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Want a crosswalk? Stay within these lines

Feb. 13, 2013

You want a crosswalk on your block? There may soon be rules to follow if you want white stripes on your corners.

The Board of Public Works unanimously recommended Tuesday that the common council approve a new crosswalk policy that formalizes how future requests will be addressed and sets minimum criteria before crosswalk installation.

"This policy wasn't drafted as a result of increased requests for crosswalks, but to set a standard for the department to use when we do receive such requests," said Tom Grisa, director of public works.

Drafted Jan. 8, the policy states that when multiple requests for a crosswalk at a specific intersection are received, the engineering staff will gather information about the intersection, including accident history, speed surveillance, average vehicle traffic, sight distance, and assessment of pedestrian and bicycle use in the area.

Crosswalks would require a minimum traffic volume of 2,500 vehicles a day and a minimum of 20 pedestrian crossings per peak hour, according to the proposed policy.

Recommendations may be fulfilled with the installation of a crosswalk, or by installing a pedestrian crossing sign, removing any visual obstructions such as trees, bushes, or fencing, removing parking or increasing police patrol in the recommended area.

Grisa said the on average, crosswalks cost no more than a few hundred dollars to install.

"We want to these judgments to be made in a professional, rooted manner," Jeff Chase, city engineer, added. "We're not just going to paint lines to make people feel safe. We want people to actually be safe."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that while the use of pedestrian crosswalks can decrease the risk of being hit by a car, pedestrians must also use their best judgment when crossing the street.

"Pedestrians should keep alert at all times; don't be distracted by electronic devices, including radios, smartphones and other devices that take your eyes (and ears) off the road environment," the NHTSA says on its website.

"Just because you see a couple of lines doesn't mean you should feel safe about crossing the street, nor should you assume that a car will stop," Chairman Rick Owen said.

The NHTSA said 4,280 pedestrians died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2010 - up from the 4,109 pedestrian deaths recorded in 2009.

In Wisconsin, 52 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2010.

A report from the Federal Bureau of Transportation Safety concluded the pedestrian was solely at fault in 43 percent of car-pedestrian collisions and that both were at fault in 13 percent of collisions.

Pedestrian deaths in 2010 accounted for 13 percent of all traffic fatalities in the country, and 73 percent of pedestrian deaths in 2010 happened in urban environments, with nearly 80 percent of those deaths occurring at non-intersections, according to the NHTSA.

The new policy says that crossings should be at signalized intersections when possible, and that stop-controlled, uncontrolled and signalized intersections would receive priority, with other locations should be generally avoided.

The NHTSA advises pedestrians to cross streets at crosswalks or intersections whenever possible because that is where drivers expect to encounter pedestrians.

State law says at any crosswalk, marked or unmarked, motorists must yield the right of way to a pedestrian, person riding a bicycle or electric wheelchairs and carts.

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