Eagan proposes Diffley Road safety changes; student on bike dies after being hit by car in 2019

21January 2021

An Eagan road where 13-year-old Patric Vitek was fatally struck by a car while riding his bicycle to school in 2019 is slated to get some dramatic changes that are meant to improve pedestrian safety.

A concept plan for this year’s project, which is a partnership between Dakota County, the city of Eagan and Independent School District 196, calls for narrowing four-lane Diffley Road (County Road 30) down to one lane of traffic in each direction between Lexington Avenue (County Road 43) and Braddock Trail. A median will separate the lanes and provide a refuge for pedestrians.

An “enhanced crosswalk” with a pedestrian island, rapid flashing beacons and lighting will be built on Diffley Road between the retail area Diffley Marketplace and Northview Elementary School.

Eagan proposes Diffley Road safety changes; student on bike dies after being hit by car in 2019
A seventh-grade school picture of Patric Vitek, who was a student at Dakota Hills Middle School (courtesy photo)

Meanwhile, two single-lane roundabouts are pegged for Daniel Drive, which is an uncontrolled intersection, and Braddock Trail, which currently has a traffic signal.

The stretch of road serves as many as 3,700 students of Northview, Dakota Hills Middle School and adjoining Eagan High School. The area sees about 14,000 vehicles daily, according to county traffic counts.

Design details and construction staging plans are being finalized, but first three virtual meetings will be held for the public early next month.

Construction is scheduled to start in the spring and be completed by late fall.

Last year’s state bonding bill included $4 million in funds for the project. Since then, the cost has risen to $5.3 million, but money from Dakota County, the city and school district funds will be used to close the funding gap, said Erin Laberee, assistant county engineer.

TRAGEDY PROMPTS CALLS FOR CHANGE

On the morning of Nov. 1, 2019, Vitek was trying to cross Diffley Road on his way to Dakota Hills, where he was a seventh-grader. A car driven by a 33-year-old woman hit the back tire of the boy’s bike just west of Daniel Drive. Vitek, who had several injuries, was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where he was pronounced dead. It was his 13th birthday.

The boy lived in the Wildflower neighborhood located immediately south of Diffley Road and Diffley Marketplace.

His death sparked passionate pleas by residents that safety improvements to the busy four-lane road are overdue.

Several neighborhood residents said that before the boy’s death they had raised concerns at city council meetings about the dangers of crossing Diffley Road.

The summer before the accident, the county had planned to make safety improvements to the Braddock Trail and Diffley Road intersection. However, according to the county, the project was delayed so that safety suggestions proposed by residents for the entire stretch of Diffley Road could be studied and considered.

Changes made shortly after the boy’s death remain in place, Laberee said. They include a 30 mph speed limit during school arrival and dismissal times; an increased police presence to enforce speeding and intersection violations; flashing beacons informing motorists when students are arriving and leaving school; and adult crossing guards at the Braddock Trail signal to increase safety.

SAFETY MEASURES PROPOSED

The focus of the original project was intensified after the boy’s death to include safer pedestrian crossings and lowering vehicle speeds on Diffley Road, which is 45 mph, Laberee said. Reducing the road to two lanes and the roundabouts will do that, she said.

Eagan proposes Diffley Road safety changes; student on bike dies after being hit by car in 2019So instead of crossing four lanes of traffic they will only cross two lanes,” she said. “And it’s a divided roadway, so they’ll be able to cross one lane at a time.”

Single-lane roundabouts improve safety for pedestrians since traffic must slow down because they are designed for vehicle speeds of 15 to 20 mph, Laberee said.

To gather input from neighborhood residents, the county and project team held several in-person open houses early last year and walking tours of the road and its connector streets this past summer. When the pandemic hit, virtual open houses were held online to inform residents and gather feedback from them, Laberee said.

Some residents did object to the idea of roundabouts over traffic lights, Laberee said.

“We do feel that roundabouts improve pedestrian safety significantly over a signal — the lane reduction, the median refuge, they can cross one lane at a time,” she said. “At a signal, you have vehicles turning — drivers who don’t always see pedestrians. They are looking for gaps in traffic.”

The project also includes a new school access road, with the goal of redistributing traffic and limiting the number of back-ups.

Dakota County is also working with the school district on a Safe Routes to School study that they are doing along with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The study is expected to be completed in June.

Other school sites across Dakota County also could see changes. The county and MnDOT are finalizing an assessment that looks at safety for students at nearly 50 public and private schools located directly adjacent to county or state highways, with a focus on pedestrian and bicycle travel.

Next month’s Diffley Road virtual meetings will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 1; noon to 1:30 p.m. Feb. 2; and 5 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 4. Each meeting will include a live presentation from the project team and time for a question-and-answer session. The meetings will be recorded and available on the project site, located at co.dakota.mn.us/Transportation/PlannedConstruction/CR30Braddock. To register for a meeting, go to the project site.

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