Recent accident a painful reminder
Crosswalk safety can only improve through concerted effort by all
Royal Purple staff
Issue date: 10/21/09 Section: Opinion
Media Credit: Seth Anderson
A Whitewater Common Council nightmare has been realized: another pedestrian was struck by a car while crossing at Cottage and Main Street, one of the intersections between Prairie Street and Prince Street uncontrolled by a traffic signal.
Fortunately for 28-year-old Laura Rogers of Fort Atkinson, the injuries she sustained following the collision and subsequent 10-foot journey through the air on Oct. 14 did not take her life; the contusions on her knee and face will heal.
Mike Chaloupka, who was hit while crossing the intersection at Whiton and Main Street in his wheelchair on Aug. 26, 2008, did not survive.
Chaloupka's death sounded the alarm bell that caught the attention of city and campus officials.
It became clear the "trombone arms," which are essentially flashing pedestrian crossing signs on a boom at these intersections, were not enough.
They were probably right. Even when activated, the flashing lights on the trombone arms are merely an advisery that pedestrians might be present-the lighted signs by themselves don't compel drivers to stop.
Meeting after meeting, month after month, an indecisive, sometimes combative Common Council argued over solutions ranging from a giant walking bridge to a proposed jaywalking ordinance before finally settling on the installation of a $125,000 traffic light at the intersection of Whiton Street and Main Street.
This was an obvious step in the right direction. A traffic light leaves no doubt to who has the right of way.
It also slows traffic flow down. This is good, considering excessive speed is the number one reason why pedestrian-vehicle accidents occur according to Whitewater Police Department Chief James Coan.
Unfortunately, all this wrangling to keep students safe diverts attention from another element that really needs to change: driving habits.
It's simple. There are two people in this type of accident, the driver and the pedestrian. Both are trying to get somewhere using the same space.
However, the driver is the one in control of a potentially lethal weapon. Furthermore, to walk in a public place is a very basic human right, whereas operating a car is a privilege and responsibility.
In light of this, there are very few instances where a driver isn't at fault for striking a pedestrian.
Even in a downtown Whitewater full of drunken bar-goers, the burdgen rests heavily on drivers to observe what's going on along the side of the road and slow down in the presence of pedestrians.
To be sure, the installation of a traffic light will make it much safer for students to cross, so driving habits aren't the only thing that needed changing. It also doesn't mean those on foot shouldn't look both ways before crossing the street-ultimately it's everyone's responsibility to keep the community safe.
It also means there are other actions officials can take to improve the situation while we wait for the traffic light.
This includes, if necessary, increased police presence. In the immediate wake of Chaloupka's death, city and campus police made themselves visible as a reminder to pay attention and assist in safe crossings. This should continue.
It should also include a crackdown on speed limit compliance, a.k.a. more speeding tickets. While many like to complain about speed traps, the fact of the matter is speeding is illegal for a reason. This is especially true in a city full of pedestrians, where there is absolutely no reason to be driving fast.
So take it easy, pay attention and walkers-look up from your iPod every once and awhile. By playing by the rules and using common sense everyone can do their part to make Whitewater a safer place.