County works on upping pedestrian safety after tragic crash on McKnight Road


courtesy of Google Maps Following a Jan. 4 crash that killed one pedestrian and critically injured another on McKnight Road near the Villages on McKnight apartments, Ramsey County engineers held a community meeting to discuss short-term and long-term changes to improve safety on the busy throughway.

Following a fatal crash at the beginning of January on McKnight Road, Ramsey County engineers met with the community Feb. 11 to talk about short-term and long-term changes to McKnight.

On Jan. 4 around 5:45 p.m., two young women, Hanan Farah, 22, and Zahra Mohamed, 19, 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.

McKnight has been the source of many safety complaints — mainly speeding — from neighbors who live along the road, which is the border between St. Paul and Maplewood. Many were frustrated that it took a tragedy for concerns to be taken seriously. 

County officials said they would make easy changes to the area of the crash — painting the roadway, installing lights — while looking to convert McKnight from four lanes to three lanes in the near future.

 

Car to pedestrian focus

Ted Schoenecker, public works director for Ramsey County, said that in order to find short-term solutions, the county only analyzed the section of McKnight Road between Interstate 94 and Londin Lane, but that it would be open to looking at more improvements of McKnight later on.

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

Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, who represents the East Side and is chair of the county board of commissioners, said in recent years the county has been refocusing its transportation engineering to be more pedestrian-friendly. He said many of the county roads, which were developed in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, were focused on cars and how fast they could be moved through the city. 

Ramsey County follows the All Abilities Transportation Network plan established in 2016, which put in place a hierarchy of users when it comes to the safety and development of Ramsey County roads. It lays out the priority of users as pedestrians and bicyclists at the top, transit users, then drivers, and at the bottom, freight. 

According to data from a variety of nationwide studies, Schoenecker said four-lane, undivided highways, just like McKnight, are among the most dangerous roadways for drivers and pedestrians. He said that data also shows that a conversion from four to three lanes reduces crashes by 45 percent. 

He gave the Maryland Avenue four-to-three lane conversion as a local example of the conversion. 

Maryland was permanently converted from four to three lanes between Payne Avenue and Johnson Parkway during the summer of 2018 after a trial period the year before. Overall, speeds on the avenue were reduced by 3 or 4 mph and drivers and pedestrians said they now find traffic to be more predictable and safer. 

Community efforts were a force behind the Maryland conversion, after a mother was killed in 2016 at the Greenbrier Street and Maryland intersection while walking her children to the bus. One car had stopped, but a vehicle in the parallel lane went around and fatally hit her.

Schoenecker said that in 2013, when McKnight was resurfaced between Burns and Lower Afton, the county had considered converting it from a four-lane to a three-lane road, but decided against it. He admitted that when the conversion was considered it was analyzed through a vehicle-priority lens.

 

Short and long-term solutions

Given the data and reality of what happened, Schoenecker said short-term solutions for 2019 include painting stop bars ahead of the crosswalk near the Village on McKnight apartments, installing street lights on both sides of the road, installing flashing yellow lights at the crosswalk, and conducting analyses of four-to-three lane conversions on all four-lane Ramsey County roads.

In terms of long-term solutions, which would take place during 2020 and 2021, Schoenecker said that based off the All Abilities Transportation Network plan, McKnight Road is a candidate for a four-to-three conversion and that planning will take place for such a change.

Amin Omar, whose daughter was injured in the Jan. 4 accident, said at the Feb. 11 meeting that he wants to see all of McKnight analyzed and changed, not just one section, a sentiment that was echoed by other neighbors at the meeting. 

Many who live south of Londin Lane said they have just as many issues with safety, despite McKnight becoming a two-lane road in that area.

Omar also said there needs to be proactive meetings about safety, not just reactive meetings following a tragedy. 

Kevin Tetu, another neighbor, had similar sentiments, saying that he has tried to work with police and the city’s public works department to get more crosswalks and enforcement in the Eastview neighborhood. Tetu said both his sister and father were killed in pedestrian-vehicle crashes.

Other neighbors asked about enforcement and how to get more police officers out to catch chronic speeders. 

Chris Burns, who leads St. Paul police traffic patrols, said he has just 10 officers who work specifically on traffic enforcement across the whole city, despite traffic being the No.1 complaint that comes into the department.

 

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

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