October 29


Signs lacking at deadly Dinkytown accident site – Start Tribune Article is wrong

By Mike Spack

October 29, 2010

Signs lacking at deadly Dinkytown accident site Doran Companies Kandyce Stoffel Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices

Update – Matt McKinney called me and is changing the online article based on the post below, however I believe the post still has valuable information about the original article.

Today's Star Tribune article by Matt McKinney about Sunday's fatal crash involving a pedestrian is technically wrong.  The leader states –

State law requires that three types of signs be posted when a sidewalk is closed due to construction. Signs directing pedestrians to safe alternatives were missing at the Minneapolis site where 23-year-old Kandyce Stoffel and a friend were struck by a car early Sunday.

Mr. McKinney lists three types of signs that are "required" by state law.  He is referring to Section 6F.13 of the Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (aka MnMUTCD).  The nuance lost is that there are three levels in the Manual: (1) Standard – these are things that must be done, (2) Guidance – these are things that probably should be done, but don't have to be, and (3) Option – these are things that may be done if the engineer thinks it's a good idea.  The text quoting the three types of signs are technically under a Guidance heading, meaning they are not legally required.

Furthermore, the Minnesota courts have upheld the authority of licensed engineers to deviate from the Manual as long as they are using their professional judgment in deviating from the Manual (Ireland vs. Lengsfeld – Court of Appeals Decision CX96-19).  Key to that authority is the licensed engineer in question should document the situation and their rationale for deviating from the Manual.  If a licensed engineer has a documentation trail on why the signs weren't in place, there is likely no liability (even if they happen to be wrong).

Of course, this will all be hashed out by the courts.  You can already read in the article that Doran Companies is trying to place liability with the City of Minneapolis.  I don't have the documentation trail, so I don't have an opinion as to whether or not any entity is at fault. 

This does not at all resolve the tragedy that occurred.  In my opinion (as a licensed engineer), the signs listed by Mr. McKinney should have been in place.  When we close a bridge, we put up detour signs in advance of the bridge closure to force motorists to use an alternative route.  We don't make them do a u-turn at barricades right at the bridge closure.  We also don't leave the option open of driving across a cornfield to the next road (akin to having the sidewalk closed but leaving the option of using a busy road as a sidewalk). 

If there is any place in the state for the use of the signs listed in the article it is on campus where there are plenty of visually impaired people and legally drunk people using the sidewalks.  I agree with the sentiment of the article, but the article presents a stronger legal case than actually exists.


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Mike Spack

My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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