Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hey, Faribault, can we stop & let kids cross the street? May 14, 2018

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While there are no stoplights along the street referenced in this post, I use this illustration to make a point: Please stop for pedestrians. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I LIVE ON A BUSY STREET, an arterial route through Faribault that sees a high volume of traffic, especially during the morning rush hour, after school rush and evening rush. Laugh if you wish. But I’ve lived here long enough—nearly 34 years—to know. Good luck trying to pull from a side street or back out of your driveway onto Willow Street during those times of day. It’s nearly impossible.

That brings me to the issue I wish to discuss. Pedestrian traffic. What if you were a kid trying to cross this high traffic roadway to reach your bus stop or to walk to school or back home?

On a recent Thursday morning, I observed a teen a block away waiting for a lull in traffic so she could cross Willow Street. She waited and waited and waited. And then waited some more. Why wouldn’t anyone stop? It was clear she needed to cross given her poised position at the edge of the curb and at an intersection.

 

A biker squeezes around a bus in busy Davis Square. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

If this was Boston, she would have stepped right into the traffic lane regardless of oncoming traffic, regardless of anything. I wouldn’t advise that. When visiting Davis Square two years ago, I waited for the light to turn green rather than disobey the traffic signal. All the other pedestrians swerved right around me, crossing against the light. Clearly I did not understand that pedestrians claim the streets of Boston. But Minnesota is not Boston. So we wait, yielding to motor vehicle traffic.

Even with a crosswalk law in place in Minnesota, I don’t see much change in drivers’ attitudes toward pedestrians. The Minnesota Safety Council notes key parts of that law, which you can read by clicking here. The Council suggests a common sense approach to determining when/if it’s safe to cross a roadway.

Common sense. As I watched a steady stream of vehicles pass the student hoping to get to school on time, I wondered if anyone would ever stop for her. Finally, a school bus stopped, a signal for southbound traffic to also stop. Finally, after five-plus minutes of waiting, she could be on her way.

There was a time when walking across Willow Street was a bit easier, a bit safer. Before an elementary school just blocks away closed, an overhead crosswalk sign with flashing yellow lights signaled drivers to slow down and stop for kids. Shortly after Garfield Elementary shuttered decades ago, that signage was removed. I’ve often wondered why given the many kids and other pedestrians who still attempt to get across this high traffic street.

 

 

I have a personal reason for feeling strongly about this issue. In May 2006, my then 12-year-old son was struck by a car while crossing Willow Street on the way to his bus stop. He escaped with only minor injuries. Granted, he was crossing in the middle of a long block rather than in a crosswalk, not the best idea. Still the driver of the car that hit him never stopped and has never been found, despite multiple witnesses.

In the 12 years since, nothing has changed. The high volume of traffic remains. Kids still struggle to cross this busy roadway on their way to and from school. I suggest drivers in Faribault practice some Minnesota Nice, just like that school bus driver who realized that a teen waiting on a corner needed to cross the street on a Thursday morning.

FYI: Additionally, here are Pedestrian Safety tips from the Minnesota Safety Council. Click here.

Also click here to read about a Faribault student who was struck by a vehicle while crossing another busy city street on her way to school in October 2017. Lul was seriously injured.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Observations while caught in St. Paul traffic July 25, 2017

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Southwest bound into St. Paul on Interstate 35E. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2017.

 

CREEPING SOUTHBOUND ALONG INTERSTATE 35E in St. Paul early Sunday evening in a snarl of traffic due to a lane closure, I studied my surroundings. And people watched.

I waved to the elementary-aged girl flapping a mini American flag out the window of her family’s maroon van sidled next to ours. She smiled. I smiled. And I wondered if her dad couldn’t wait to get out of the metro Minnesota traffic mess and back to Iowa.

I watched, too, as a motorcycle driver sped his bike, American flag flying from the back, onto the shoulder, skirting lanes to get ahead of four-wheel traffic.

Soon several vehicles followed in the right lane that had emptied of traffic about a block before the right lane closure. The zipper merge worked up until then. I could see an accident waiting to happen as the impatient motorists flexed their muscles, bullying into the left lane with concern only for themselves and whatever hurry they had. Drivers like that endanger all of us with their excessive speed.

I dug two peppermint life savors from my purse, rolled down the passenger side window, tried to relax in the near traffic gridlock. I’ve never determined how people can handle this daily congestion while driving to and from work or wherever.

 

 

 

Randy diverted my attention to a sign posted on the Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota building next to the interstate. We laughed at the suggestion that joint replacement could transform the average patient into a buff biker.

 

Tents like the one above hugged the fenceline above and along Interstate 35E just south of Interstate 94 in St. Paul.

