Traffic Fatality Near NHS

Some very sad news – a pedestrian was killed, and another injured, this morning at the intersection of Hwy 246 (Division Street) and Jefferson Parkway. Names have not yet been released. Both the Northfield News and the StarTribune have reported on the incident.

According to the Northfield News,

The intersection is under review as part of a $30,000 Safe Routes to Schools grant awarded last month to the city and its Non-motorized Transportation Task Force. The task force, in its grant application, said that the intersection, which is adjacent to three schools, is unsafe.

I’m sure Bill Ostrem and others on the Task Force will keep us apprised of the developments. It is truly sad that it often seems to take a tragedy of some magnitude to get people’s attention about pedestrian and bicycle safety, and make them realize that streets aren’t just for cars and trucks.


  1. Rob Hardy said:

    My son just came home from school and said that the high school was offering counseling for students who witnessed the accident. Such a tragedy. I hope something will be done soon to make that intersection safer.

    April 29, 2008
  2. c. robin said:

    how absolutely terrible.

    i don’t know how well the crosswalks are marked there, but elsewhere in the city they are largely invisible — i sometimes have no idea whether an intersection has a marked crosswalk. this intersection clearly deserves attention but the larger problem of speeding, inattentive driving, and poor knowledge/enforcement of the pedestrian crosswalk rule is equally necessary.

    April 29, 2008
  3. John S. Thomas said:

    Wasn’t there another fatality in this area in 2000?

    April 30, 2008
  4. C.J. Betcher said:

    I think the answer to this problem is a traffic light at Jefferson PKWY and 246.

    May 1, 2008
  5. John S. Thomas said:

    Well, that too C.J, but I think as a whole, most drivers in Northfield need to take a deep breath and do the following:

    1. SLOW DOWN. Nothing in Northfield is more than 10 minutes from anywhere else. The extra minute is not that much difference.

    2. GET OFF THE DAMN CELL PHONE AND DRIVE! …my biggest pet peeve. These folks are the most dangerous.

    3. OBEY THE TRAFFIC DEVICES You would not believe how many folks I see rolling through stop signs in this town. Its epidemic, especially over by the golf course. Mr Golfer Guy in the Black Escalade SUV… You know who you are… and I have seen you a couple times. I have your plate.

    STOP means STOP, not Slow, Tap, Observe, Proceed…

    4. IF YOU RIDE A BIKE, YOU STILL NEED TO OBEY THE TRAFFIC LAWS… I almost got me another college student the other day. She was riding with her headphones on, and blew right through the intersection & stop sign. I am fairly confidant that a Dodge Sprinter van -vs- a person on a cycle would not be a very good thing.

    I really feel that pedestrian safety is still being seriously overlooked in Northfield. There is NO REASON why public works cannot at least be out with some white paint getting the crosswalks painted, and the community coming up with a comprehensive walking/biking safety plan.

    Much needs to be done, and done soon.

    Also, the fact that there are NO SCHOOL ZONES around many of the elementary schools, and speeds stay at 30 MPH when students are entering and leaving is just insane. I dare any parent to go stand out on Maple near Sibley School in the morning. Even with the crossing guards, folks are flying through there. There has been enforcement, but we really should have a school zone.

    My thoughts and prayers are with those involved in this horrible event.

    2 fatalities, and multiple injuries in 6 years. We need to wake up and fix this. Sitting around and studying it until we lose another person is just not going to cut it. Why study it? We know its broken. We don’t need to define the problem, we already know it. We need to work to find solutions.


    May 1, 2008
  6. John George said:

    I find it a little hard to draw a conclusion when I don’t have all the facts, but I am just wondering about the visibility at that intersection at 7:30 am. When a driver approaches the intersection from the west, the vehicle is actually pointed upward a little, as there is a rise in the topography there. Seems likely that at that time, the sun would be pretty bright coming in the windshield. I have personally experienced this too many times in my driving career. It is still the driver’s responsibility to know where he is going, but I can understand some mitigating circumstances in this instance. It will be interesting to see what the official report says. That doesn’t deminish the magnitude of the tradgedy, unfortunantly.

