The Idaho Stop

October 22, 2009


I saw an excellent piece in Slate last week about getting bicyclists to better-abide by traffic laws. One of the things brought up is something we’d discussed a few times on the Task Force: stop signs. Officially, in Minnesota and almost all other states, a bicycle is required to stop at stop signs like a vehicle. However, actually recommending this to bicyclists is problematic, because, as anybody who has ridden a bicycle knows, it’s extremely inefficient to stop completely and start again.

The Slate article contained a link to a video made for Oregon about the “Idaho Stop.” The Idaho Stop is a law that allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as if they were yield signs — they can’t violate cars’ right of way at the intersection, but they don’t need to stop if there are no cars in the vicinity. A law like this (HF4245) was proposed in 2008 in Minnesota, but it never made it past committee.

Here’s the video; it’s definitely worth a watch.


A Nonmotorized Solution to School Congestion

September 26, 2009

Jefferson Parkway and South Division Street

The Northfield News ran an article this week — Late starts lead to traffic jams outside schools — about congestion around the South Division Street school strip (High School, Bridgewater, and Middle School). Reading it, I had trouble feeling sympathetic for parents “forced to find an alternate route” in the crowded traffic. Even more grating were the suggested solutions:

[District Superintendent Chris] Richardson said the high school is also encouraging students to use a “back route” to Raider Drive through Koester Court. The alternatives, Richardson believes, should help separate traffic going to the high school from traffic going to Bridgewater and the middle school.

Getting people to drive to the schools in a slightly different way might alleviate some of the symptoms, but the real problem here is that there are just too many cars on the road. Every child has access to the school bus. If they must drive due to extracurricular activities, they can certainly carpool. And of course, they can bike or walk.

Now part of what prevents biking and walking is an infrastructure problem. Division Street south of the High School is just generally terrible, and 2200 Division is simply a bad location for the Middle School, at least until some significant growth occurs on the south edge of town. Though these are important — and I plan to write more about the issues with this stretch of Division in a future post — the main issue here is the choice to not walk or bike. The main access for the schools — Jefferson Parkway or Division St — are busy roads, but all three have alternative routes.

Northfield High School

NHS can be accessed from Linden Place to the north (shared-use path that cuts through the tennis courts), or Raider Drive to the west.

Bridgewater Elementary

Bridgewater can be accessed from Roosevelt Drive (by way of Tyler Park) to the west. The sidewalks on Jefferson Parkway are also perfectly adequate for walkers.

Northfield Middle School

This has the most unsafe main entrance, but there’s a smaller west entrance off of Carter Drive (Roosevelt to Fillmore to Carter) which is perfectly safe for walkers and bikers.

It’s not always viable to walk or bike, but this was a nice September morning. I see no reason why more kids couldn’t have been getting themselves to school with their own two feet.

Clarifying Crosswalks

August 19, 2009

I’ve often felt, driving or walking, a lot of confusion about pedestrian crossings. Obviously when there’s a marked crosswalk, a pedestrian has the right to cross. And I suppose when there’s a stop sign, a driver should wait for a pedestrian. What about when there’s neither?

Though I imagine a lot of complexity to it, as it turns out, Minnesota’s pedestrian statute, 169.21, is actually quite blunt:

“Where traffic-control signals are not in place or in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk. The driver must remain stopped until the pedestrian has passed the lane in which the vehicle is stopped […].” (169.21 Subd.2a)

So essentially the rule of thumb is that a car must stop at any intersection unless controls are in place. This wasn’t that surprising for a residential grid, but it just didn’t seem right for a busy intersection like West 3rd Street and Highway 3. So I asked a helpful Mn/DOT engineer who confirmed that, yes, even at the intersection, cars must yield to pedestrians.

The restrictions

So while that is the rule of thumb, there are several limitations:

Traffic signals

As mentioned in the above quote, if there is a traffic light, pedestrians must abide by it.

Reasonable stopping distance

169.21 2a also specifies that “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.”

Pedestrians must use mixed-grade crossings when provided

169.21 3b specifies that “Any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.”

What about bicycles?

People operating bicycles are not considered pedestrians. If a bicyclist wanted the rights of a pedestrian s/he could dismount and walk the bicycle temporarily — helpful to keep in mind for difficult-to-cross roads like West 5th St (Hwy 19).

And yet…

Of course, the illegality of ignoring pedestrians does not seem to affect all drivers. I’m just amazed to see Malt-O-Meal employees crossing 5th Street. There are several warning signs both directions of pedestrian crossing, big flashing lights at the well-painted crossing, and occasionally even fluorescent yellow “STATE LAW STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS IN CROSSWALK” signs in the middle of the road. There are still cars that don’t stop.

Why? Because they don’t think the pedestrian is going to exercise his or her rights. Which is mostly true: we as pedestrians are not as aggressive as we should be. While I’m not advocating anyone walk out in front of a moving car “which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield,” being more assertive would go a long way to making pedestrian crossings safer and driving calmer.

Getting started

July 24, 2009

Stay tuned for bicycle and pedestrian updates from former members of the Northfield Area Task Force on Nonmotorized Transportation.