 

Then I noticed a string of one-man tents hugging the fence along and above the interstate. I have no clue why anyone would camp in such a location. What was that all about?

As much as I dislike traveling through the Twin Cities metro, I always spot something intriguing. And I always land back home in Faribaault incredibly thankful that I don’t live in the Cities.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Scenes along the interstate in Minnesota May 8, 2017

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Driving toward downtown St. Paul along Interstate 35-E.

 

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT you’ll see while traveling the interstate. Too many motorists engage in risky behavior like tailgating, weaving from one lane to the other, texting, talking on their cells when their full attention should be on the roadway and more. It’s a crazy driving world out there.

 

I admire these MnDOT responders who aid motorists, here in the thick of interstate traffic near downtown St. Paul. It appears a mighty dangerous job.

 

I’m no fan of heavy traffic or travel in the Twin Cities metro. But then I suppose many people aren’t. Rural roadways can be just as unsafe.

 

Is the tanker actually carrying coffee or simply advertising it? Photographed northbound on I-35 toward the Twin Cities metro.

 

What’s the final destination of this outdoor enthusiast headed eastbound on I-35E?

 

How does the boss drive?

 

All of that aside, I always spot interesting scenes along the interstate. Interesting to me, anyway.

 

Southbound into St. Paul along I-35E.

 

TELL ME: What have you observed while traveling along the interstate?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So thankful for this newer & safer stretch of Highway 14 December 2, 2016

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Heavy traffic on U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and North Mankato late last Sunday afternoon.

Heavy traffic on U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and North Mankato. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2013.

IN MARCH 2013, I penned a post, “Hope for one of Minnesota’s most dangerous rural highways.” That would be US Highway 14, specifically between North Mankato and New Ulm.

Back then, I quoted the Minnesota Department of Transportation:

The U.S. Highway 14 corridor between New Ulm and North Mankato in Nicollet County recorded 250 crashes from 2006 to 2010. This overall crash rate is consistent with comparable rural state highways. However, 11 of those crashes had either a fatality or a serious injury, leaving this portion of Hwy 14 with a fatal and serious injury crash rate 50 percent greater than comparable rural state highways. Safety in the area from North Mankato to Nicollet and at the intersection of Hwy 14 and Hwy 15 north of New Ulm is of particular concern.

Did you catch that? A fatal and serious injury crash rate 50 percent greater than comparable highways.

I don’t doubt those statistics and that assessment. For decades I’ve traveled Highway 14 to and from my native southwestern Minnesota. Heavy traffic, narrow lanes, and few opportunities to safely pass make this roadway particularly dangerous.

U.S. Highway 14 under construction between Mankato and Nicollet.

Barrels and signage guide motorists onto a detour in the final month of Highway 14 construction between Mankato and Nicollet. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

But now at least 10 miles of Highway 14 are safer due to the completion of a construction project which expanded the roadway from two to four lanes between North Mankato and Nicollet. Several years of putting up with detours was worth it.

Westbound on the new Highway 14 heading to Nicollet.

Westbound on the new Highway 14 heading to Nicollet.

For the first time Thanksgiving weekend, my husband and I traveled on the recently-opened four-lane. It’s great. Simply great. As the smooth highway stretched before us, we considered how reassuring to have a median rather than rumble strips and pylons separating narrow traffic lanes. No worry about cross-over, head-on or rear-end crashes.

You'll see lots of semis traveling this stretch of rural Minnesota highway.

Lots of semis travel this stretch of rural Minnesota highway where rumble strips and pylons once separated lanes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

We considered how the traffic flowed rather than clogged. On the old two-lane, a driver traveling below the 55 mph posted speed or slow-moving farm equipment could back up traffic. And when drivers get impatient, they don’t always use good judgment.

The highway skirts Nicollet to the south. I wonder what impact this will have on businesses in this small town.

The highway skirts Nicollet to the south. I wonder what impact this will have on businesses in this small town.

As Mankato has grown, becoming a regional shopping and cultural destination, and as our society has become increasingly more mobile, traffic has continued to increase along Highway 14. The need has existed for quite some time to expand this roadway. It makes my occasional travel to the region faster, easier, safer. I can only imagine how grateful are those who live in this area.

The four-lane ends shortly after the exit into Nicollet.

The four-lane ends shortly after the exit into Nicollet.

Now, if funding would be appropriated to finish the expansion to four-lane between Nicollet and New Ulm, I’d be even more pleased.

West of Nicollet, signage warns drivers that Highway 14 goes back to two-lane.

West of Nicollet, signage warns drivers that Highway 14 goes back to two-lane.

