Pedestrian safety campaign will soon ramp up

MARSHALL – The group that started a campaign to raise awareness of pedestrian safety in Marshall says it’s time for the next step toward improving safety on the streets of Marshall.

A second round of studying intersections around the city wrapped up Phase 1 of the process – raising awareness and reminding people of right of way laws, the group, which consists of Marshall residents Jean Replinger, Carole Martin and Cathy Amato, said this week that Phase 2 of the process will include targeted enforcement.

“We were quite startled to find what we found,” said Replinger. “We wanted to do just pedestrian safety, but we realized it was bigger than that, that the vehicular problem was greater. We were startled.”

Included in the group’s second set of observations were four intersections where no pedestrian activity was documented. The study showed that an average of 67 percent of drivers at these intersections did only a rolling stop, and an average of 14.5 percent did not stop at all. All told, just 25 percent of drivers at those intersections followed the law.

“There are, in fact, people who don’t stop at all at stop signs; I’m not surprised with the rolling stops, but a high percentage of vehicles don’t stop at all. If the pedestrian persists it’s like the driver is insulted. They’re like, ‘What right do they (pedestrians) have to be there?'” she said.

Replinger said some walkers have told her it’s as if their rights are being taken for granted by drivers, some of whom, she was told, shouted at them to get out of the way.

Still, she said the group’s efforts are paying off.

“We have asked a couple of the crossing guards about it, and they said they notice a big difference,” Replinger said. “We’re making progress.”

Friday marked the debut of five new vertical pedestrian safety pedestals that have been placed near various intersections; the city began using the pedestals near schools two years ago. Replinger said the group decided to put them out Friday because of the increased traffic that came with Sounds of Summer. Unfortunately, she said, one of the signs – at Main and A streets – was damaged when it was run over and another was stolen.

Marshall Community Services Assistant Director Doug Goodmund said the pedestals have made a difference, but it’s difficult to gauge just how much since it’s a tough issue to monitor. He said the pedestals will be in place until about Nov. 1 but could be out longer, depending on snowfall.

“We know there are challenges with the pedestals,” he said. “Everyone is doing their best in dealing with this. We need to have people behind the wheel change their habits to improve this situation. I saw a pedestrian waiting to cross A Street and East Main, and there were three or four vehicles that didn’t even slow down. I was waiting, and the person behind me honked their horn.”

Goodmund said the pedestrian safety program is ongoing and something that will take time to fully implement. It’s just one step, he said, in creating a safer environment for anyone on foot or two wheels.

“We’re utilizing law enforcement staff, and Pioneering a Healthier Marshall and My Marshall are working together to improve the trails system, which is part of our overall safety program,” he said. “We’re making progress.”

The pedestrian safety group also noticed many bicycle riding violations, such as not stopping at stop signs, not signaling, or improperly signaling turns, not riding at all in an existing bike lane or riding the wrong way in the bike lane. The group asks that bicyclists and those working to improve bicycle safety monitor and deal with these issues.

In terms of enforcement, Marshall Police Chief Rob Yant said the police department plans on easing into the situation during the next few months. He said the informational campaign and public education will continue for now, but eventually certain intersections will see routine patrol to watch for drivers who don’t yield to pedestrians.

“Over the next two or three weeks we’ll continue to put the message out to pay attention,” he said. “We are going to do more targeted patrol; as far as how detailed it will be, we’re not 100 percent sure yet.”

Yant said voluntary compliance is the first step but after that drivers could find themselves getting pulled over and given a warning if they don’t stop or yield to pedestrians at intersections. That warning will turn into something more severe if, for instance, someone is caught texting at an intersection.

“We haven’t formulated our exact plan yet,” Yant said. “At a certain point, we’re going to have to have some punch, some bite, if we’re not getting compliance. We want to try and change awareness so people understand they need to change their habits.”

The safety group encourages residents to watch the online video “Sharing the Road: Bicycle & Pedestrian Safety in Cranberry Township.” The video was made in Pennsylvania. The video can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=perhcDjBi2E.