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Safety in River Falls crosswalks still a concern for UWRF students

April 2, 2009

Close calls on Cascade Avenue and a death on Main Street have left students questioning the safety of UW-River Falls crosswalks.

In 2000, a five-person committee came together to identify a clear policy on where to provide crosswalks on North Main Street, Union Street and Cascade Avenue.

River Falls City Engineer Reid Wronski was a member of the group.

When asked about UWRF crosswalk safety today, Wronski said, “Prohibiting cars from parking in close proximity to the crosswalks on Cascade in accordance with our Marked Crosswalk Policy has provided some safety by making pedestrians more visible to drivers as the pedestrians step off the curb and enter the crosswalk.”

The River Falls Accident Statistic Comparison Chart of 2001-07 shows that the number of pedestrian accidents throughout River Falls has remained relatively even. In 2001 there were six, 2002 had seven, 2003 had five, 2004 had six, 2005 and 2006 had two each, and 2007 had four.

The worst accident took place in 2005 when a driver hit and killed 89-year-old Claire Guise with his pickup while she was making her way across the crosswalk at Union and Main Streets.

Pedestrians using the UWRF crosswalks have also caused car accidents.

In September 2006, Derek Dock’s vehicle rear-ended Laura Mallet’s car after failing to stop while Mallet waited behind a line of cars yielding to the Third and Fourth Street intersection crosswalk. Three people were sent to the hospital.

Another accident occurred in October 2007 when Sarah Shields’ vehicle rear-ended a McCormack’s Furniture delivery truck that had stopped behind a pedestrian crosswalk outside of North Hall. One of the parties involved was transported to an area hospital.

These stories along with personal experience are leading some to believe that crosswalk safety needs to be more adequately addressed.
Wronski noted that it is being and will continue to be addressed.

“The City has a policy regarding marked crosswalks which is used to evaluate requests for new marked crosswalks. If someone feels a particular unmarked crosswalk warrants being marked, they can request we do a study,” Wronski said.

Upon observing three Cascade Street crosswalks at 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. for 15 minutes each, it was found that 12 vehicles violated this statute.

The most heavily violated was the crosswalk near North and South Hall.

Out of the 22 pedestrians who crossed the street, seven were left waiting for a driver to stop. Three times throughout the observation, pedestrians came within feet of being hit by the vehicle.

UWRF Sophomore Jim Cipera was one of these rushed pedestrians.

“Cars don’t respect us. I have to be aggressive or they rarely stop,” Cipera said.

UWRF Director of Public Safety, Richard Trende offered his view on crosswalk safety.

“I do believe that legally marked crosswalks are generally safe, however pedestrians should be cautious, and not assume that a person driving a vehicle will yield,” Trende said. “Though most people have been yielding, there are those that either don’t see the pedestrian, or don’t abide by the law.”

The scheduled Cascade Avenue redesign slated for 2012-15 will have an affect on pedestrian safety as well, Wronski said.

“Vehicle speeds will be reduced. Parking will be removed providing clear visibility. Center medians will provide a refuge area, allowing pedestrians to focus on safely crossing one lane at a time. Lighting will be improved. The design will encourage pedestrian crossings at crosswalks,” Wronski said.

Out of 10 pedestrians surveyed, nine agreed that the UWRF crosswalks are unsafe for staff and students.

The strongest opinion came from former student Josh Airman, who explained his memory of the UWRF crosswalks.

“They’re in shambles,” he said. “Dangerous to traverse.”