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Walkers Can Make a Difference

Paul Moss
Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance

Pedestrians are people who get to places by walking and most of us act in that role at least some of the time. Walking provides us with healthy exercise and is typically more efficient for short trips or errands. When compared to driving, it also offers a chance to see the world at a slower pace, enjoy fresh air and have more contact with a wide variety of sights, sounds and smells. Picking up unsightly litter, window-shopping or even finding loose change are all possibilities when one walks.

Our communities also benefit from our walking in many ways. Walking strengthens local economies in areas of dense commercial development such as downtowns; eases traffic congestion; reduces pressure for limited parking space; and prevents pollution. Walking can not only help to build connections between community residents when people stop to interact but also lead to safer and more vital streets.

How do pedestrians fare in the Twin Cities? Some local communities are particularly pedestrian friendly, providing paved sidewalks, walking trails, appropriate lighting, shopping districts without car traffic and street-side plantings and benches, as well as a wide range of amenities within walking distance of each other. Other communities are less accommodating to pedestrians. In these communities, there may be few sidewalks or trails, making it difficult to walk at all without going on the street or through a parking lot. The long winter season can be a particular challenge especially when streets are narrow and full of snow. Furthermore, these communities may have few amenities within walking distance of each other, high-speed traffic with few intersections and poor lighting.

Our communities can be made even more pedestrian friendly through a number of tools, including traffic calming. Traffic calming is a technique that seeks to reduce the speed of cars through neighborhoods by using traffic circles, speed bumps, changing traffic routes and other activities. Slower traffic is safer for pedestrians as it can reduce accidents. Narrower streets, better lighting, wider sidewalks, more walk signals and public education about the advantages of walking can help to promote communities that are more encouraging of pedestrians.
Pedestrians are fortunate to have specific rights under Minnesota law. According to a fact sheet of the Minnesota Safety Council, which can be obtained from www.mnsafetycouncil.org/crosswalk, where traffic control signals are not in place or in operation, a driver must stop when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk. A vehicle that is stopped at a crosswalk is allowed to proceed only once the pedestrian has completely crossed the lane in front of the stopped vehicle. However, a pedestrian must not enter a crosswalk if a vehicle is approaching. A crosswalk does not have to be marked to be covered by this law. At an intersection, a crosswalk exists from sidewalk to sidewalk, even if lines are not painted on the street. Also, when a vehicle is stopped at an intersection to allow pedestrians to cross the roadway, drivers of other vehicles approaching from the rear must not pass the stopped vehicle.

Pedestrians also do have specific obligations under Minnesota law. These include obeying traffic control signals at intersections and yielding the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway when crossing a road at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. Pedestrians also should not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk between adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are in operation. Minnesota statute also directs that pedestrians should move on the right half of crosswalks. When walking along a roadway, pedestrians should walk on the left side of the roadway or its shoulder to give a way to oncoming traffic. Where sidewalks are provided and are accessible and usable, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon the roadway.

What You Can Do

* Get out and walk!

* Obey traffic laws if you are a pedestrian and when a driver.

* Yield the right-of-way to pedestrians at all intersections.

* Learn more about pedestrian safety and livable communities.

* Pick up litter while walking.

* Try walking instead of driving to nearby destinations.

* When walking at night carry or wear reflective materials.

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