But if it’s like the just-finished project, there will be decades of talk and multiple studies and crashes before that happens. Sigh.

© Copyright 2106 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Goin’ to the lake June 27, 2016

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Boat, 1 ahead on I-94

 

TRAVELING TO CENTRAL and northern Minnesota on a summer weekend, motorists expect heavy traffic as folks head to lake cabins and resorts. It’s a given. Campers, trucks pulling boats and loaded-down vehicles cram roadways. Ditto for the return trip home Sunday afternoon.

 

Boat, 5 pulled along I-94

 

Even knowing this, I did not expect to see a semi truck transporting an oversized boat along Interstate 94 between Monticello and Clearwater on Saturday morning. As traffic slowed in both lanes, my husband and I wondered if we’d encounter an accident, road construction or what.

 

Boat, 7 close-up of along I-94

 

And then, as speeds picked up again, we saw the or what—the ginormous boat carried by the semi.

That led to speculation: What lake in central/northern Minnesota can handle a boat of this size? How will the owner get this boat into a lake? And what is the value of this boat?

 

Boat, 9 along I-94 in side mirror

 

Randy, who grew up in central Minnesota, unlike me a native of (mostly) lake-less southwestern Minnesota, speculated on Gull Lake near Brainerd as the boat’s destination. Right or wrong, we’ll never know. We lost track of the watercraft after sneaking ahead of the boat-towing-semi just before it crossed the Mississippi River bridge at Clearwater.

IF YOU’RE A MINNESOTAN, I’d like to hear a story about driving north on a summer weekend. If you’re not from Minnesota, tell me about traffic in your state on the weekends, perhaps areas you avoid or wish you could avoid.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Driving toward Minneapolis & “a blazin’ ball of fire” November 30, 2015

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Along Interstate 35 in Burnsville.

Northbound along Interstate 35 in Burnsville.

DRIVING INTO AND AROUND downtown Minneapolis always makes for an interesting experience.

The Minneapolis skyline appears in the distance as we drive along Interstate 35 in Burnsville.

The Minneapolis skyline appears in the distance as we drive along Interstate 35 in Burnsville.

This trip late Black Friday afternoon—not to shop but to visit family in the north metro—did not disappoint. I noticed a businessman texting on his drive home in heavy traffic. I spotted a junker van with a padlock attached to the exterior driver’s door, at about the location of the lock. I don’t have photos to prove either because by the time I realized what I’d really seen, we’d bypassed both.

Duluth Trading Company's billboard along Interstate 35 in the south metro.

Duluth Trading Company’s billboard along Interstate 35 in the south metro.

However, I did not miss photographing a Duluth Trading Company billboard for Buck Naked Underwear. I find these ads amusing.

Signage for the "sane lane" nearing downtown Minneapolis.

Signage for the “sane lane” nearing downtown Minneapolis.

The blinding reflection of the sun.

The blinding reflection of the sun.

And I didn’t miss photographing the reflection of the setting sun off skyscraper glass blazing a blinding ball of fire into our eyes as my husband aimed our van toward downtown Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis skyline as the sun sets.

The Minneapolis skyline as the sun sets.

Creeping along in a congested area near downtown Minneapolis.

Creeping along in a congested area near downtown Minneapolis.

As traffic thickened, Randy remarked that he is thankful he does not need to deal with rush hour on a daily basis. But at least we were moving, albeit sometimes barely, and traffic volume was less due to the holiday weekend. The slow-down gave me time to study the Minneapolis skyline. I can identify only the Foshay Tower and the IDS Center; it’s been decades since I’ve been downtown.

Driving through the Lowry Hill Tunnel.

Driving through the Lowry Hill Tunnel.

Low light and a slow shutter speed created this effect inside the Lowry Tunnel.

Low light and a slow shutter speed created this effect inside the Lowry Tunnel.

And then we were curving and zooming through the Lowry Hill Tunnel, which always feels visually surreal, as if we are inside an auto racing video game.

That was Friday.

Driving toward downtown Minneapolis from the north.

Driving toward downtown Minneapolis from the north.

Saturday morning, after staying overnight with our eldest daughter and son-in-law, we headed back toward the city on our way home.

Behind the building in the foreground, you can see the pointed end of U.S. Bank Stadium.

Behind the buildings in the foreground, you can see the pointed end of U.S. Bank Stadium.

Another view of the stadium from the Interstate.

Another view of the stadium from the Interstate.

My focus was on the new U.S. Bank Stadium under construction in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. To me, it resembles a ship rising from the urban core. A Minnesota Vikings ship.

