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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Milwaukee Group Pushes for Pedestrian Safety - One Busy Intersection at a Time

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Susan Bence
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Milwaukee Public Radio
MilWALKee Walks making a statement with signs.

Dozens of Milwaukee pedestrians have been killed by vehicles, and thousands seriously hurt during the past six years. The problem is part of a national trend, according to the new Governor’s Highway Safety Association report.

Another report, Dangerous by Design from Smart Growth America, found the City of Milwaukee is home to 10.4 percent of Wisconsin's population, but makes up 29.1 percent of the pedestrian crashes.

On Wednesday, members of a coalition called MilWALKee Walks gathered at South 35th Street and Mitchell Street carrying signs reading “Let Me Cross” and “Stop, It’s the Law." The group's founder Jessica Wineberg says the idea is simple, and yet hard to accomplish: convince drivers to slow down and watch for pedestrians.

“(This) is sadly where Israel Soto-Colon was killed a few weeks ago and we just want to remind drivers that it is your job when you are driving to look for people around you, drive the speed limit, look for and yield to pedestrians in crosswalks,” she says.

The idea of forming a pedestrian safety coalition came to Wineberg as she set out to write about the problem in a blog. “I was researching on pedestrian death. It was a really sad situation. This Rufus King student was killed going to school by a school bus….Here she’s this great honor student, such an important part of her family’s life, so successful. What, she’s not smart enough to cross the street? Yes she is, but she was hit and killed,” she says.

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Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
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Milwaukee Public Radio

As she wrote, Wineberg learned of two more fatalities. “And I thought, three people in about a week, I’m fed up. So I reached out to people I know who I thought would care about this.”

High school students are among those joining in the Milwaukee movement to bring change.

“A bunch of students from Escuela Verde came. They’re working on their own project to slow traffic near their school and they wanted to come here and show support and educate the broader community… helping people cross the street at this signalized intersection.” Wineberg adds, “There shouldn’t be any issue crossing the street. But even here, it’s still hard to cross the street sometimes."

"A car is designed to put you in a bubble. How many cup holders do you need? What exact temperature do you want it to be? What music do you want? It's all about you and your environment, and it completely separates you from everything around you by design."

The way a street is designed can help reduce risks – narrower roadways, fewer lanes, intersection bump outs and medians, but Wineberg says the biggest factor is speed.

“The survival rate for pedestrians drastically goes down after 30 miles an hour, so if you drive 30 miles an hour or less in the city and look for pedestrians, those two things alone are a great improvement for pedestrian safety,” she says. “If you drive in the city, look for pedestrians,yield to them at crosswalks – marked and unmarked - and please drive the speed limit and when in doubt, 30 and less.”

Wineberg prays there will not be another pedestrian fatality in Milwaukee. “But statistics tell us there’s going to be one, so I hope more people join us for the next crosswalk action," she says.