Crosswalk safety

MARQUETTE – Locals may have noticed an increased number of pedestrian yield signs in the middle of the street beside crosswalks along Front and Third streets, Lakeshore Boulevard and others as part of an initiative to promote safety, education and enforcement of pedestrian right-of-ways throughout Marquette.

The inititative is a joint effort by the Marquette Downtown Development Authority, Marquette City Police Department and Marquette City Department of Public Works that began as a pilot in July 2013. It was prompted by the results of a DDA traffic and parking study that indicated fast-moving northbound traffic between the roundabout and Washington Street made Front Street inhospitable to pedestrians, according to the DDA.

DDA Executive Director Mona Lang said the signs will help alert drivers to the potential of pedestrians crossing.

“We want motorists to understand that Marquette’s downtown district is a hub for tourism and locals out enjoying the shopping, dining and recreational opportunities that downtown Marquette has to offer,” Lang said. “We want our streets to be a friendly place for pedestrians who are patronizing our businesses.”

After positive feedback from the community, the DDA is expanding the program by purchasing additional crosswalk signs in conjunction with the Marquette city police and public works. Three additional locations are being considered.

In 2012, Michigan had 129 pedestrian fatalities, according to a 2013 preliminary report from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

About 9 percent of national pedestrian fatalities occurred in crosswalks, according to a 2008 National Pedestrian Crash Report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The State of Michigan does require motorists to yield to pedestrians in cross walks, so the DDA recommends motorists use special caution making left-hand turns and stop before entering the crosswalk limit lines when a red light is signaled.

There are also a handful of precautions the DDA recommends pedestrians use for optimal safety at cross walks such as: making eye contact with motorists before crossing, crossing at corners that use traffic signals whenever possible, stopping at the edge of a parked car or curb before walking out into traffic, looking left and right before and during crossing, allowing enough time to safely cross and never allowing children under10 to cross the street alone.

Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, said he’s seen an unusually high amount of requests for the signs in the last year, but he’s not so sure they’re a great idea.

The signs could give pedestrians and others crossing the street a false sense of security that could lead to injury, he said. “We don’t have a solution yet.”

The issue might not be a false sense of security, said Ron Van Houten, a psychology professor at Western Michigan University, but rather that accidents can still occur at crosswalks if cars stop too close to the crosswalk and block the view of other cars, especially on multilane streets. His research, which focuses on pedestrian safety and is funded by the transportation department, shows that having markers earlier on the road before a crosswalk can reduce the risk of crashes.

While drinking and driving or drinking and crossing the street are still the biggest concerns, Van Houten said that distracted driving and walking has also become a safety issue.

The increase in requests for yield signs may be linked to Complete Street legislation that passed in 2010. It focuses on road planning involving all road users, said Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, who’s holding statewide meetings to determine a uniform understanding of crosswalk rules.

While street signs may or may not help protect pedestrians, Zemke said citizen safety on crosswalks goes beyond road planning.

He’s met with safety advocates and officials from Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Oakland County and Traverse City as well as representatives from the Michigan Department of Transportation and Michigan State Police who were interested in increasing crosswalk safety.

His concern rose in part from Ann Arbor’s enactment of a controversial local crosswalk ordinance that is different from the Michigan Uniform Traffic Code. The ordinance, which was enacted after a series of crosswalk related injuries and a death, requires motorists to stop for pedestrians at the curb, not just those already in a crosswalk.

Zemke is unsure what solutions could work, but he wants to develop a standard rule for crosswalks that can be taught in driver education courses. No clear legislation establishes crosswalk safety rules, he said. He hopes to begin writing a bill with the group soon.

“We’re a conduit for these local communities,” Zemke said. “From the state’s perspective, we’re not doing our due diligence currently to support motorists and pedestrians across the state and that’s want we’re looking to change.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net