On Old Homer Road near the Winona Middle School, about 4:30 p.m. last Thursday, I came across a group of kids walking along the side of the road in a long, irregular line — with the traffic to their backs. I thought everyone knew that when you walk on a road with no sidewalk, you must walk facing the traffiwc. The reason should be obvious — if a driver doesn’t see you, and veers towards you — sun in his eyes, looking at her cellphone, otherwise distracted — there is a possibility you will be hit and badly hurt or killed. If you see the car coming, you have a chance to avoid a collision by moving out of the way.
I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose, that so many people do not know that sensible pedestrian rule. Not very many people walk anymore. They run, they jog, they bike. If they walk, they walk for exercise on the bike path. But walking to get somewhere? Hopelessly old fashioned.
With the group of kids I saw was a man who looked older than the kids, maybe in his twenties or thirties. That must be too young to have been schooled in being a pedestrian. Certainly the university students in Winona have no idea how to be pedestrians, perhaps because until recently they were driven everywhere by their parents, or drove themselves.
They seem to be fearless, and have incredible faith in the driving abilities of us old Winonans, who they must believe have the reflexes of a NASCAR driver, the eyesight of an eagle, and automobiles with the stopping power of a Porsche Cayenne. In fact, there are 50 million cars on the road in this country that have the real possibility of brake failure.
I understand that pedestrians and their advocates feel that drivers should be more alert and drive more carefully. I agree. But the fact is that the average person in this country weighs 155 pounds. The average car in this country weighs 4,000 pounds. It takes a car going 30 mph at least 30 feet to come to a stop — AFTER the driver has seen the reason to stop.
Most of us, up against a much heavier foe, will practice some evasive action. Pedestrians on Winona streets? They walk out into traffic without looking from side to side. They jaywalk. They dart into traffic from behind cars. I won’t suppose to know what they are thinking, but I am fairly certain they are not planning what to do to avoid a confrontation with a 4,000-pound enemy.
Yes, there is a law that cars must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. There is also a law that drivers shouldn’t speed, a law that prohibits texting while driving, a law that bicyclists should follow the same rules of the road as auto drivers. Are these ignored? On a regular basis. So wouldn’t it be smart for pedestrians to be prepared for drivers who don’t follow the laws, for pedestrians to watch out for their own safety, instead of entrusting it to total strangers?
So, grandmas and grandpas, please share with your children and grandchildren the rules you learned when you were growing up about being a pedestrian. You could help save a life.
And adults who take children out walking on the side of roads must make sure that they, too, share safety advice with their charges.
When the fire inspectors charged with finding what caused last week’s fire on Third and Center streets come back with their answers, I am certain they will discover that it was a system failure, probably electrical.
I understand that since a place of worship — the Winona Islamic Center — was one of the buildings burned, the FBI must become involved. However, I was very uncomfortable with what I perceived to be the real reason for the overwhelming interest in the fire from news outlets far from Winona — that the Islamic Center was involved.
Twin Cities helicopters roared overhead. Television news vans converged on downtown. Reporters asked if the Islamic Center had been targeted. The answer from Winonans? No, our different religions coexist well down here in the hinterlands. But that didn’t stop the conjecture from appearing in news stories all over the state.
The Winona area is in many ways much more diverse than most its size in Minnesota and Wisconsin. We are small, and our minority populations are small, as well. But that isn’t the only way to measure diversity. On the church page that runs in the Winona Post on the first Sunday of each month, there are 81 churches listed. Most are Lutheran and Roman Catholic, but many other religions are represented as well.
We are only two generations away from a time when interreligious, as well as interracial (and gay!), marriages were forbidden in most circles. Such marriages are still taboo in many places to this day.
But this is not Selma, Alabama, and it’s not 1963. Races and religions in this area do not bomb each other or start fires in each others’ churches. In fact, they get along remarkably well.
The overwhelming attitude around here is “live and let live.” If we have a problem with certain people it’s usually not because of what they are, but what they do.
If the news comes back that the downtown fire was arson, I’ll eat my words. But I have faith in the people who call the Winona area home.