And so we drove south, clear sailing. No crashes. Light traffic. Out of the city. Back home to Faribault, fifty miles distant.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Photographing the Minneapolis skyline October 8, 2015

Frame 1: Northbound on Intestate 35W toward downtown Minneapolis.

Frame 1: Northbound on Intestate 35W toward downtown Minneapolis.

EVERY TIME MY HUSBAND and I journey toward and around downtown Minneapolis, I am taken by the skyline. Generally, I am not a fan of skyscrapers embedded in concrete, of vertical lines that block ground level views and cast long shadows. I am of the prairie, of horizontal lines and broad vistas.

Frame 2:

Frame 2: You best know which lane you should be driving in.

Yet, I have grown to appreciate the Minneapolis skyline. From a distance. And through the viewfinder of my Canon DSLR. My camera distracts me from the often congested traffic, although my definition of congested certainly differs from that of a city dweller.

Frame 3: Traffic builds as you approach the downtown.

Frame 3: Traffic builds as we approach the downtown. Great sign placement choice by Yahoo.

Afterward, when I am back in my Faribault home office, photos uploaded into my computer, I study the frames. And I see in the downtown skyline images an almost other-worldly quality, as if the collection of buildings is background in an animated film. Unreal. Stacked Lego blocks. The work of an artist rather than that of engineers and builders.

Frame 4: Enough traffic for me.

Frame 4: Enough traffic for me. About this time I’m asking my husband, “Do you know which lane you’re supposed to be in?”

Frame 5

Frame 5: Traffic slows in a tight spot.

Frame 6: We're going right.

Frame 6: We’re going right. Better than taking the congested 16A exit.

Frame 7: I love this painterly view of the Minneapolis skyline.

Frame 7: I love this painterly view of the Minneapolis skyline.

Frame 8: One last look at the skyline.

Frame 8: One last look at the skyline.

Do you see what I’m seeing, that surreal artistic quality in the buildings?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When an outstate Minnesotan travels through “the Cities” May 14, 2015

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The downtown Minneapolis skyline on Mother's Day.

The downtown Minneapolis skyline on Mother’s Day, later afternoon. The combination of grey skies and photographing this scene while traveling at Interstate speeds give this unedited image a painterly quality.

I AM NOT A VENTURING into the big city kind of girl. You’re not surprised, are you?

Approaching downtown Minneapolis from the north.

Approaching downtown Minneapolis from the north.

 

A concrete divider separates lanes on a particularly curvy stretch of Interstate near downtown Minneapolis.

A concrete divider separates lanes on a particularly busy and curvy stretch of Interstate near downtown Minneapolis.

There are way too many curves in this section of Interstate 35 approaching downtown Minneapolis from the north.

There are way too many curves in this section of Interstate 35 approaching downtown Minneapolis from the north.

If not for the traffic congestion, I would likely hold a different attitude toward cities. But the high speed at which vehicles travel in close proximity across spans of lanes unsettles me. Too much closeness. Too little space. Too much concrete. Too much of everything overwhelms me.

Edging out of the Twin Cities metro with only 24 miles to Faribault.

Edging out of the Twin Cities metro with only 24 miles home to Faribault.

I am always relieved when we exit the worst of the traffic craziness and land spreads out on each side, free, unencumbered by visual barriers of tall buildings, houses crammed together and sound buffering walls.

Crossing the Interstate 35W bridge.

Crossing the Interstate 35W bridge.

As much as I wish my husband and I could avoid the Twin Cities metro, we cannot. We must drive through it and around it to visit loved ones or to pick up/drop off family at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Sometimes I wish the airport had expanded into cornfields farther south, nearer our home. But then we would deal with the roar of airliners. And that I would not like.

A personalized Mother's Day message on a billboard momentarily distracts me.

A personalized Mother’s Day message on a billboard momentarily distracts me.

Likewise, construction of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium draws my photographic attention.

Likewise, construction of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium draws my photographic attention.

Interstate 35 south of downtown Minneapolis.

Interstate 35 south of downtown Minneapolis.

So I try to make the best of these necessary journeys through the Twin Cities metro. I use my camera to distract me while the husband focuses on the road. And, surprise, I am beginning to feel more comfortable. Well, not too comfortable.

I have no plans anytime soon to go into downtown Minneapolis.

The downtown Minneapolis skyline on a grey Sunday afternoon.

I am not yet ready to venture into the heart of the city.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I hate traveling around the Twin Cities on a summer weekend August 12, 2013

“OH, THE PLACES you’ll go…you can steer yourself any direction you choose…”

Apparently Dr. Seuss has never driven through the Twin Cities metro on a weekend, especially this last one.

You could not go any direction you chose due to road construction. Everywhere.

