MINNEAPOLIS -- People don't walk quite as fast as once thought, so within the next two years, a majority of metro area counties and cities plan to give pedestrians more time in a crosswalk, anywhere between two and six additional seconds to cross the street.
For Dannie Gore, Jr. of Bloomington the extra seconds could be a life-saver. Gore is a veteran in his late 50s, waiting for a hip replacement, and says, like many baby boomers, it's hard to keep up when his body is slowing down. He works in downtown Minneapolis and is usually the last to the curb to catch his bus.
"More than once somebody drove up on me wanting me to get out of the way, I'm in the crosswalk, started when the light changed," said Gore. "I know I am not the only one with this problem, because I see women with kids' baby strollers, other people with disabilities, same situation."
In the United States, crosswalks are timed on the width of the intersection, assuming most people walk at about 4 feet per second. But, researchers looking at our aging population determined people need more time than that. In 2009, the federal government recommended states and cities slow crosswalks to a speed of 3.5 feet per second.
But more than three years later, most agencies are only now making changes, because the massive undertaking requires time and money.
Minnesota Department of Transportation traffic engineer Sue Groth says her department is currently updating 1,300 traffic signals run by the state. MnDOT has reprogrammed around 200 signals so far, and hopes to finish the rest by the end of summer in 2013.
"The 3.5 feet per second will give people an additional 2 to 6 seconds depending on the width of the intersection, so we are pretty confident that is going to improve, but you do have to be intentional, we want people to push the button and be ready to move when the walk signal comes up," said Groth.
Groth says, in Minnesota, every intersection is considered a crosswalk whether marked or unmarked and the motorist is required to stop.
The state also launched a pedestrian safety campaign, Share the Road, just as 2012 started off with a surge of pedestrian accidents. A stretch of Highway 10 through Anoka and Ramsey saw four pedestrian deaths in four months.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 876 pedestrians were injured or killed last year. The number is up around 50 people over the last two years, although the number of pedestrian deaths has remained about the same, with 38 estimated pedestrian deaths in 2012, and 40 pedestrian deaths in 2011.
"When we have looked at data, half is pedestrian error, half is driver error, or a combination of those two which ends up in some sort of tragic event," said Groth.
But, Groth says given the epidemic of distraction ailing drivers and pedestrians, more time is added comfort, but will not necessarily save more lives. She recommends pedestrians find more time by pausing on medians on wider roads. Her agency is also working on implementing a countdown pedestrian time, where instead of the flashing walk symbol, the timer tells the pedestrian exactly when the signal will turn yellow and then red.
But could you engineer an end to close calls altogether?
Reuben Collins is a traffic engineer behind Streets.mn - a blog dedicated to safer transportation - and says the best solution hasn't been implemented.
"When you think so many households have video-game consoles that can detect pedestrians and pedestrian movements in our own living rooms, we should have this technology in traffic signals," said Collins.
He says it's possible for signals to sense when someone is in the intersection, but why sensors aren't used, Collins believes, goes back to a culture centered around wheels more than walking.
"I am not sure all the agencies out there will have the resources to necessarily comply with this. This is not new guidance. It's been on the books for several years and agencies are just now starting the process," said Collins.
In June, the city of Minneapolis will add up to six seconds at crosswalks in more than 200 downtown intersections. The 1.3 million dollar traffic timing system overhaul will be completed in three stages, due to construction and traffic patterns, first in downtown, later moving to south Minneapolis, and then North Minneapolis, with a goal of 2014 completion. The project will be part of the biggest change to Minneapolis' traffic system in more than three decades.
"It would help, it would make a big difference in my life," said Gore.
Adding more time in crosswalks isn't a quick fix for most counties and cities. Anoka County and Apple Valley are among the few that have already made the conversion. KARE 11 checked with the majority of metro area counties and cities to track their progress on updating crosswalk timing.
Call your municipality to inquire about its' progress of reprogramming crosswalks in accordance with new federal guidelines.
Anoka County - already completed all county crosswalk retiming in 2011
Ramsey County: should have all county signals reprogrammed within 1-2 years
Dakota County - in process of reprogramming, should complete in the next couple of years
Washington County - should complete within a few years, updating crosswalk timing through attrition when replacing old signals
Hennepin County - 80% of signal system adjusted to new crosswalk timing - estimated completion within 2 months
Scott County - reviewing their signal timing plans over the coming year - all newer crosswalks have updated timing
Apple Valley - implementation of signal changes will be on a similar timeframe as MnDOT and Dakota County
Bloomington - completed 15 to 20 percent of the 83 city owned signals and hope to complete all within 3 years.
Burnsville - reprogrammed 3 of 23 city owned signals, estimated reprogramming of remaining signals may take up to 5 years - making the changes in conjunction with intersection improvements
Crystal - city has one signal under its control which it plans to update within a few years - all other signals in the city are operated by either Hennepin County or MnDOT
Eden Prairie - many of city's signals operated by either MnDOT or Hennepin County - city will be adjusting signals it operates
Edina - plan to reprogram all signals by the end of summer 2013
Golden Valley - still evaluating the six signals in the city that are not operated by MnDOT
Inver Grove Heights - timing on all traffic signals in the city is controlled by either MnDOT or Dakota County
Minneapolis - signals re-timed by 2014, in three stages due to recent bridge construction
Minnetonka - all programming of crosswalk signals in city is performed by either MnDOT or Hennepin County
New Hope - all signalized intersections in the city are controlled by Hennepin County
Plymouth - plan to reprogram any signals that do not meet the new guideline within two years
Roseville - all signals in the city are controlled by either MnDOT or Ramsey County
St. Louis Park - Still evaluating transition
St. Paul - will begin reprogrammed downtown soon and hopes to compete within 2 years
Woodbury - plans to update crosswalk times at the same time other work is needed on the signals.
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