Crossing Maryland

Last evening, Eric Saathoff, a teacher who lives in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood, demonstrated what he calls “the pedestrian experience” on St. Paul’s Maryland Avenue. It could’ve been anywhere in the city, however. It was hard crossing the four-lane section of the road. It wouldn’t take much to get killed.

He’s showing the difference between trying to cross the street that is a three-lane vs. a four-lane street.

Between Greenbrier and Johnson Parkway, Ramsey County has been testing reducing the roadway to three lanes: two travel lanes and a turn lane.

It’s an attempt to test a solution to problems including one we’ve discussed here numerous times: when a car stops (well, we can dream, can’t we?), the driver in the other lane doesn’t and hits the crossing pedestrian.

Robert Street, which was just reconstructed, provided a good example to me the other night when I was driving southbound in the right lane. The car in the left lane stopped and I almost didn’t because I couldn’t see the kid on the bicycle who chose a really bad place to ride his bike across the street (wasn’t at an intersection, for the record). The median and guardrails intended to discourage people from crossing the street there didn’t discourage the kid.

Maryland Avenue’s four-lane design of a street in a residential neighborhood, though, is what killed Elizabeth Durham last year. A truckdriver had waved her across Maryland Avenue at Greenbrier Street, but a car in the adjacent lane didn’t stop.

With the test ending, what happens now? Ramsey County is asking for feedback on the test.

“If the test goes well — if drivers act safely and neighbors react in a positive way — the Maryland experiment could mark the beginning of a transformation of Saint Paul’s streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces away from speed and danger and towards walkability and quality of life,” Bill Lindeke, the region’s principal advocate for safer streets, wrote on in May. “If it goes poorly, it might be years or decades before Ramsey County musters the political will to tackle its generational legacy of dangerous urban street design.”

As for drivers, it wouldn’t kill you to stop for a pedestrian in the road, even if it’s not a crosswalk.