A Protest for Pedestrians
They demand more tickets for drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians.
A coalition of groups staged a demonstration Wednesday raising awareness for pedestrian safety at the intersection of 35th and Mitchell, where 62-year-old Israel Soto-Colon was killed little more than a week ago.
Members of the MilWALKee Walks coalition and students from the nearby Escuela Verde escorted pedestrians back and forth across the intersection holding signs that read “Yield To Pedestrians.”
“I do think that walking issues are this hidden problem,” said Jessica Wineberg, program director with the Wisconsin Bike Fed, who helped organize the demonstration.
Already, seven pedestrians in Milwaukee have been killed this year by motorists. Those deaths account for 40 percent of the deadly pedestrian crashes in the entire state. Along with inattentiveness and speeding, Wineberg and her fellow demonstrators were concerned with drivers failing to yield to pedestrians.
Local attorney Michael Hupy was at the demonstration and said it was “symbolic,” adding “I think some people who drove by here learned something.”
Hupy said he became an advocate for pedestrian after years of his firm representing injured bikers. The poor driving that he saw leading to injured bikers was reminiscent of his own experience crossing the streets of downtown Milwaukee, he said.
While spreading awareness with demonstrations like the one Wednesday are important, both Hupy and Wineberg believe the most realistic solution for tackling the problem is through public policy. Specifically, a police initiative ticketing drivers that fail to yield to pedestrians.
As Wineberg noted, any time a sidewalk ends, a crosswalk begins whether it’s painted or not.
“Drivers seem to think they can get away with speeding, running red lights and not yielding to pedestrians,” she said. “Those things kill people, they aren’t victimless crimes.”
It’s difficult to incentivize safer driving, so when the carrot fails Wineberg and others think the stick has a role to play.
Still, the issue, like many in a complex city like Milwaukee, can become complicated quickly.
Wineberg met with Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn, and said, “One of my takeaways was that Chief Flynn was generally concerned about the policing of low income and minority communities.”
She said loading up poor communities with municipal fines can have a negative effect of leading to increased incarceration, as low-income individuals are more likely to miss a court date and end up with a warrant for something like a traffic ticket.
In Wisconsin, African-American residents are almost twice as likely to be in a pedestrian crash. “We hear over and over again from African American community members on the northwest side that they’re terrorized in their neighborhoods by speeding and reckless drivers,” Wineberg said.
If Wineberg had her way, she would prescribe the city a day without cars. “And have people see how beautiful and wonderful they’re neighborhoods are when you can freely go wherever you want without worrying about getting hit,” she said. “And there’s no pollution from cars or any noise.”
As one of the demonstrators attempted to cross the street, sign in hand, a car came close to hitting him. The young man and the driver started talking though the passenger window.
“See,” Wineberg said, “They’re talking it out, yes! Education, talking it out.”