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West Calhoun safety walk takes tragic turn

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A safety/lighting walk was conducted in the West Calhoun neighborhood on the evening of February 12, 2014. This event was in response to many lighting deficiencies in the neighborhood as well as continuing safety and traffic concerns. On hand for this event were West Calhoun Neighborhood Council board members including Chairman David Rhees, Coordinator Rhea Sullivan, Richard Logan, and Haydee Peterson (disclosure: your Examiner was also along for the walk and serves as Treasurer for the WCNC, a volunteer position). Also along for the journey were 13th Ward Council Member Linea Palmisano (and her staff) and two Public Works engineers with the city of Minneapolis.

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The safety walk began and ended at the Wakame Bistro on Excelsior Boulevard. From there the group traveled west toward the Midtown Greenway access point behind Whole Foods. There were a significant number of lighting issues here, including lights not posted by Xcel Energy and dim lighting around the access point. WCNC board member Richard Logan stressed the busy nature of the intersection where the Greenway lets off onto Abbott Ave South. From here the walk headed along Excelsior Boulevard heading west. The sidewalks were difficult to traverse here due to the major amounts of snow that have fallen this winter.

The group then crossed Excelsior and headed down West 32nd Street. Finally it headed back north on West Calhoun Boulevard, a place near and dear to your Examiner’s heart as he calls this area “home.” The lighting along this street was also dreadful, with several of the smaller street light covers dirty and one with a burned out bulb. City engineers were careful to note all instances of concern.

The night took a tragic turn as the group began the return trip to Wakame. A traffic accident occurred at the intersection of Market Plaza and West Lake Street. According to an account by Joy Powell at the Star Tribune, a woman was struck and dragged by a commercial vehicle. This was noticed by the group as multiple police cars began to enter the area. The dramatic traffic conditions, already tough to navigate in this small corridor, were exasperated by the accident. Many car horns could be heard as police cordoned off the area, forcing drivers to find another route. According to Powell’s account, a Minneapolis police officer was actually in the area before the accident occurred, but did not see it. This incident occurred right as the group converged with Council Member Palmisano and the engineers not two blocks away. This accident, while truly horrific, delivered an unmistakable message to those present: this intersection at Lake Street is dangerous. (Update: the Star Tribune has reported that the woman, Caitlin Barton of Savage, has died from her injuries).

Reached for comment about the safety walk and the incident, Council Member Palmisano issued this statement:

Last night’s scary incident is a very unfortunate illustration of why I’ve been advocating for improvements to be made for pedestrians in this corridor. It only adds to the urgency of prioritizing safety for pedestrians. There are a huge amount of workers here that leave on foot, in the dark, after stores close.

The addition of the West Lake light rail station in the future is helping to get some much needed attention to this space, and it is now considered a Pedestrian Advisory Committee priority area. Thoughts of the future LRT station should open up the potential of the county and city to make some major infrastructure improvements to this neighborhood. Thanks to one of CM Glidden’s efforts with the budget last year, this is an example of a place where we could do some minor infrastructure (public works-type) improvements even without major planned roadwork happening in the very near term.

The West Calhoun Neighborhood Council hopes to work with Council Member Palmisano and the city of Minneapolis to help reduce the danger in this area. Stay tuned to your Examiner for more updates on the lighting and traffic in this area.

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