by Chris Rogers
A month after a 74-year-old woman was seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver at Broadway and Liberty Street, the city of Winona announced plans for a portable pedestrian crossing sign for members of St. Martin's Lutheran Church and School to put out as needed. At the urging of church leaders and citizens, City Council members directed city staff members to study potential improvements to pedestrian safety at the intersection and prepare a report to the council. At a December 16 council meeting, City Manager Judy Bodway announced that city staff members had ordered a small, portable sign.
"It's a start," said St. Martin's Pastor Richard Moore. The 74-year-old woman, who is still recovering from breaking her pelvis, arm, facial bones, and other bones, was crossing Broadway to attend choir practice at the church when she was hit. Church leaders said that there have been numerous accidents involving pedestrians at their intersection over the past ten years, including two fatalities. Ideally, Moore would like to see a permanent pedestrian crossing sign with lights that flash when pedestrians enter the crosswalk. "I hope this helps, but we'll see," he said.
The sign will be similar to the pedestrian crossing signs placed on the center stripe of Broadway at Winona and Johnson streets. The church can put out the new sign before and after events, Bodway said. In an interview, Assistant City Manager for Public Works Keith Nelson said that all potential solutions have drawbacks, including a flashing crosswalk sign.
A portable sign to be managed by the church is among the least expensive potential solutions and the least disruptive to traffic on Broadway. After accidents in years past, council members have been reluctant to delay traffic by adding stop signs or lights to the thoroughfare. In the narrow island city, Broadway serves as one of the most important routes in the city core. Nelson highlighted the importance of maintaining traffic flow at Broadway and Liberty Street.
"I don't necessarily think that will alleviate the problem, but I guess we'll see," said St. Martin's Lutheran School Principal Sharon Forst. She and her staff act as crossing guards for young students on a daily basis, but that is not enough, she said. Cars regularly drive too fast and zip by pedestrians at the intersection, and a city transit bus once swerved to avoid a crossing guard, grazing the guard's flag, according to Forst. Visibility is not the issue, she said. "For the most part [motorists] see me, and they will speed to get past me because they don't want to stop. I see the same thing happening with this [new sign]." Nevertheless, "it's a step in the right direction," she added.
In a recent letter to the editor, Thomas Jaszewski called for police to increase traffic enforcement along Broadway. The problem on Broadway is "careless drivers without consequences," he wrote.
"The police do as good of a job as they can," Forst commented, noting that patrol officers cannot cover all of the city's problem areas at all times.
Forst hopes that the new sign will not be the end of pedestrian safety discussions at city hall. "My hope is that the council actually does monitor this, that they actually say, 'This is working or it is not working,' that it doesn't a take an accident to draw light to it."
Council member Pam Eyden initially called for city staff and the council to examine and discuss pedestrian safety along much of Broadway east of Main Street. The issue has not been discussed further at council meetings.
"Any solution we come to is going to be step by step," Eyden said when asked about the portable sign. "We'll see if this does it."
Eyden called pedestrian safety on Broadway "a recurring problem and situation that needs to be looked at" and reaffirmed her desire for the city to consider more substantial changes like bump-outs at crosswalks and medians or "islands" at intersections. Eyden also favored increased enforcement. "How many people have been stopped on Broadway and given traffic tickets?" she asked.
No leads on hit-and-run
A dark-colored minivan heading west on Broadway struck the 74-year-old woman in the crosswalk at 5 p.m. on November 27, witnesses told Winona Police. An investigation indicated that the van was likely an Oldsmobile Silhouette, a Chevy Venture, or a Pontiac Montana with a broken passenger side headlight and possibly other front, passenger side damage. Police searched all of Winona County for matching vehicles, but came up empty-handed. "Our big hope was that a neighbor or a relative" would report a potential match, said Deputy Chief Tom Williams. So far, that has not happened. If you have any information about a vehicle matching the description, call the Winona Police Department non-emergency line at 507-457-6302.