OPINION

Bengtson: Observations about the corner of Robert Street and Broadway

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    Following last week’s horrific accident at the corner of Robert Street and Broadway in Crookston where an elementary student was hit by a semi, many people have voiced their opinions on how to make local streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. That’s all I’ve been able to think about, too, since yet another incident happened on that dangerous corner.

    A couple years ago I did a small research study while looking out the Times’ office window where my desk once stood and I observed traffic at the stop sign next to the Post Office. For weeks I took mini shifts and wrote down how many cars stopped, how many didn’t, and if there were any “close calls” with pedestrians. To summarize, there were more drivers who did not stop versus those who did and there were indeed some close calls with pedestrians and what could have been car accidents.

    I decided to do something along those same lines at the corner of Robert Street and Broadway this last week. I parked for at least one hour three separate times over two days and observed the traffic at the corner where 10-year-old Kaylee Acevedo was recently hit and lost her leg, where a friend of mine had gotten into an accident just a few days prior, where another friend of mine had been hit by a car at night, and where a kind lady was killed after being struck by a semi 13 years ago.

    Ramona Unke died in 2008 while crossing Broadway to get to work in the morning when a semi making a turn hit her while she was in the crosswalk. Unke worked at Four Seasons clothing store inside the Fournet Building and she was my favorite retailer. She always greeted you with a smile, she welcomed my squirrely sons who could never just let me shop and she made everyone feel like a VIP customer. Her memory lives on with an annual student scholarship at the high school which she would be proud of.

    During last week’s study of the corner in question, to sum it all up, there were a few obvious things that most people know: (1) Semis or trucks pulling a trailer need to drive into the farthest lane to be able to clear the corner, (2) Pedestrians are very hard to spot until they get closer to the edge of the street, (3) There’s quite a bit of traffic that comes through downtown and speed is a factor.

    One thing that people may not know: The digital signal that was installed on the Broadway stoplight in July 2019 that is supposed to alert drivers that a pedestrian is trying to cross by signaling that a right turn is prohibited was not working both when I acted as a pedestrian on both sides of the street and at all four corners nor was it working when I drove up to make that right turn onto Broadway when I noticed a pedestrian at the corner. I alerted Minnesota Department of Transportation with a voicemail on Friday, October 8 to let them know the digital signal was not working but did not receive a call back nor have I checked to see if it is fixed and back in working order. I wonder how long it has not been operating. Could that have helped alert the semi on October 4 that there was someone at the cross walk?

    My first research shift was on Thursday, October 7 from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. where I parked in front of the Tri-Valley Opportunity Council building. During that time, and only for vehicles turning the corner at Robert and Broadway going north, I recorded 109 cars or pickups, three semis, and one tri-axle truck, plus four pedestrians and two bicyclists at that corner. I also recorded that more drivers made a complete stop at the corner before turning when their light was red than those who just slowed down and didn’t stop. I observed that all four of the pedestrians used the crosswalk button and waited until it was green to go across. Not one vehicle hit the yellow plastic posts nor did anyone hop the curb. Another thing I wrote down was that a food delivery vehicle for a local restaurant did not stop at their red light before making the turn from Robert onto Broadway and they went through a red light at 2nd Street and Broadway.

    During my second research shift on Thursday, October 7 from 4:15-5:15 p.m. also parked at the Tri-Valley building, I observed 89 cars or pickups, one bicycle, two motorcycles, seven pedestrians, four semis and one UPS delivery truck at Robert and Broadway. More vehicles didn’t stop at their red light before turning onto Broadway compared to those who did. Three of the seven pedestrians used the crosswalk properly and four didn’t. Not one vehicle hit the yellow plastic posts nor did anyone hop the curb.

    My third and final shift was Friday, October 8 from 7:52-8:52 a.m. This time I parked in front of the Fournet Building. I observed 102 cars or pickups make the Broadway turn, two tri-axle trucks and two semis, plus there were two pedestrians at the crosswalk. Almost all vehicles stopped at their red light before turning versus those who didn’t. One of the pedestrians during that timeframe used the crosswalk properly and one didn’t. Observing the semis was a little different this time though. Like it was stated earlier, semis or trucks pulling a trailer need to pull into the third lane and there I sat in the parking space watching as the first semi came within one foot of my side mirror. The next semi that turned was a couple feet farther away from me. Both cleared the corner no problem. Not one vehicle hit the yellow plastic posts nor did anyone hop the curb.

    Questions on my mind: Are people being more cautious at that corner after hearing of Kaylee’s incident? Will the city, county, state or federal government finally step up to make changes there? Is there something that can be done temporarily like the installation of cement posts at the corner versus the yellow toy-like plastic sticks that sway in the wind; maybe add more signage around that corner both for drivers and for pedestrians? Will the city take the Tri-Valley building after Tri-Valley’s move to the Fournet and partner with MnDOT to demolish the building to create a wider safer road? If so, will that/could that be in 2024? Will semi drivers that know about the bypass opt to take it more often versus driving through downtown Crookston?

    One question that I had answered from both a local insurance agent and local truck driver was that it is not necessarily true that trucking companies encourage their drivers to go through town versus take the bypass. It’s all about cost savings, where deliveries are being made, and distance/mileage.

    Andy Oman State Farm spoke with the Times and said his insurance agency doesn’t specify where truck/semi drivers should drive and he’d be shocked to hear of any other insurance company that would do that. Most truck companies want their drivers to take the shortest route to save on mileage and some routes are dictated by state laws, too, depending on their weight. A driver for US Foods told Oman that they have a GPS in their vehicles and there’s no specific route they’re supposed to take but it is outlined that bypasses are an option.

    To wrap this up, I, like many others, are pleading with city, county, state and federal leaders to do something about this corner. Anything that can be a temporary help before a bigger project can be considered or executed. We need to protect our pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers. How many accidents is it going to take? Like Corene Everett said in her letter to the editor, we don’t need more meetings to discuss a plan that may or may not be implemented.

Broadway and Robert looking at the Fournet Building
Safe to cross at the crosswalk
A semi crossing into the farthest lane to make the turn from Robert to Broadway
A look at the digital sign on the stoplight that was not in operation during the time of the research
Yellow caution sticks at the corner of Robert and Broadway