FARGO — Fifteen years ago, an owner of the Moorhead Dairy Queen shared with an interviewer that the business at Eighth Street and Main Avenue was witness to so many crashes that he enrolled in a first-responder class so he could offer help if those skills were needed one day.

That was then.

These days, Troy DeLeon is still owner of the Moorhead Dairy Queen along with his wife, Diane, but the frequency of crashes in front of their business has dropped in a big way, according to DeLeon.

"It's not nearly as bad as it used to be. We've seen a considerable drop, considering how much traffic there is," said DeLeon, who estimated they may get one crash a month outside the business, compared to the 1-2 crashes a month he said they were seeing 15 years ago.

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His estimate of one crash per month aligns closely with the actual monthly average for that intersection based on a Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments review of data from 2013-2017.

Still, enough crashes occur at the downtown Moorhead intersection to earn it a spot on a list of the top 20 intersections in the metro area for frequency of crashes, according to Metro COG, which recently highlighted crash statistics as part of a presentation on the agency's latest transportation plan covering the next 25 years or so.

The Moorhead intersection is No. 20 on the list.

The other intersections making up the list are in Fargo or West Fargo.

An intersection's overall crash ranking was computed by looking at several categories, including total number of crashes, number of serious or fatal crashes and number of crashes involving bicycles or pedestrians.

13th Avenue, a crash course?

No. 1 on the list is the intersection at 13th Avenue South and Ninth Street East in West Fargo. Ninth Street East is known as Veterans Boulevard where it runs through Fargo.

According to Metro COG numbers, from 2013-2017 that intersection saw 106 crashes, with four crashes falling in the category of fatal or serious. It also had seven crashes involving pedestrians or bicycles.

The intersection at Eighth Street and Main Avenue in Moorhead — No. 20 on the list — saw 48 crashes during the same time period, with one fatal or serious crash. It also saw two crashes involving pedestrians or bicycles.

Seven intersections on the list are on 13th Avenue South, either in Fargo or West Fargo.

The avenue runs through several major commercial areas, and commercial zones in general correlate strongly with intersections reporting high numbers of crashes relative to other intersections, according to Michael Maddox, senior transportation planner with Metro COG.

Fortunately, Maddox said, most crashes in the metro area involve property damage and not serious or fatal injuries.

Also, according to Metro COG's review of crash data from 2013-2017:

  • More male drivers were involved in crashes than female drivers.
  • Younger drivers, ages 16-25, were involved in more crashes than other age groups.
  • Crashes involving alcohol and/or drugs were more than six times more likely to lead to a fatal or incapacitating injury than crashes not involving those substances.

When it comes to the intersection next to the Moorhead Dairy Queen, Jonathan Atkins, traffic engineer with the city, has a theory as to why the business may sense a drop in crash numbers from what it was seeing 15 years ago.

Atkins said it may have to do with the implementation of quiet zones involving nearby railroad tracks and the closing of several railroad crossings in downtown Moorhead, which he said could have created smoother traffic patterns.

He said the city also works hard at tweaking the timing of traffic signals downtown in order to keep crashes as nonviolent as possible.

But he stressed that traffic signals are not a cure-all.

"Signals don't stop crashes, they change them from more severe to less severe," Atkins said, adding that in looking at crash numbers for the intersection at Main Avenue and Eighth Street, "I am not seeing a lot of injuries over the last five years."

Importance of light

When it comes to crashes, one thing that may not be obvious from raw statistics is the role street lighting plays, according to Jeremy Gorden, transportation division engineer with the city of Fargo.

Gorden said that, for many years, streetlights used high-pressure sodium lamps, which give off a yellow or orange glow.

He added, however, that cities like Fargo are switching to light-emitting diode lighting, or LEDs, which he said are somewhat brighter and give off a better, white light.

"A lot of crashes — and especially pedestrian crashes — they happen after dark. It's basically based on visibility," Gorden said, adding a number of the intersections that made it to the top 20 list for number of crashes between 2013 and 2017 received upgrades since 2017, including better lighting.

He said eventually most of Fargo will have LED streetlights, though right now Interstate 29 marks something of a divide in the lighting department.

"I think everything west of I-29 is LED and everything east of I-29 is high-pressure sodium," Gorden said.

As far as the various things that come into play when a crash occurs, Gorden said, one factor garnering increasing attention across the nation is the size of vehicles on the road today and the impact that has on the severity of crashes, particularly when pedestrians are in the picture.

"That is a common complaint, that our vehicles are getting bigger and taller and faster, and that if you are hit, your chances of not surviving are going up," Gorden said.