After 2021 crash that injured 10-year-old, Crookston continues plans to improve pedestrian safety
Construction is anticipated to take place in 2027.
GRAND FORKS – Minnesota safety officials hope their continued work in Crookston, particularly on an intersection that has been the site of multiple pedestrian injuries, will make the area safer for walkers.
Since 2018, there have been at least two serious pedestrian injuries at the corner of North Broadway and East Robert Street in Crookston. There also was a death at the intersection, which is where Highway 2 enters downtown, in 2008.
“Highway 2 runs right through the core of Crookston,” said Brandon Carlson, public works director. “... It’s probably the highest traffic street in the city.”
The city and Minnesota Department of Transportation considered how to create a safer environment for pedestrians after 10-year-old Kaylee Acevedo was struck by a semi at the intersection in October 2021. Acevedo was severely injured and lost her leg as a result of the crash, the Herald previously reported.
“The issue with that corner is long trucks trying to make it without getting up on the curb, or where a pedestrian would be standing waiting to cross the street,” Carlson said.
East Robert Street previously had three lanes, but water barricades were put up around November 2021 to block the far-right lane approaching Broadway. Carlson said this gives semis more room.
It's a change that should have happened long ago, said Acevedo's mother, Rhonda Lee Richard.
“I’m glad they’re finally doing something about it but did it have to take a change like this to my daughter’s life for something to happen? She wasn’t the only one who has been hurt there,” Richard said in a message to the Herald.
Since the barricades were put in place, Carlson doesn’t believe there have been any additional pedestrian crashes. However, safety improvements are far from over.
Pedestrian injuries are not an issue exclusive to Crookston. A state traffic safety program called Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths said data from 2015 to 2019 shows approximately 225 pedestrians are seriously injured or killed in Minnesota each year.
Statewide, MnDOT’s preliminary data shows 44 pedestrian fatalities in 2022. There were 56 pedestrian fatalities in 2021, 45 in 2020, 50 in 2019, 45 in 2018 and 42 in 2017.
Across the river in North Dakota, there were six pedestrian fatalities last year, 10 in 2021, eight in 2020, five in 2019, six in 2018 and five in 2017.
The data in both states fluctuates with no obvious trend, which makes addressing the issue more complicated for state safety officials.
“I wish we could nail down what contributes to that fluctuation, because then I think that would give us a place to concentrate our efforts on,” said Sgt. Wade Kadrmas, of the North Dakota Department of Transportation.
If fatal crashes occur repeatedly in a specific area, NDDOT may enhance signage and pavement markings or take other measures.
“[NDDOT] is always looking at traffic crash stats. … Can it have anything to do with the roadway design? Is there a way to enhance safety by directing traffic a different way?” Kadrmas said.
In Crookston, officials began exploring possibilities for safety improvements by conducting a study alongside MnDOT. The Highway 2 Corridor Study assessed the changes that can be made to increase pedestrian safety and address other needs from the area of North Ash Street to North Main Street. The city also studied South Broadway and South Main, which are locally owned streets.
Some of the community’s priorities outlined in the study were to enhance pedestrian and bicycle safety, manage semi traffic, reduce speeds and improve intersections.
“The study gave us a strategic vision of what to do in Crookston, and now what happens is we move into a project development stage,” said TJ Melcher, public engagement coordinator at MnDOT.
During that time, which is expected to span between 2023 and 2026, funding will be allocated. It will come from both the city and MnDOT. The estimated planning-level cost is $8.1 million. Crookston’s portion is $2.57 million, and MnDOT’s portion is $5.6 million.
MnDOT has funds from its ADA Office that have been allocated for the Crookston project because of the observed “large pedestrian safety issue,” Melcher said.
Every four years, Crookston receives $1.2 million in federal funds to use for state-aid roads. At this time, the city intends to use the funding toward its portion of the project.
For the rest, “we’ll be applying for grants, and if grants don’t work out, then we’ll find some internal funding for the project,” Carlson said.
Construction is anticipated to take place in 2027, which includes plans to reduce North Broadway and North Main to two one-way lanes.
“These projects don’t happen overnight,” said Carlson. “... There was some discomfort [from the community] with the amount of time that it was going to take for the project to be completed. But at the end of the day, when we do it, we want to make sure that we do it right.”
Melcher said Crookston’s current highway layout is “very unique” with three lanes of one-way traffic, which is typically only utilized “in a very large city.”
“On the motorists’ side, it can be kind of confusing if you’re not from Crookston,” said Melcher. “It’s certainly not intuitive, so that can be a challenge to navigate.”
Further, Melcher said it becomes more difficult to control traffic with three one-way lanes.
“Studies have shown that if you narrow streets and have less lanes of travel, it traditionally will reduce the speed of traffic as well,” Carlson said.
Reducing traffic to two lanes will significantly decrease the length of road pedestrians cross. Some pedestrian crossings are up to 50 feet, and if the proposed changes are executed, the crossings will be reduced to 24 feet.
“You’re asking a pedestrian to cross three full lanes of traffic with no refuge and really nothing else to control traffic other than a light,” Melcher said.
The lane reduction also will allow for bump-outs, curb cuts, a bicycle lane and additional street parking.
While Richard is glad the city has begun making changes to improve pedestrian safety in Crookston, she believes work could have been done before her daughter was seriously injured.
“It didn’t have to get to this point for them to do something,” Richard wrote. “... I’m way beyond grateful that my daughter is still alive but why wait for extreme things to happen?”