Childcare provider calls for safer road crossing
Medford police chief Chad Liske wanted to see for himself how difficult it was to be a pedestrian in the city of Medford.
On Tuesday, he parked his squad car on Main Street, put on his bright yellow police traffic control vest and attempted to cross Hwy 64. He did it 12 times with the best case a driver stopping in the first vehicle. He noted, in that case, it was an off-duty sheriff’s deputy. In most cases, he said three cars would pass by before a motorist would stop or it was clear enough to cross the street and in the worst case it took seven motorists driving by before he was able to cross. In doing his informal study, Liske had done his homework and checked on the average stopping distance of cars going the normal speed along the road, noting it would typically take a vehicle 193 feet to come to a stop.
“I don’t think you will get anyone in Medford to deny there is an issue,” Liske said.
Liske’s informal study of street crossing was prompted by concerns expressed by Kristianna Fogo owner of Big Adventures Childcare about the dangers she and the children in her care were facing from inconsiderate motorists not stopping to allow them to cross the highway.
Fogo has gone to holding up a sign saying they are a daycare and asking people to stop. “I tried with the signs, but the cars zoomed past,” she said. “They won’t stop unless they know there are consequences.”
Fogo is not alone in her concerns. Kelly Jensen of Sand Box Childcare center said that while this summer has been a more positive one for people stopping, in the past they have had longer waits before being able to cross. Crossing concerns sparks conversation with city police and civic groups
Liske met with Fogo, mayor Mike Wellner, Sue Emmerich of the Medford Area Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the Medford Morning Rotary Club on Tuesday evening to go over the options about how to address the problem.
Fogo said she wanted to see increased enforcement including drivers being ticketed for not stopping or for going around stopped vehicles.
Liske explained that increased enforcement would be a short-term fix since the city does not have the manpower to sit at every intersection all the time. He said also that people would not know why a driver was being stopped, with most assuming it would be for speeding.
Liske said he contacted other police chiefs in the state about how they deal with the issue of pedestrian crossing. Solutions ranged from sign upgrades, flags to pedestrian activated crossing signs. He said the city had tried road signs in the centerline of the crossings in the past, however he noted these became targets for some drivers running them over and destroying them.
He said any static signs, even ones with always-on steady flashing lights become part of the background over time with motorists not paying attention to them. He said some communities have placed buckets with flags at the intersections for pedestrians to use to wave when they want to cross the road.
Liske said he talked with some chiefs who reported success with pedestrian activated lighted signs. With these the pedestrians would press a button activatng a flashing sign that has a flash pattern similar to that of a police vehicle but in amber-color. The light is on only when pedestrians activate it and are crossing the road. Liske noted that while this would probably be the best option, it has a cost to it.
Regardless of the attempted solution, Liske said there needed to be an education component both for drivers and for pedestrians to understand the laws when it comes to crossing the road.
Rotary Club member Oralee Dittrich agreed and said that is one area where club members could help with community outreach. She also said they may be able to help with funding through potential district matching grants.
Mayor Wellner suggested they start with educating motorists and pedestrians before making large investments. “It is not going to happen overnight,” Wellner said, suggesting the flags as a good starting point and said more brainstorming sessions were needed.
“I think starting small is asinine,” said Nathan Bilodeau of the Rotary Club. He said they needed to be in it for the long run and do something that would fix the problem. He gave the example of the crossings by Lawrence University in downtown Appleton where they are automated. As soon as the pedestrians step onto a platform, it triggers flashing lights on signs, as well as, embedded in the road surface.
Wellner disagreed with the idea that the city needed to go full-bore on an elaborate system. He cautioned that solutions don’t happen overnight. He also said this was a new issue being brought to the city council’s attention and that they would look for solutions in stages.
Wellner explained that the first questions the city council would ask if there was a proposal to place lighted signs, who pays for them and who would be responsible for the long-term maintenance on them. Wellner said the council would also look to the chief for his recommendations as to how to best address the issues.
Funding options discussed included holding a specific community-wide fundraiser for the project involving multiple civic organizations such as Kiwanis and Lions along with the Rotary Club and also looking at potential business donations.
“These are great ideas, but what about right now?” Fogo asked. “How can I be safe with my littles crossing the road right now?”
Both Liske and Wellner responded that community education is key through The Star News, radio and on social media. “Nothing happens that quickly,” Wellner said. “You have to be patient. . . . You have to give us some time.”
“We as a community need to know something is happening now,” Fogo said.