Community takes on study of McKnight Road


As a result of a crash that killed a pedestrian on McKnight Road earlier this year, the District 1 Community Council is working with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs this summer to collect data on non-vehicle users of the busy street. Ramsey County is planning to convert much of McKnight from four lanes to three lanes over the next two years to increase its safety. (file photo)

County planning for lane conversion

 

Following a crash that killed one pedestrian and seriously injured another on McKnight Road earlier this winter, the District 1 Community Council is taking steps to collect data to be used to enact changes on the busy four-lane road. 

The council submitted a proposal to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs for help collecting data on non-vehicle users of McKnight Road — pedestrians, bicyclists and transit-users — after finding there was no government collection of that data.

Council board members and staffers held a meeting June 18 with engineers and staff from the City of St. Paul, Ramsey County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation to brainstorm ways to collect that data and find out more about how government entities can help make the road safer for all.

 

 

The problem

On Jan. 4, around 5:45 p.m., two young women, 22-year-old Hanan Farah and 19-year-old Zahra Mohamed, were crossing McKnight near Battle Creek Park at the Villages on McKnight apartments when a driver hit them. Mohamed died at the scene and Farah survived with serious injuries — a broken pelvis, femur and ribs.

The driver stopped immediately and cooperated with authorities — alcohol or drugs did not appear to be factors in the crash. The driver was not charged with a crime.

McKnight, which forms the border between St. Paul and Maplewood, has been a source of safety complaints for years, mainly regarding speeding from neighbors who live along the road. Drivers who use the artery say lighting is also a concern — it’s hard to see pedestrians and wildlife. 

McKnight is fast-paced — it has a 40 mph limit near Interstate 94 that drops to 35 mph further south. It’s a four-lane road between the interstate and Londin Lane, which sees thousands of vehicles per day.

Since a February community meeting about the safety issues on McKnight, Ramsey County — which has jurisdiction over the road — has installed added safety features like lights and stop bars ahead of crosswalks. Later this year it plans to install pedestrian-activated flashing lights. 

 

Finding the missing datea

To tackle the lack of data, the District 1 Community Council recently began working with a research assistant from the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, Peiyu Phua, who has masters degrees in both public health and community and regional planning. Phua will be working with the council this summer to collect data and write up a report on the findings. 

Betsy Mowry Voss, executive director of the District 1 Community Council, said she applied for the study to meet the community’s needs.

“It validates our needs and concerns,” she said, pointing out the data will help the community be informed to make decisions about the kinds of changes the road needs. 

The study will include the section of McKnight Road between Burns Avenue and Londin Lane.

The majority of the data collection will happen in July and Phua said she and Voss will be looking not only to collective quantitative data — counting pedestrians and bicyclists — but qualitative, like how users feel as they traverse the road and if they’ve ever had any life-threatening experiences in the corridor. 

“We want to reach out to communities and record their story,” Phua said, documenting “their hardships to get from Point A to Point B.”

Depending on how the data collection goes and what they find, Voss said the council may apply for another research assistant this fall, who would look at the winter challenges that non-vehicle users face on McKnight Road. 

Voss noted the more than 10 bus stops in the study area on McKnight and how it becomes impossible for elderly or disabled users to access the stops as snow piles up around them, often forcing people to stand in the road while they wait for their bus.

“It’s a serious issue with potential to get more serious,” Voss said.

Planned conversion

Outside of the immediate changes Ramsey County has made on McKnight Road, the county is planning to convert it from a four-lane to three-lane road beginning in 2020, said Erin Labree, a Ramsey County engineer.

It’s part of a county-wide effort to convert four-lane arterials to three lanes that officials described during the February community meeting.

The initial phases of work on McKnight will have it resurfaced and lanes converted between Burns and Pond avenues, and then between Stillwater and Seventh avenues next year.

In 2021, the county is planning to do the same type of work between Minnehaha and Burns avenues, then between Minnehaha and Stillwater avenues, though the last section is under MnDOT’s jurisdiction.

All that work will include reviews of pedestrian crossings and infrastructure upgrades, like new signals at intersections and stormwater management improvements.

 

County-wide changes

During the February meeting, Ramsey County Public Works Director Ted Schoenecker said the county is looking to convert all its roads to three lanes to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists.

He said that national data and local projects support the idea that changing roads to three lanes reduces crashes and speeds. 

One of the first roads to undergo such a conversion was Maryland Avenue between Payne Avenue and Johnson Parkway. It was converted on a temporary basis in 2017 as an attempt to slow and calm traffic. 

The change was instigated by a deadly crash in the spring of 2016, when a mother was killed by a driver while crossing the street after dropping her kids off at a bus stop. 

Based on findings that traffic did slow by 3 or 4 mph after the conversion, Maryland was resurfaced and permanently painted with three lanes. 

More of Maryland Avenue will be tested for a four-to-three conversion next year between Edgerton Street and Interstate 35E.

Amin Omar, whose daughter was seriously injured in the McKnight Road crash earlier this year, said she’s continuing to undergo multiple surgeries for bones that are not healing properly.

He said he’s glad to see the changes and the issue being taken seriously, though he wishes it had been done proactively, rather than after a fatal crash.

As the District 1 Community Council begins collecting data in the next few weeks, it’s looking for community members to volunteer time to help with the project or to share their experiences on McKnight Road. Contact the District 1 Community Council by calling 651-578-7600. 

 

 

–Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

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