Ask a Patch Pro: Pedestrian Safety

What can pedestrians and drivers do to make life safer for people on foot?

Walking is such a basic, everyday activity—putting one foot in front of the other—that news of pedestrians dying or suffering severe injuries while they're simply out and about is particularly harrowing.

What steps can pedestrians, motorists, even bicyclists take to reduce the danger to people who simply want or need to walk to get from one place to another in the community? Is there anything local or state government is or should be doing?

Ask your questions in comments below and look for a reply from an expert.

Our Patch Pros for this topic are James Ingham of Northfield Hospital EMS, Anne Marie Buck, the police services liaison at the Hopkins Police Department, Dale Butler of Fridley, who blogs about pedestrian safety at a blog called, appropriately enough, Pedestrian Safety, and Fay Simer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Our panel of experts will check the comments below and try to answer your questions over the course of this Ask a Patch Pro feature on Tuesday, Oct. 23, and Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012. Thanks to all our Patch pros and questioners for participating!

Joshua October 24, 2012 at 07:59 PM
That's funny because I feel the same way about red lights and stop signs. Forget the law! Maybe if you were paying attention to the road you wouldn't have to "slam" on your brakes and get rear-ended to stop for a pedestrian.
James W Ingham October 24, 2012 at 08:05 PM
No one really wants to see any body get hurt. I am sure that No one wnats to be the person responsible for killing someone. Please, walking, driving or riding bikes, pay attention to your surroundings. Please obey the laws, be responsible and most importantly, keep you and others around you safe. Afterall, none of you really want to meet me on the street.
Emily B October 24, 2012 at 08:20 PM
J, I understand the concern here, but I wonder if people consider that many of us do stand there for a LONG time waiting. I used to live on Minnetonka Blvd, near the Mpls border. I had a crosswalk at my building, with a big florescent yellow PED sign by it, which I used to get to the bus in the morning. I always tried to go out early enough so I could wait if traffic was bad, but some times cars just would not stop. During rush times, Minnetonka is very busy and you could be waiting there a long time. Some times if I was in a hurry, I would take my chances, if I saw a car coming far enough back (usually half a block), I would step out, put my hand up, wave it to make sure they saw me and walk across quickly. This worked well for me, but I think there are many people who would just end up standing there forever and there aren't lights to safely cross at on Minnetonka between France and Ottawa, so you have to use the crosswalks.
Thomas October 24, 2012 at 08:30 PM
I belive that is what I just said. BTW.. I have driven Semi for a time and It is clear to me most "4 wheelers" know to give you some room .. it is in their best interest. The worst thing that could happen is to run over one.
Dale Butler October 24, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Why would I not want to meet you on the street? Are you more dangerous than traffic?
Emily B October 24, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Ultimately, reading all these comments reminds me why I don't often drive. I prefer letting a bus driver have the responsibility, since it is their JOB to drive safely and responsibly. I realize, they're not all perfect, but they keep me safe and help me not have to be the stressed out driver watching for all sorts of other people's distractions.
rob_h78 October 24, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Regarding stopping for walkers. While I stop for walkers when feasible when I see them at crosswalks honestly it can be a frightening experience. I find very few drivers watch for people standing at crosswalks that aren't metered in some way and if there is someone right behind me there is no way I'll try to stop at the crosswalk unless the person is literally in the crosswalk because I have no confidence at all that the guy tailgating me wont' slam into me... Also, the other day I stopped at a crosswalk on a street that is right next to an elementary school - and this was at 8:50am while people were walking to school and the guy behind me, instead of stopping, just zoomed around me and flew through the crosswalk and he would have taken out the two kids walking had the timing just been a few seconds later.
MJ Rollins October 24, 2012 at 10:29 PM
I have been walking on the paths in Plymouth twice daily for 17+ years. I don't talk on the phone (unless I'm calling 9-1-1) nor do I listen to music, have ear buds in, etc. My hearing is excellent. I have however, almost been run over on multiple occasions (more in the past summer) by bikes speeding up on us from behind. I understand there are pedestrians that don't pay attention- BUT bikes are pretty silent and when they share a walking path, the riders should at least make an effort to let the walker(s) know they are (fast) approaching. With that said, I too have seen the zombie pedestrians (I stopped a woman in downtown Mpls from walking right in front of a bus) BUT on a path in the burbs, if you bike and share that walking path, be courteous enough to let the walkers know you are there!
MJ Rollins October 24, 2012 at 10:36 PM
On our busy street, Schmidt Lake Road in Plymouth, it would be nice to have the crosswalk signs that flash (walker pushes the button and the lights flash on top of the pedestrian signs)... might not "make" people stop, but at least it would get more of their attention. I also recommend highly reflective gear for our dark mornings and evenings AND a really good flashlight... but that still doesn't guarantee they will 1) see you or 2) stop.
MJ Rollins October 24, 2012 at 10:38 PM
This same scenario has happened so frequently to my husband and I, that our rule now is that all cars must be at a complete stop in both directions before we will cross. Scary!!
James W Ingham October 24, 2012 at 11:23 PM
I am a Paramedic. LOL Not good when I show up...
Dale Butler October 24, 2012 at 11:23 PM
My apologiea to James for the above comment. I thought he was a policeman and I have heard similar rheroric from some policemen before.
