Stop for Me

I got a chance to be part of a Stop for Me Initiative last week, which was really informative.

Stop for Me is a project of the Saint Paul Police Department (with a number of local partners, including SARPA which is why I was involved). It's a campaign to raise awareness of pedestrian safety, especially at unmarked intersections (because EVERY intersection is a crosswalk, by state law). So far this year, over 100 people have been hit by cars in Saint Paul alone; in all of Minnesota last year, 900 people were hit, of which 40 died. We simply have to do better.

The idea behind the campaign was simple. The officer in charge of the campaign was in plainclothes; he had a videocamera so he could record everything. He had a collar radio, so he could be in communication with the 3-5 officers assigned to the effort for ticketing (in this case, most were in marked cars/motorcycles). The project area is clearly marked with orange signs as a pedestrian safety effort, and there are cones set up on the street so that officers can easily judge distance.

We had 2 sets of 2 people who then crossed the street, as one would normally do when we were walking somewhere. We were instructed to use normal protocol — step into the street, don't leap out in front of a moving vehicle, make eye contact with the driver as possible, cross the street. Since these are well-used intersections, we were by no means the only one crossing the street at these times — we were joined by many people crossing from the school, or coming up from Grand, walking dogs, etc. One of our volunteers tallied the cars who did or did not stop.

The officer in charge watched us (or others) as we crossed, and then radioed to the nearby police to pull over people who failed to yield. It was a very controlled experiment — the driver needed to have had enough time to see us and safely stop (that's why the cones were there, indicating a distance of about 2x the distance between bases on a baseball field). Our movements, as pedestrians, had to be clear and visible. The officer in charge, who has done this several times already this year, had to have clear, defensible video. Nothing was left to chance.

I walk a fair amount, and I am aware of how rarely people stop for pedestrians. But this really hit it home for me. It was amazing to me how many times people  completely blew through the intersection, including once as two of us were walking across with a large "Stop for Me" banner held between us. Another time, a driver who was texting as she blew through literally held up her phone to show us what she was doing as she sped through (the officer really liked that one when he wrote up her ticket). In the last part of the Summit/Oxford session, all the police were busy when Tom and I decided to cross back so we could speak to the others — and as we were in the middle of the intersection, 5 cars blew through as the light at Lexington changed; the plainclothes officer had enough with the 6th when it came within a couple of feet of us and waved him over, pulling out his badge and calling over a motorcycle office who wrote up the ticket. That person was especially mad, and I actually felt worried for my safety, so I'm glad that was the end of that session.

Some questions/comments that I encountered:

"So, do the police just need to make some money?"
The tickets are a moving violation, so are expensive (about $180.) But the officer in charge actually said he had a hard time getting officers to do these shifts, because they don't like to write tickets.

"That's entrapment!"
No, entrapment would be when you coerce someone into doing something they would not otherwise do to get them to break the law. In this case, all we (and other pedestrians) were doing was crossing the street, at legal crosswalk. Police were simply targeting their response.

"How do I know that someone is crossing the street and not waiting for the bus/looking at their phone/etc.?"
This is an area where I think everyone would be well-served by a "Just One Foot" campaign. The indicator that you want to cross the street is putting one foot out into the street. When you as a pedestrian do that, you are making your intent clear, and you have the right to expect drivers to stop. When you as a driver see that, you should stop. Easy as that.

"What regulates how pedestrians cross?"
At a traffic light, pedestrians must obey the signal. If there's a case where there is a pedestrian sign (such as in the middle of the median where there is sign saying "No pedestrian crossing here"), they have to obey that. Otherwise, at every corner, pedestrians have the right of way, whether it is striped or not.

"What about bikes?"
They are regulated by the lane of traffic. If they are in the crosswalk itself, drivers need to yield. If a pedestrian is crossing as they come down the bike lane, they need to yield. I know at least one cyclist got a ticket or warning (not sure which) during our session.

"I didn't know why the person ahead of me stopped, so I went around them. I didn't realized they stopped for a pedestrian."
Flat out illegal. The driver ahead of you may be a moron, but the law says if they stop, you should assume it's for a good reason and you can't go around them.

"I didn't see the pedestrian."
Well I would hope not. Look more carefully.

"They leapt out in front of me."
This was often cited during our session, and I can promise I did no leaping. Really, can you say something like that with a straight face? The closest I have ever come to that is the other day when I was turning a corner onto Selby and a kid's ball bounced into the street and he ran out without looking, and I still managed not to hit him.

This is a really great effort that got me thinking a lot more about how both how I walk and drive, and one I think is really important to changing attitudes city-wide.



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