    May 1, 2008
  7. Anne Bretts said:

    A traffic light is often a suggestion at times like this, but it isn’t always the answer. This was a real tragedy for all involved, but a light wouldn’t have helped. The driver was coming off a full-stop when he turned. If there had been a green light, he would have been entering the intersection without stopping, increasing the speed at which he would have encountered the pedestrians. A light would mean that instead of all drivers coming to a full stop, some drivers would be speeding up to beat a red light. Sure, better painted crosswalks will help, and school zone signs would be good. But sometimes all the signs in the world can’t prevent a momentary mistake.
    I live not far from the intersection and drive it daily. I can believe that the early morning sun may have played a role, but we don’t know for sure.
    What I do know is that most of the traffic is just before and after school and that means most of the pedestrians are kids and most of the problem drivers ARE THEIR PARENTS. Add in some older siblings at the high school and the seniors who live nearby and go to the senior center, and you have an area that demands special care when driving. If the statistics are as bad as indicated, perhaps the PTO/PTAs at the schools might mount a safety campaign, with the police doing a stiff ticketing sweep for a week at the beginning of school and a couple of other times a year.
    With three schools, the senior center and the giant soccer complex, combined with the narrow lanes and medians, it is insane to consider adding vehicle traffic by making Jefferson the ring road. That’s the real invitation to disaster. At one time that might have made sense, but now Jefferson is an obstacle course, not an efficient traffic artery.

    May 1, 2008
  8. kiffi summa said:

    When the new Middle school was built, there was tons of dialogue about the need for a traffic light at this intersection; this dialogue had been ongoing since Bridgewater school was built, and all the housing to the East.

    Successive city councils have had several discussions on this , but were not able to convince MNDOT. The School district was equally unsuccessful with MNDOT. If I am remembering correctly, the school actually bussed some kids from the east so they did not have to cross the intersection.

    It was either with reference to this intersection, or Hwy 3 and Third st, that MNDOT said there not only needed to be the “warrants” (traffic counts both auto and pedestrian) to justify a light, but there needed to be two (2) fatalities…

    MNDOT : May the people of Northfield please have a stoplight at this important intersection, now?

    May 2, 2008
  9. David Henson said:

    The old Middle School was in the middle of town and accessible from 4 sides so traffic could flow. The high school can be approached from 2 sides. The new Middle School can only be approached from 1 side with an awkward entrance and exit causing an unworkable traffic pattern. This should be fixed so a daily traffic jam does not occur.

    May 2, 2008
  10. c. robin said:

    it’s true a light isn’t the answer; green (and God knows, yellow nowadays) lights would indeed speed up traffic. But
    school zones
    traffic policeman (or adults, anyway, in orange vests)
    well-marked pedestrian crossings all over town
    enforcement (a stiff ticketing sweep as Anne suggested, but also more regular enforcement of stop sign violations; I’m not suggesting one was involved here but rather that this is a general problem)

    all likely would help our traffic situation. What do they have in common? They get your attention and snap you out of your everyday driving to a mode of paying greater attention. There’s a greater chance that you’ll stop talking/texting/applying mascara or otherwise driving inattentively. That’s the mode we should all be in all the time, but wishing or preaching won’t make it so.

    May 3, 2008
  11. Betsey Buckheit said:

    I agree with David H about the traffic pattern problems. The new Middle School, plus Bridgewater (which has a later start time to help alleviate traffic) and the High School, creates the traffic volume which illuminates a series of short-sighted planning decisions. Washington Street is not continuous, but broken up by a series of culs de sac and on the west, the Presidential streets offer very little connectivity. As a result, Division Street is the only north-south route (until Maple Street to the East and Highway 3 to the West) and Jefferson Pkwy the only east-west route serving the schools.

    I wish our elected officials and our new police chief would see this tragedy as giving them the political will needed to make the intersection of Division/Jefferson Parkway as safe as possible, as well as looking at ways to make those roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The fact that the city has been awarded a Safe Routes to School Planning Grant even helps with the $$ to redesign this critical intersection.

