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More pedestrian relief: Plans advance to make crosswalk safer

Janis Melum uses the crosswalk at Union and North Main Streets close to the public library to get across the road. She often uses it when walking around town, but is always careful to watch and make sure cars will stop for her before she starts crossing.

Seventy-six-year-old Janis Melum is always careful as she crosses the street -- especially at the crosswalk on North Main and Union streets that she uses to reach the public library.

Melum, who lives in the nearby Edgewater senior apartments, also uses the crosswalk when she walks to the downtown.

The city added a median, a sign with a light, and orange flags for pedestrians to use after a 2005 pedestrian death.

But Melum said it’s still hard to get cars going both ways to stop for her -- even when she uses a flag.

“Sometimes when I stand there and wait and car after car goes by when I have that orange blaze flag out there. Nobody seems to see it,” Melum said. “One time when I waved it, somebody actually waved back at me. They didn’t stop, they just waved at me.”

She was happy last week to hear that the city is moving forward with new safety plans for the crosswalk.

The City Council approved changes to an agreement with the state Tuesday, March 25, for improvements to the crosswalk, located at Union and Main streets, near the public library.

According to the agreement, the state will help the city pay for installing a blinking light on the crosswalk -- similar to the lights on East Cascade Avenue, near UW-River Falls -- and a “Prepare to Stop” sign with flashing lights, on North Main Street, before the crosswalk.

Public Works Director Reid Wronski said the lights should help make pedestrians more visible, but it’s still up to pedestrians to keep themselves safe.

“Pedestrians who feel compelled to just walk out in front of oncoming traffic are making a poor decision in my view, if they regard their safety,” Wronski said. “Yes, the driver is supposed to yield to them. I would make sure the driver is going to yield to them before I put myself in harm’s way.

Wronski said an electromagnetic loop -- literally a loop of metal buried in the pavement with a low electric charge running through it -- will be installed near the crosswalk.

The loop can detect cars stopped near the crosswalk, and send a signal to the “prepare to stop” sign if cars stay stopped for more than a few seconds.

Wronski said the loop is part of the project because rear-end accidents have been a problem at that intersection.

The crosswalk lights, like on Cascade, will automatically turn on when a person enters the crosswalk. But Wronski said it’s still a good idea for people to press the button to turn on the lights before stepping into the crosswalk.

“It’s a foolproof way to get the flashers to go,” Wronski said. “The system on Cascade appears to be working pretty good, but a pedestrian vs. a car, the pedestrian is going to lose.

“The pedestrian needs to do everything they have in their power to be safe. One of those things would be pressing the button.”

According to a Wisconsin Department of Transportation study, there were 18 crashes at the North Main/Union crosswalk between 2004 and 2009. Nine of those were rear-end crashes. Three of those were when a vehicle stopped for a pedestrian.

One of those accidents in 2005 resulted in the death of 89-year-old Claire Guise. She was hit by a driver while trying to cross the road.

Guise, a resident of Briarwood senior apartments, was headed to the library. She had been actively campaigning to make the crosswalk safer.

Anne McAlpine, director of the River Falls Housing Authority that manages Briarwood and Edgewater, said many residents prefer to use the crosswalk rather than going to the intersection traffic light at Division Street -- the safer option according to Wronski.

For more on this story, please see the April 10 print River Falls Journal.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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