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New strategies, technology, aim to keep pedestrians, bicyclists safe

Orchard and Regent Street Intersection.JPG
Orchard and Regent Street Intersection in Madison

MADISON, Wis. - City officials are developing a strategic approach to address problematic intersections for bicyclists and pedestrians, as police remind everyone on the road of the potential consequences of not paying attention.

From 2011 to 2015, Dane County saw about 1,350 vehicle crashes involving pedestrians or bicyclists, resulting in nearly 30 deaths, according to a report from the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board. Eighty percent of those crashes happened in Madison.

"(Cars) just barrel on, they don't stop," University of Wisconsin-Madison student Samuel Julson said. "It's crazy."

Julson spends a lot of time on these streets walking to class, but it just takes one second for everything to change.

"I'm scared, for one," he said. "I've almost been run over like three times on that intersection."

Julson is talking about the intersection of Orchard and Regent streets, where Madison Police Department data shows a pedestrian was hit in 2016.

By the numbers over the past five years, other intersections near campus had some of the most bike or pedestrian vs. car crashes in the city, including at University and North Randall avenues topping out at 20, most involving bikes. That's of about 1,134 such crashes total from 2014 through July 2019.

Other intersections ranking high in crash frequency are also along University at North Park Street, North Frances Street and North Lake Street.

South of campus at S Park and Buick streets, six crashes have involved pedestrians since 2014.

"This intersection here, the speed limit is 25 miles per hour," Brier said, referring to Randall at University Avenue. "I think five or six cars I've seen of hundreds are going 25 miles per hour. People are going 30, 35, 40, some higher."

A AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report that if a car hits a pedestrian going 20 mph, about 13 percent will die or suffer a severe injury. That rises to 40 percent at 30 mph, and about 75 percent at 40 mph.

"People are in a hurry and don't understand serious tragic consequences do result," Brier said. "All it takes is one pedestrian not paying attention. One car to stop, people going too fast will never be able to stop in time."

He looks into the causes of crashes to make the roads safer for everyone.

"It can be pretty rough, especially because it tends to be people who otherwise are just driving or talking, in the blink of an eye life goes from normal to an immense amount of suffering," Brier said, adding that when looking at crashes, it's hard to not dwell on the "What-ifs?"

"It's amazing to me how many people at minimum don't even pay attention to signals or signs," he said. "It's not especially complicated to stop when it's red, go when it's green."

Brier said it's not just on distracted drivers.

"If you stay here long enough, you'll see people crossing the street staring at their phones," he said.

One suggestion he'd have for city officials at intersections like this is delayed signaling like that found on Capitol Square, which allows pedestrians to cross before any cars get a green.

"They're fully visible before cars can go anywhere," Brier said.

Director of Transportation for the city, Tom Lynch, said officials are in the early stages of developing a data-driven strategy.

A draft map shows the top 15 high-severity bike and pedestrian intersections, including Stoughton Road and East Washing Avenue topping the list, followed by Blossom Lane and East Buckeye Road and then Commercial Avenue and N Sherman Avenue.

The list is determined by going beyond crash frequency and weighing in factors like crash severity, to then work on possible changes, such as lowering speed limits.

Lynch said the city is also looking into becoming a Vision Zero city, which means committing toward eliminating traffic fatalities.

Changes inside the car can improve safety, as well.

Smart Motors sales manager Justin Jackson said pedestrian and bicycle detection found in new vehicles like Corollas can save lives by alerting drivers to brake, and braking if they don't, giving them precious time.

"That few seconds you have could save somebody's life or even just save your car from being damaged," Jackson said.

The responsibility is still in the hands of the person holding the wheel.

"This does not replace the driver," Jackson said.

"I would encourage people not to depend on it," Brier said, encouraging drivers to use another strategy that just takes a second to remember:

"A little bit more intensiveness, a little bit lower speed and more awareness of surroundings, that's all it's gonna take," he said.

That's especially important when hitting someone sticks with you forever.

"Please be aware of pedestrians and bikers, and you're paying for it if you hit one of us," Julson said.

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