Volunteers in bright shirts will soon be marching across Winona crosswalks with banners and posting cautionary flyers in bar restrooms. The Winona Area Chamber of Commerce aired plans to host a public awareness campaign to promote pedestrian safety on Broadway, Main, and Huff streets at the city Planning Commission's Monday meeting. Consultants hired by the city of Winona have just begun a study that may include street redesigns to promote pedestrian safety on the same streets.
The Planning Commission raised the issue of pedestrian safety over two years ago, Chair Craig Porter noted, recalling the commission's unrealized proposal to install pedestrian crossing signs at numerous intersections across the city, which was recommended to the City Council and partially implemented. "A couple years ago we started talking about this, saying, 'We need to start doing something about pedestrian traffic in this town,'" Porter said.
Commission member Mandi Olson noted that some city crosswalk markings have faded. As the group prepared to vote on a motion to support the chamber's campaign, she proposed including a recommendation that city staff repaint faded or missing crosswalks. Her suggestion was not included in the motion.
Planning Commission members also briefly discussed who is to blame for pedestrian accidents. The chamber's campaign places special focuses on college students. Business leaders' concerns over students stepping out in front of trucks on Main Street was part of the impetus for the chamber's campaign. Chamber president Della Schmidt distributed samples of the flyers her organization hopes to post at downtown restaurants and bars popular with university students. One poster intended for a bathroom stall warns pedestrian imbibers, "Tomorrow you may feel like a truck hit you. Tonight, make sure one doesn't. Cross only at corners and obey traffic signals." Other posters caution that "distracted walking is dangerous walking," or tell drivers to "stop for pedestrians at every corner. Seriously, it's the law."
School children know to stop and look both ways before crossing the street, but high school and college students just step out in front of cars and have a "because the law says I can" attitude about entering the crosswalk in front of cars, said Planning Commission member Dale Boettcher, who also works for the chamber. "Who's responsible? All of us drivers," Boettcher said of such driver-pedestrian conflicts. "That's the problem — we are, they're not."
"It's not only driver awareness, it's pedestrian and driver awareness," said Louie Byrne, chairman of the chamber's transportation committee, of the campaign. "We're not pointing fingers for who's at fault, it's just an awareness thing. Hopefully we can get some of that into people's heads, especially college kids. I don't want to blame college kids,
because everyone does it, but they walk into an intersection on Huff Street or whatever and they immediately think, 'Well, it's the law for that car to stop.' Well, the person in that car is a lot more protected than the person who is walking or riding a bike."
The campaign, known as "Share the Road," was developed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and has been used across the state. It states that the pedestrians and motorists are equally at fault for pedestrian-vehicle accidents, with each group responsible for about 50 percent of accidents. It is unclear whether that statistic is true in Winona. The Winona Post reviewed every pedestrian-vehicle accident in Winona from the last five years and found that out of 23 total accidents, drivers struck pedestrians in the crosswalk in ten cases — including two accidents in which two pedestrians were struck — did not see pedestrians in another four cases, and failed to yield in one case. A driver was cited for careless driving following another accident. Pedestrians dashed out in front of cars or crossed against traffic lights in six cases. A pedestrian was hit while walking on Sarnia Street in another case.
Schmidt remarked on the number of cars that "blow through" stop signs at Main and Second streets and noted the importance of pedestrian safety to downtown businesses, saying, "We always want downtown to be stroll-able."
The chamber has tentatively planned to have volunteers march across crosswalks with banners at Main and Seventh streets, Huff and Ninth streets, Main and Fourth streets, LaFayette and Second streets, Main and 11th street, and Lafayette Street and Broadway on September 18. Schmidt and Byrne appealed for the city's advice on their choice of locations. They will seek the City Council's input and approval next Monday. Schmidt says she hopes that the campaign can become an annual event, perhaps every September, when college students return.