Walk Ways

city, citizens try to improve pedestrian culture in EC

Claire Jeffries |

At my old college, there was a myth that if you were hit by a car while walking in a campus crosswalk, the college would pay for all four years of your tuition. At $30,000 dollars a year, we gullible freshmen were flinging ourselves into the road. However, the campus was very safe for pedestrians, as drivers had to be constantly aware of crossing students. In Eau Claire, citizens and the city are paying closer attention to the issue of pedestrian safety.

William Barry, a member of Eau Claire’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, says that the City Council created the commission for the express purpose of working on pedestrian safety. “Pedestrian safety is always an issue,” says Barry. “Whenever you have people in cars and people on bikes or walking, there will always be a conflict.” 

The commission is currently mapping areas of high pedestrian traffic, as well as creating a Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan. The plan covers a range of safe routes around the city, which are marked by pedestrian yield signs, crosswalks, or for school routes, crossing guards at high-traffic streets, said says Owen Wahlstrand, another BPAC member. The commission is working on extending bike trails around the city, extending sidewalks in areas that are lacking, and solving sidewalk maintenance issues.

It has placed two caution signs at Water Street and Fourth Avenue as a trial to determine if drivers will yield to pedestrians. So far, drivers have been responding to the signs, Wahlstrand said. The commission also received grant funds to make curb ramps around the city, which could begin this summer.

“Whenever there is a collision with a pedestrian and a vehicle, the pedestrian always loses,” says Barry. Wahlstrand says that the commission will be recommending the Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan to the City Council, and depending on the Council’s budget, the plan will be implemented in the near future.

Lisa Aspenson, owner of Mona Lisa’s Restaurant, hopes the plan will come sooner rather than later. “The problem is that cars don’t stop for pedestrians, and when they do, the pedestrians don’t cross,” Aspenson says. She wishes there would be more enforcement of cars yielding at crosswalks, perhaps even traffic violation tickets. But the most useful solution: education on pedestrian safety. Aspenson says we need to teach people how to cross the street and to educate motorists on how to respond. Pedestrians need to know where to cross, and drivers need to slow down for them.

Siri Helleloid, a senior at the UW-Madison and a native of Eau Claire, says that the driving culture is different in Madison. Because the campus is in the downtown area, cars are forced to be aware of walking students. “There is more walking in Madison; therefore, it is designed to be safer to walk,” says Helleloid. “People don’t walk in Eau Claire.” Also, Helleloid says, Eau Claire is more spread out, so it’s harder to walk to places. “It’s really too bad that you need a car in Eau Claire,” Helleloid says.

Jordan Fox, the man who put “Walker” in Texas Ranger, agrees that safety has become a big issue. “Eau Claire is growing, and so there are more people on the street,” says Fox. As a pedestrian, Fox has met both considerate and aggressive drivers. “I’ve had people beep at me,” says Fox. “But, I’ve also had people stop and wave me across the street.”

Now that gas stations are demanding your firstborn child for a tank of gas, more and more people are biking and walking. Perhaps now that more people are on the sidewalks, pedestrian safety will become more of an issue. As Aspenson put it, pedestrian safety will be important “when citizens of the community want it to be important.”