City of Rochester takes action to improve bicycle/pedestrian safety at dangerous intersection

ROCHESTER, Minn. – It’s an intersection that’s proven to be dangerous for bike riders and pedestrians, and the City of Rochester took swift action to make changes after hearing the concerns of many.

One of the first steps to address safety concerns at the intersection of 19th Ave NW and Valleyhigh Dr was eliminating the flashing yellow turn signals which were conflicting with pedestrian signals. No longer will flashing yellow arrows indicate to drivers it is okay to make a left turn when signals are also giving pedestrians the go-ahead to cross.

Along with that change, the City Council voted last Monday to approve the lowering of the speed limit on 19th St. NW from 40 mph to 30 mph. While they agree these are two important steps, one council member we talked to said they can’t lose sight of the big picture.

“We’ve had two cyclists killed this year in Rochester, we have a third that’s fighting for her life, we’ve had a number of pedestrians killed in this community and it doesn’t have to be this way,” explains Michael Wojcik. “We choose what kind of a city we want to build and we can do better, and that’s the goal here is to do better in the long run, not just to respond to every incident as it happens.”

Wojcik adds that the first reading of a Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee (BPAC) ordinance has been delayed, and he plans for that to happen during the meeting next Monday. He says he hopes the BPAC will help to change the culture of safety in Rochester.

“As long as we don’t have anybody saying, ‘Well what about these vulnerable users,’ we’re not going to be making good decisions, you saw that in building another unsafe intersection that we approved last week.”

He is referencing the Miracle Mile Market development project which passed on a 4-3 vote after several hours of public testimony. Many who spoke have safety concerns about the off-set intersection on 16th Ave. and West Center Street.

Tara Freimund, the vice president of We Bike Rochester, was hit by a car and injured while crossing 16th Ave. on a flashing crosswalk sign less than two weeks ago. She stood before the council to express her concerns about the re-development project, specifically the intersection.

“There are issues with the access to the trail system across 16th Ave., I’m not the first cyclist to be hit there,” she explains. “Not only is the intersection off-set but we’re going to see an increase in traffic through that particular intersection that pedestrians and cyclists will need to navigate safely.”

She tells us that had she not been an experienced cyclist, the outcome of the collision could have been much worse. With an increase in ridership expected to continue, Freimund says it’s not just cyclists who need to care about the future development project in the city and how they impact bicycle/pedestrian safety.

“How do we share the roadways?” she asks. “And if we’re not comfortable sharing the roadways, then how to do we advocate for protected infrastructure, protected bike lanes, protected bikeways so that everybody feels safe and comfortable to move around.”

The next city council meeting is scheduled for Dec. 5.

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