James W Ingham October 24, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Hi Vis is a great way help you be seen, but don't trust that you are seen. Reading the posts here, I can tell that most of the people here are safety concious. Simple rules remain, Make eye contact with the drivers, walkers or riders when ever possible. Wear protective and visible gear and clothing, slow down when pedestrians are around and never count on the other person seeing you.
Dale Butler October 24, 2012 at 11:31 PM
The 4 comments above make my case for better enforcement. As more ane more cars crowd our roads and people are becoming more rushed by the day, the problem is going to get even worse. If we don't step up enforcement in a big way more and more peds. and motorists are going to be killed.
Emily B October 25, 2012 at 01:32 AM
MJ - Agreed! "On your left!" is my constant call on the trail.
Heyitsme October 25, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Must be nice to live in a town where you have the convenience of bus service, not all communities have the same.
Susan October 25, 2012 at 01:12 PM
I'm sure this may be wrong, but when I now stop for walkers at a crosswalk and I see them far enough ahead, I position my vehicle in the middle/to-the-right of my lane so no one mistakes me for waiting to turn left, and tries to pass me on the right...there is simply no room for them to get by on the right if I have my car in the right position. It will frustrate the driver behind me, but once they see the pedestrians, they are quickly humbled and understand.
Dale Butler October 25, 2012 at 01:48 PM
To all those who worry about the person behind hitting them if they try to stop for a ped. Ask yourself, If I found myself suddenly on a collision course with a deer, a truck, or a train; would I worry about the driver behind me who is charged with keeping his vehicle under control? I think the answer will clearly be no. So think of colliding with a human as a train wreck and apply the brakes.
Chris Steller (Editor) October 25, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Dale, interesting way to put it. I stopped for a pedestrian in St. Paul where they enforce the crosswalk law more so than other places. It was an odd intersection where the cross street zig zagged, meeting the bigger street I was driving on at two different places. Anyway, there was a pedestrian waiting to cross. I stopped. The car behind me stopped. But the third car back hit the car behind me. I stuck around and told the cop about my role in what happened. He said, you did the right thing, you don't have to stay. I still felt a little guilty but the way you put it I don't feel so bad.
Nick October 25, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Just my two cents, I only stop for pedestrians if they are either handicapped, elderly, or if it is raining or snowing out. I normally won't stop because I have had too many close calls with getting rear-ended or people zooming around me and almost hitting the person I stopped for. I don't think it is wise to encourage people to walk in front of vehicles. It is too dangerous, and what does anyone gain by trying it? A few minutes time if you are the ped? Is that worth putting your life in the hands of someone who is probably texting and speeding? No. There is a lot being put at risk for little to no gain. It is not wise. Peds should wait for the cars to pass, then cross. Right or wrong, it is the best way to ensure the safety of everyone.
Heyitsme October 25, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Then you are in violation of the law. The law needs more enforcement which will help with training drivers NOT to ignore it. Other states have adopted it and within a few short months the drivers GET it.
Chris Steller (Editor) October 25, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Folks, officially this Ask a Patch Pro Q&A session ended on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012. However, the comments will stay open for anyone, Patch Pros and commenters, to keep the discussion going. Many thanks to everyone who has participated, Pros and commenters alike.
Jp October 25, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Roundabouts= urban planning fad. Dangerous for pedestrians,cyclists and motorists.
Randy Marsh October 25, 2012 at 07:38 PM
Funny how Great Britain and Europe have survived such an urban planning fad for so long. You should really try to get out more, grasshopper.
James W Ingham October 25, 2012 at 09:02 PM
No worries Dale, I often get called a cop by my Patients. LOL
Sean Hayford Oleary October 25, 2012 at 11:19 PM
They really aren't dangerous for cars -- it's almost universally accepted that they reduce fatal accidents by about 90%. I have mixed feelings on how beneficial they are to pedestrians and cyclists, however. They probably still reduce *fatal* accidents, since cars are physically forced to slow down, and it's rare for a pedestrian to die if the vehicle is going <20 mph on impact. But they may increase non-fatal accidents, and at the very least are more distressing for most than a walk signal.
Sean Hayford Oleary October 25, 2012 at 11:22 PM
The rear-ending thing is a bit strange to me. Here in Richfield, our major streets have 35 mph speed zones and no turn lanes -- so if you're turning left, you likely have to make a complete stop in a traffic lane. If you're turning right, you need to slow to 5-10 mph. While I'm sure accidents happen in these contexts, too, nobody seems so terrified of getting rear-ended that they don't turn off these streets as a matter of course. If you have adequate time to react to the pedestrian, how is this any different?
Susan October 26, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Chris, in a rear-end collision, I am pretty sure it is always the fault of the driver in back. They are following too close, not paying close enough attention, or traveling too fast for conditions. Of-course this does not make it any better for the person getting hit and/or hurt, but it is the tail-gater who is to blame, not the person stopping. CB, if you are still monitoring, could you (or anyone else in the know) confirm?
Dale Butler October 26, 2012 at 02:05 AM
I agree with MR. Oleary, I also think if you are so worried about the car behind you are spending too much time with your eye glued to the rear view mirror. If that is the case you need to move out of the way and allow that car to pass. distracted driving by constantly monitoring the rearview mirror is just as bad as any other type of distracted driving with the possible exception of texting, which we all know is the most dangerous.
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