian sign on Round Lake Boulevard at the Wedgewood Trail crossing. It operates much like a regular traffic signal when the pedestrian/cyclist pushes a button to use the crosswalk. The system’s yellow lights flash and alert the motorist to the pedestrian’s intent to cross, then the light changes to red to direct drivers to stop and wait for the pedestrian to cross the road.

But the city is looking for a long-term solution to deal with complaints of drivers failing to yield to pedestrians at the Sand Creek Trail crossing on Foley Boulevard and at other locations.

According to Police Chief Brad Wise, the crosswalk on Foley was located on a curve and had visibility issues.

A police officer has investigated and recommended some low-cost improvements to improve visibility for both motorists and pedestrians, Wise told the Coon Rapids City Council in a report.

“His belief is that current sight lines were inadequate for a driver to have a reasonable opportunity to see a pedestrian and yield and that some of the road markings could be better,” he wrote.

As a result, the city has cut back some trees and vegetation to increase the distance on Foley a driver has to see a pedestrian showing intent to use the crosswalk, the road markings have been repainted and the lights warning drivers of the crosswalk have been improved, Wise wrote.

According to Wise, as a long-term safety improvement at crosswalks in the city, the police department is working with the public works department to place enhanced crosswalk signs at key intersections.

“These signs are wrapped by LED lights and are activated by the pedestrian via push button,” Wise told the council.

“These types of signs are far less expensive than the pedestrian semaphore located on Round Lake Boulevard, coming in around $10,000 each.”

The best feature is that a pedestrian’s intent is clear once they push the button to cross, making it far easier to spot and enforce violations, Wise said.

Besides the high school, Round Lake Boulevard and Foley Boulevard crosswalks, the police department has also received complaints about drivers failing to yield to pedestrians at the crosswalks at Robinson Drive and 113th Avenue and Crooked Lake Boulevard at Thorpe Park, from which pedestrians walk to Marshland Trail just north of 123rd Lane.

Peter Bodley is at
peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

 
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