Pedestrian deaths spike; local officials look to improve road safety

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The past two years have been bad for pedestrians according to the Governors Highway Safety Association which says 6,000 pedestrians were killed in the U.S.

In Wisconsin alone, a record 63 pedestrians were killed last year.

Local government officials are looking at ways to make city streets more bike and pedestrian friendly as well as to educate pedestrians on how they can keep themselves safer, especially as it gets warmer.

Lake Hallie Police Chief Cal Smokowicz pedestrians need to remember to follow state law if they’re walking along the roadway.

Smokowicz explained, “All pedestrians have to walk on the left-hand side of the roadway and when approached by a vehicle they're supposed to move over as far as they can on the pavement to not obstruct traffic.”

Since the village doesn't have sidewalks, and has no plans to add them, the police department says drivers need to pay attention, as do pedestrians.

“When you're walking facing traffic you can obviously see cars coming towards you and that’s important especially in today's world with distracted drivers on their phones, text messaging, and all kinds of things they shouldn't be doing,” said Smokowicz.

In the City of Altoona a bicycle and pedestrian plans is underway to elevate the safety and convenience for people to get around on foot and by bike.

City planner Joshua Clements explained, “Our roadways have been historically constructed for moving vehicles and that has not resulted in the best situations for pedestrians in many cases.”

The city is looking at changes like connecting gaps in bike and pedestrian’s paths and improving intersections with the hopes of changing the behavior of both pedestrians and drivers.

“If there's a well design crossing with extra signage it will hopefully induce behavior in terms of hopefully people will use that crossing because it is clearly designed for that. It will also hopefully alert drivers to the fact pedestrians are using that space,” said Clements.

The city hopes to begin making changes this year to improve safety for everyone.

Clements added, “Safety is a top concern. Pedestrians are the most vulnerable users of our roadways so we have to be most particularly careful when it comes to our movements.”

The association also says pedestrians now account for around 16-percent of motor vehicle deaths in the U.S. compared to 11-percent a few years ago.

Alcohol and darkness are cited as longtime factors of crashes as well as more recent hazards like cell phone use.

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