On Saturday morning, heading north from Faribault on Interstate 35 and then eventually northwest on Interstates 494 and 94, my husband, son and I encountered gridlock, as in stopped traffic or traffic moving at a 20 mph maximum for mile beyond endless mile. I have never seen the traffic situation this bad in 30 years of occasionally traveling these three interstates.

It all started near Lakeville, where we crept along to the I-35 Burnsville split.

But pity the poor motorists backed up even further as the sound bound lanes of 35 were shut down completely for the entire weekend. After viewing the miles and miles of stopped traffic there, we opted for an alternative route home on Sunday (more on that in a minute).

Back to Saturday morning. Before the river bridge in Burnsville, north bound traffic finally opened up. Yeah. Little did we know…the worst was yet to come.

Not long after exiting 35 onto 494 west bound, which for once was not a harrowing experience of trying to shoehorn our van into traffic, we encountered more delays. Again, road construction is to blame along with the usual heavy weekend traffic. All told, travel time from Faribault to Monticello totaled nearly two hours. Usual drive time is maybe an hour and 20 minutes.

The only two positives in all of this: At least everyone was creeping along, meaning no crazy motorists driving like maniacs and/or weaving in and out of traffic. And roads are being improved.

Four hours later, following a brief stop at a rest stop, we reached our destination, a family reunion in Morris.

The reunion was great (photos of that forthcoming tomorrow). But the thought of returning home through the metro on Sunday afternoon, not so much. We knew the traffic then would be even worse with motorists heading back into the Cities from a weekend up north.

My husband’s oldest sister, after sharing a story of how she and her husband once sat for 40 minutes on a metro interstate on a Sunday afternoon without moving, proved the deciding factor in taking the long back way home. At least we would be moving.

So near St. Cloud, we exited 94 on Sunday and followed Minnesota Highway 15 all the way to Winthrop. Seems other motorists had the same idea. Yeah. But at least we were moving.

Road construction on Minnesota Highway 21 in Faribault.

Road construction on Minnesota Highway 21 in Faribault. Nothing compared to metro road construction and the major traffic snarl-ups there. Sorry, but I failed to photograph the interstate gridlock.

Five hours later, following a lunch break and a stop to purchase fresh veggies at a roadside stand, we drove into Faribault and, ta da, more road construction. In the nearly 30 years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen this much road work on major roadways (Minnesota Highways 60 and 21) in my community. Not quite metro area gridlock, but…

DO YOU HAVE ANY stories to share about traffic in the Twin Cities metro this past weekend?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A note about distracted drivers April 2, 2013

Red means STOP, people.

Red means STOP.

DEAREST GUARDIAN ANGEL,

My apologies for the delay in sending this thank you note. But sometimes it takes awhile for these things to sink in, to understand the gravity of the situation and what may have been.

For me, it was my husband stating, “He could have taken any one of us out.”

That comment slapped me like a sub-zero January morning. Rarely does Randy express such a strong opinion.

But he was right to assess just how bad this could have been—had I not glimpsed the white pick-up truck from the corner of my eye and yelled for my husband to stop, just as our 1995 Chrysler Concorde entered the intersection.

They always say it happens in an instant. How true. The glimpse of white. The realization that the truck was not slowing to stop for the red light on the four-lane. The thought formulating into words. The warning spewed from my lips. The foot to brake. The truck whizzing past, never slowing. The driver, totally clueless.

You, dearest angel, I am convinced, were hovering at Minnesota Highways 60 and 21, one of the busiest intersections in Faribault, around 10:30 p.m. Thursday. There is no other explanation. I could easily have been looking the other way, not spoken soon enough. My husband could have delayed his reaction.

Had Randy not stopped when he did, the truck would have t-boned our car, a direct hit to the driver’s side. I don’t even want to think about the serious injuries that would have been inflicted upon my loved ones, including our 19-year-old son sitting behind his dad and just home from Fargo for Easter.

I do not go through life unnecessarily pondering the “what ifs.” But sometimes particular events stick with you for a few days as reminders of how life truly can change, just like that. I suppose this incident lingers even more given my future son-in-law’s car was totaled by a red light runner in St. Paul several months ago.

My family’s near-collision Thursday evening was reinforced two days later by two drivers, both distracted by cell phones, who pulled out in front of us. One driver stopped just in time. The other, a woman in a van, head bent either texting or dialing, paused at a stop sign and drove straight into our path, not even noticing our approaching van.

To be honest, it scares the hell out of me sometimes how distracted and clueless many drivers are today.

My apologies, dear guardian angel, for referencing my concern with that overused phrase. But sometimes even writers struggle to define stupidity.

Gratefully,
Audrey

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling