by Tom Held

People in Wisconsin seem to have developed a cartoonish, and dangerous, approach toward driving. One that screams, “Out of my way, I’m a motorist.”

It’s an attitude that kills people, in cars, on bikes and on foot.

Fifty-five people were killed while walking in Wisconsin in 2015, a 22% increase from the previous year.

The number of people killed while riding a bicycle went from four to 15. All died after being hit by motor vehicles.

Those numbers may appear small considering the millions of people who walk and bike safely, but we can’t ignore an uptick in fatalities that big—one that spread grief across the state, from urban streets to rural roads. People were killed while walking in 22 Wisconsin counties last year, and every victim was a person, with family, friends, and a future.

GREEN BIKE WAY HUMBOLDT BLVD CITY OF MILWAUKEE WEBAs part of its mission, the Wisconsin Bike Fed is intensifying its work to make streets safer for all users. It’s a needed effort.

Instead of putting safety first, we seem to accept 55 deaths of people on foot as the cost of being part of a mobile society, and shrug as if the fatal collisions were unavoidable “accidents.”

These crashes are avoidable if only people would follow the rules of the road and focus on sharing the road with more vulnerable users.

The message shared by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Wisconsin Bike Fed through the Share and Be Aware program is the law and represents common sense. Slow down. Look for others. Yield to your neighbor.

Wisconsin statutes require people driving motor vehicles to yield to people walking in crosswalks. That applies in any crosswalk, marked or not. Under the law, the natural extension of the sidewalk across the street is a crosswalk, even without painted lines.

We ignore that law all too often.

More than 40 people were killed in crosswalks by motorists who failed to yield in 2011, 2012 and 2013, according to an analysis of crash reports by Robert Schneider, an assistant professor and traffic safety researcher at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. That number represented nearly 30% of the people 152 killed while walking in that three-year span.

Schneider also found that driver errors accounted for 65% of deaths in crosswalks at intersections.
The idea that most pedestrian fatalities are caused by people dashing into the street simply doesn’t match the facts. We drive too fast and ignore the law, and make it dangerous and intimidating for people to engage in the most normal of activity: walking.

“It’s important for people to walk,” says Larry Corsi, Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety Program Manager, Wisconsin Department of Transportation. “It’s better for business, better for health.”

Corsi works in the DOT Bureau of Transportation Safety and oversees the efforts to make Wisconsin streets safer. That included coordination of High Visibility Enforcement actions by police in Milwaukee and La Crosse to remind motorists to yield to people walking.

During one such action, police issued 64 failure-to-yield warnings to motorists in the Marquette University area in one afternoon.

Unlike many of our problems in Wisconsin, this one is easy to solve and shouldn’t cost a dime. Slow down and yield to your neighbor.

For more direct action, meet with Connect 53212 and other walk/bike advocates at Company Brewing on Tuesday, March 15th at 5:30PM. We will discuss ways to make Harambee and Riverwest more walk/bike friendly by brainstorming fun rides and advocating for better infrastructure.