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MnDOT trying to boost driver acceptance of J-Turn intersections

Residents of Little Lake Heron, Minnesota resisted in 2018 when the Minnesota Department of Transportation proposed three intersections limiting the ability to cross the freeway. 60.

Intersections limit the points where vehicles could collide by forcing drivers on secondary roads to turn right, drive a short distance down the road, turn around across the median, then back to the intersection to continue their journey.

“They’re counterintuitive,” said Anne Wolff, public engagement coordinator for MnDOT in southern Minnesota. “Something different is hard.”

To sell the treatment known as a restricted-passage U-turn intersection, or J-Turn, the agency built a model. Residents at public meetings could guide a matchbox-sized car through the design to break down the movements.

Then the agency did something unprecedented: After the intersections were built, the MnDOT closed the freeway for a day and allowed residents to drive the intersections with their own vehicles before they officially opened.

“With the hands-on approach, it clicked,” Wolff said. “They thought, ‘That’s not so bad.'”

Minnesota’s first J-Turn intersection was built in 2009, and now over 60 exist statewide with more planned. They are credited with a significant reduction in right-angle collisions resulting in serious injury and death.

At the highway. 60 and County Road 9 near Heron Lake, only one rear-end crash has occurred since entering the J-Turn. In the 10 years prior to its construction, the intersection experienced 11 accidents resulting in three fatalities. The majority were T-bone crashes, according to MnDOT data.

Despite the safety benefits of J-Turns — data showed they reduced fatal and serious crashes at intersections by 69% — it’s been hard to win over the public, said MnDOT traffic engineer Derek Leuer.

“They’ve never seen any,” he said.

And when they meet crossroads, motorists are not fond of them.

Nichole Morris, director of the U’s HumanFirst Lab, tested drivers to see what would make them more tolerant at restricted intersections. Using a simulator, participants crossed three J-Turn intersections. It didn’t improve their attitude toward J-Turns, Morris said.

A second group watched video testimonials from state troopers, truck drivers and accident victims who spoke about their experience with J-Turns. After watching, participants rated intersections better and were more willing to cross them, Morris said.

“The testimonials tend to be quite compelling,” she said.

A third group was randomly assigned to watch an informational video, view a PowerPoint presentation, listen to a testimonial, or watch a 3D simulation on a phone or computer. Either way, acceptance of J-Turns increased, Morris found.

The results, Morris said, show that the MnDOT should use a mixed strategy with persuasive and informative messaging to drive acceptance.

In Carver County, it was residents who happily accepted intersections along the newly expanded highway. 212.

“The community was adamant we got them,” Leuer said. “They didn’t want standard passages.”

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