    May 4, 2008
  12. Scott Neal said:

    I am not aware of the professional qualifcations or credentials of Mr. Johnson or Mr. Ostrem to make credible judgments about the safety of this intersection. What I can tell you, based on my experience in city governemnt and transportation planning, is that putting a traffic signal at this intersection will have two predictable effects on the traffic that moves through it: it will increase the number of property damage and personal injuries and it will increase the number of serious injury and fatality crashes.

    We may think this intersection is unique, but it is not. This intersection is similar to thousands of intersections around this country. Experts in the traffic engineering field can and should judge it. They should take another look at it right now because of this tragic accident. But I can also assure you that MnDOT will not install a traffic signal at this location unless there is demonstrated need for it.

    May 4, 2008
  13. Anne Bretts said:

    Thank you, Scott, for some needed perspective on this situation.

    May 4, 2008
  14. Bill Ostrem said:

    I was greatly saddened to hear the news of the accident involving the Zauns. I only hope that some changes can be made to avoid future accidents.

    Lots of good ideas have been offered in this thread, including crossing guards and John Thomas’s ideas about school zone speed limits. At the same time, no intersection can be made absolutely safe, and I don’t know whether a light would help.

    Good points have been made about the road patterns in Northfield and about the 246/Jeff. Pkwy intersection as a bottleneck. Movement away from the traditional “grid” pattern of development has made this intersection busier than it would otherwise be.

    Regarding Scott Neal’s comment (#13), I don’t claim to have any professional authority on transportation matters. I’m just a citizen who has been working on these issues for several years. Many of you have been doing so for longer.

    I wanted to offer some additional info on what is in process with regard to the Safe Routes to Schools grant that the Task Force on Nonmotorized Transportation, on which I serve as chair, helped to secure. The grant provides $15,000 to hire a transportation consulting firm (such as Bolton-Menk or SRF Consulting) to study walking and biking routes to Northfield’s 3 elementary schools and its middle school and to develop a plan for improvements.

    The newspaper quoted the Safe Routes to School grant proposal, which described the 246/Jeff Pkwy intersection as “unusable” for students walking or biking to school. That is backed up by the fact that the school district buses Bridgewater and Middle School students east of 246 and north of Jeff. Pkwy., because it understandably deems the crossing of those roads as unsafe.

    Since the 246/Jeff. Pkwy intersection is close to two of those schools, it will be included in a Safe Routes study. Sometime around June or July the city will ask for proposals from transportation firms. After a firm is selected, I would expect it to do some public meetings/information gathering. (We should supply them with a copy of the comments in this thread.)

    Plans for Safe Routes improvements might possibly be finished in time to submit a proposal to MnDOT to ask for 2009 Safe Routes money to make infrastructure changes–up to $175,000.

    Even if we aren’t successful in getting a Safe Routes infrastructure grant, I would hope MnDOT would come up with its own ideas for improvements. We can ask them to do so and provide evidence as to why changes should be made.

    Finally, here are some other ideas for improving road crossings around the middle school and Bridgewater:

    -a “mid-block” crossing of 246 south of Jeff Pkwy, maybe with a crossing guard and a pedestrian-activated light. This is safer b/c it would be free of car turning movements of the kind involved in the recent crash. Perhaps this could be used along Jeff Pkwy too.

    -a trail connecting to a tunnel under 246 south of Jeff Pkwy. A tunnel (a type of “grade-separated crossing,” to use the jargon) is more expensive and can have security and water issues, but can prove effective. There is at least one point along 246 where the trail on the east side of the highway is currently significantly lower than the highway.

    May 9, 2008
  15. John S. Thomas said:


    What is the status of the NMTF?

    Is the original 1 year period going to be extended?

    May 9, 2008
  16. Bill Ostrem said:


    The task force has concluded but had earlier voted to ask for a one-year extension. We are supposed to be on the Council agenda for June 2, to present our report and ask for the extension.

    I should also add that the Safe Routes to School grant will be administered by a separate steering committee that is beginning to meet this month. It consists of representatives from the school district, the city, police dept., the task force; the main grant writer is also on it.

    Dollars from the grant can go into things like crossing guard equipment and education soon–starting this summer. It doesn’t include funds for building infrastructure, however. Crossing guard salaries are not included either.

    May 10, 2008

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