by Winona Post Editor-in-chief Sarah Squires
Broadway is a dangerous road.
Maybe you haven’t noticed that, because you merely zip across it in your SUV fitted with 10 air bags. Whenever I hear someone say they disagree with the Broadway “road diet” plan — to reduce the roadway from four lanes to two with a center turn lane, to add curb “bumpouts” so drivers and pedestrians have an easier time seeing one another and those in the crosswalk have a shorter roadway to cross — that’s the first thing I ask them. When was the last time you walked across Broadway? When was the last time you walked across Broadway with your precious grandbaby nestled against your chest? When was the last time you hobbled across Broadway with your walker, or scooted across in your wheelchair, on your way to church? Give it a try, and I guarantee it will make you consider setting down all that pavement cheesecake and give that diet a chance.
For those of you who have not read our story in the September 10 edition (head to winonapost.com and read “Broadway ‘road diet’ resurfaces with funds”), this is an old plan resurrected. It was first formulated following a series of serious pedestrian-car crashes on Broadway, and was dismissed as too expensive. But wait! We’ve been approached by the state and feds, encouraged to apply for a federal grant for $1 million — the bulk of the cost of the project — which they are all but promising we will surely receive. Now we don’t have a price tag to blame, so some on the City Council have started pointing fingers in every other direction as an excuse to quash the safety upgrade.
A couple contend a shared turning lane is dangerous. There were other vague arguments about how we can’t really actually make it safer this way (we should sprinkle safe driving and walking dust over the city by plane, perhaps). I don’t know about you, but I have navigated many shared turn lanes in my day, and I have never used one as a passing lane — I have never even seen anyone do that before. I have also driven in Winona, driven on Broadway, and yes, I have biked across Broadway and walked across Broadway, and during the worst of my broken-back days, I’ve hobbled across it, too. I’ve been that person in the right lane who stops for a pedestrian, then noticed a car speeding through in the left lane, oblivious, and stuck my head out and screamed at the pedestrian to stop. That only has to happen to you one time, as a driver or a crosser, to have you nervously eyeing your rearview mirror every single time you brake for a person hoofing it to church or to the park.
One thing is clear: Broadway is dangerous. And state and federal highway engineers tell us that this plan is safer.
What this really boils down to is a question of perceived — yes, perceived — convenience in being able to pass ol’ granny driving the speed limit, over safety, plain and simple. And if you think that that perceived convenience is more important than safety, I must ask you what you will say when that granny gets hit by a bus on her way to church. That’s already happened once.
Winona has not just approved, but solicited a slew of new and upcoming apartment units downtown. We are investing money in our downtown, we have whole organizations committed to reinvigorating this little strip of history along the river. Why on earth would we invite people to this lovely “walkable” part of the city in which to live, then poo-poo a chance to ensure that our “walkable” core is actually a safe place?
We do have another problem — college students with their eyeballs glued to their phones as they step out into the streets. And it’s a problem that we have tried to tackle in a number of ways. The truth is, we are a college town — and we benefit greatly because of that — but that also means that we have a new herd of kids who arrive here, year after year, young, freshly out on their own, obsessed with their phones. And every year or so, a few of those kids end up in the hospital, or worse. They are entrusted to us, and not one of them deserves to die or suffer grave injury because we are too careless to make a road improvement that we know will help avoid it.
The one problem with the proposed Broadway plan is the area the city has proposed to begin with — Main Street to Sioux Street. I’m glad council member Pam Eyden both supported pursuing the grant and examining a way to apply it to the area it is most needed, further east. This is a great opportunity to take a long, hard look at the future of this roadway — which, as our wise letter-writer Peter Kleinschmidt pointed out, was overbuilt in the first place to accommodate traffic that now crosses town on Highway 61. And when state and federal highway engineers are practically begging us to ask for the funds to pursue this plan, maybe it’s time for us to read between the lines. What they are really telling us is that Broadway is dangerous, and it’s time we do something about it.