Taking steps to improve safety

MARSHALL – Carole Martin, Catherine Amato and Jean Replinger aren’t out to save the world. They just want to make walking around Marshall a little safer.

The ambitious trio has begun a mission to improve pedestrian safety, mainly at intersections around the city where there are no traffic signals. They say it’s a major concern because many drivers often tend not to always play by the rules of intersections.

“What we want to do is raise driver awareness that pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right of way and that drivers should be stopping for them,” Martin said. “It’s really about raising awareness that it is a state law, and that Marshall needs to be observing it.”

“Ideally, we’d like to see people obey the law,” Amato said. “We certainly don’t want to see walkers doing silly things like jaywalking or running out in the middle of the road. Where I live, I see joggers just standing there and standing there, jogging in place – they just have to wait until they get a clear opportunity to cross. Nobody seems to have the guts to go out and assume the cars will stop.”

The women have started a petition and have more than 100 signatures. Also, in working with Doug Goodmund at Marshall Community Services, they have set up a meeting at 7 p.m. on June 18 at the Marshall Area YMCA. The public is encouraged to attend and give input on what they perceive to be problem intersections in town.

“Doug was a wonderful resource,” Martin said. “He knows how things operate and took the ball and ran with it; he knows which people to contact and has the ability to move the project right along.”

Martin said she has been noticing a trend throughout the years that cars are more frequently running or rolling through stop signs. She said as Marshall grows and strives to encourage more visitors and future residents, it’s important for the city to show them this is a safe community to be out and about in.

“We’re getting the new sports center and trying to get people to come here and shop, yet people are not really paying attention to people in the crosswalks,” she said.

Martin said the intersections off of East Main Street that connect with streets by Schwan’s corporate headquarters, the middle school, the Marshall Area YMCA and the library are main concerns for her.

“You have Schwan’s employees walking there, children going to the ‘Y’ and also the middle school students who walk as far as the ‘Y’ and to the intersection of East Main – that is very difficult to cross,” she said.

Martin said another area of concern is streets around Legion Field, which can get very busy during the summer months with baseball games and people walking to and from the aquatic center or the skateboard park.

“You’ve got people coming in from out of town at highway speeds; they do slow down, but with the tennis courts, swimming pool, picnic area, a lot of people are crossing. It just seems like one of the more dangerous places,” she said.

Martin would like to see the city use more of the vertical, moveable pedestrian signs that sit in the middle of the road because they tend to grab drivers’ attention more than the traditional signs on the side of the road.

“When you see a sign in the middle of the street, you notice it,” she said. “People are paying attention to other vehicles, so they miss the other signs. And you have people texting and using their cell phones, and people just roll through these stop signs.”

“We do have some signs with the silhouette of a walker, but I don’t think they grab people as much as the ones in the middle of the lane,” Amato said.

Another idea the women have thought about is additional safety street markings, similar to those that indicate the city’s bike paths.

According to state law, the driver of a vehicle must stop to yield right of way to a pedestrian crossing the road within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk when no traffic-control signals are in place or in operation. “The driver must remain stopped until the pedestrian has passed the lane in which the vehicle is stopped.” In turn, pedestrians cannot “suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.”

Hennepin County is currently accepting public feedback on its proposed pedestrian safety project. It’s the first county in Minnesota to come up with a comprehensive pedestrian plan as part of its overall transportation system. Hennepin County’s is a high-end version of what Martin, Amato and Replinger envision for Marshall, as it includes expanding sidewalks and trail networks and improving pedestrian connections to transit options.

“We’re on the cusp of the forefront, I guess,” Amato said. “I think many people are thinking about this, and since we have the law, it’s certainly a good thing to address.”