Howard Lake Herald, December 14, 1998

With detour over, traffic's back on Highway 12

By ANDREA VARGO

Zoom! Whoosh!

You know the sounds the traffic on Highway 12 makes as it whizzes past your tender little toes.

Now that the detour is off, the traffic race is back in town. Traffic goes too fast. Most vehicles don't stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk.

Who is at fault? Where can we place the blame? What can be done about the situation? Isn't that what we all want to know?

Information gathered from three officials in the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) gives some perspective on the whole mess.

Curt Eastlund, project manager for our Highway 12 work, said it (not stopping for pedestrians) is a cultural thing.

People don't have respect for each other or the laws anymore, he said.

"In general, the world is just getting less courteous," he said.

"I don't know that there is anything from a highway standpoint (in Howard Lake) that would cause this."

As far as the speed through town is concerned, Eastlund said traffic through the city doesn't slow down soon enough because the drivers have a destination.

They are focused on "getting there."

He explained that a visual corridor, such as curbs and gutters cause traffic to slow down from a psychological standpoint.

Drivers feel they are in a more enclosed, claustrophobic situation and drive more carefully.

Howard Lake doesn't have curbs and gutters on the outskirts of the city.

Eastlund felt the work that will be done at the Dura Supreme intersection on the east side of town in 2000 will help slow down the traffic flow.

Lane changes should help, he said, although, curbs and gutters would be more effective. An urban look will cause people to slow down.

Law enforcement is another factor, said Eastlund.

"You can catch problem drivers and create pressure for the time the patrol is on the road. It is a help, but typically, when the presence is there, it is just a temporary effect," said Eastlund.

Local traffic can set the tone for the highway, he said. It is up to the citizens to follow the traffic rules to the letter, and eventually the commuter traffic will get trained.

The crosswalk problem is one of those issues local drivers need to address, Eastlund said.

If someone is in the crosswalk, even just a little bit, the law says that traffic must stop to let that pedestrian cross, he explained.

Drivers must anticipate whether or not a pedestrian is going to enter the crosswalk and drive accordingly, he said.

So how local traffic conducts itself is one way to control and educate the whole flow.

From another perspective, District 3 Traffic Engineer Gary Dirlam from Brainerd said MnDOT can't clutter the highway with more signs.

The more signs there are, he said, the less people read them.

The signage on Highway 12 may need to be updated when the new project is finished, said Dirlam.

It may not include more signs, just different ones.

Perhaps, said Dirlam, the entrances into town need to be looked at to determine how soon people need to be directed to slow down.

"In situations like Howard Lake's (where people are not obeying the pedestrian crossing sign), crossing guards are not uncommon during busy times," he said.

One of the problems is that people will walk out into the crosswalk without looking, Dirlam stated.

He suggested the city do a study on the amount of foot traffic across Highway 12 and determine if a problem even exists.

A regular semaphore is not called for in this situation, he said, because it is not needed to control traffic flow with turns.

The city will get a flashing light for the intersection of Highway 12 and Eighth Avenue, he said, but that is all.

Asked about experimental options, such as a pedestrian controlled light that turns red to stop traffic, Dirlam explained that it has never been done.

He stated that MnDOT is reluctant to do much in the experimental area. Creating a hazard is not something the department takes lightly, he said, and that might be what would happen.

He said that anything that stops traffic flow causes a less safe situation.

Accidents will happen, he said, then a disservice is created for the public.

Law enforcement helps, he added.

"In Brainerd, a major law enforcement crackdown took place," said Dirlam.

"There was a period of intensive law enforcement with media coverage, when tickets were issued to traffic and pedestrians alike," he said.

In Brainerd, it worked. People slowed down, stopped for pedestrians, and learned to cross at the crosswalks, Dirlam said.

Dirlam offered all these suggestions: increase awareness of the problem, do a study of the situation, use crossing guards, get local law enforcement involved, and take down license plate numbers of offenders, so local police can follow up.

Once the new construction is completed, MnDOT will do another speed evaluation, said Dirlam.

The city could ask the Minnesota Highway Patrol for the unit that alerts motorists to their actual speed.

That department has only two units for the state, said Dirlam, so they have to be scheduled.

Another Mn/DOT official said if the community wants to do something in the experimental area or have other ideas, local legislators need to be involved.

He said, the city council needs to pass a resolution asking for whatever they feel will solve the problem.

The council needs to send it, along with petitions from the citizens, and a request from the local business association to MnDOT and local representatives.


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