Tom Freund often watches pedestrians dash across busy University Avenue NE. in Fridley, tearing through the intersection near BoB’s Produce Ranch during breaks in traffic.
“I see it every night going home,” said Freund, who has worked at BoB’s for more than 30 years. “They think they’ve got a gap, and they don’t.”
Local and state officials say a recent spike in fatalities is spurring them to take a closer look at safety issues along Anoka County sections of University and Central avenues NE. — also known respectively as Hwys. 47 and 65 — where at least eight pedestrians and cyclists have died since 2013 and 13 others have been seriously injured. Most of the pedestrian fatalities happened at intersections.
One of the most recent occurred in March, when a 28-year-old man died near BoB’s after he was struck by a motorist while trying to cross University Avenue near Osborne Road.
A $70,000 safety audit will focus on problems along the two north metro highways between the Hennepin-Anoka county line in Columbia Heights and Hwy. 10 in Coon Rapids. Officials say they may dig into lighting issues, timing of pedestrian signals, lane widths and medians as part of potential short-term fixes.
“This is a start to a larger and broader initiative to increase safety on this corridor,” said Melissa Barnes, north area engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. “We want to make sure that we can get in there and do something soon and then have a plan for the future.”
State officials expect to start making recommendations in November, Barnes said.
“Pedestrians are very vulnerable, and so are bicycles,” she said. “Any fatality is an issue.”
More walking and biking
According to MnDOT, crash reports show a mix of mistakes and bad judgment contributing to collisions. Examples include drivers failing to yield the right of way or being distracted and pedestrians disregarding traffic signals or not being visible.
Seven of the eight fatalities in the corridor in the past five years took place on Hwy. 47. Commuters like Freund say they’ve seen Hwy. 47 grow busier over the years, with drivers often running lights in their rush to get home.
Fridley officials say they suspect the recent jump in pedestrian deaths may be partly linked to increased foot traffic on Hwy. 47 as more housing and transit options sprout up along the corridor.
That includes a new apartment complex near 61st Avenue NE., where progress on a 256-unit project called Cielo is humming along. The market-rate apartment project marks the first of its kind in Fridley since 1988.
Speed limits shift from 30 to 55 mph northbound on Hwy. 65 and rise from 50 to 65 mph on Hwy. 47 as drivers move north.
That stretch of University Avenue “was designed as a suburban highway with frontage roads,” said Fridley City Engineer Jim Kosluchar. “Everybody drove, and nobody walked or cycled anywhere.”
Leaders in the old railroad town on the banks of the Mississippi River say Fridley is becoming more urban, with new residents bringing with them a bigger appetite for walking and biking.
“Now we do have a notable portion of the community that doesn’t have vehicles,” Kosluchar said. “We see that change being something we need to consider with the future of University Avenue.”
Hannah Covington • 612-673-4751