Winona State community addresses pedestrian safety

Allison Mueller

Sophomores Emily Schumacher and Amanda Wolf cross Huff Street on their way to Winona State’s main campus. (Photo by Taylor Nyman)
Sophomores Emily Schumacher and Amanda Wolf cross Huff Street on their way to Winona State’s main campus. (Photo by Taylor Nyman)

Jordan Gerard/Winonan

In light of recent accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles in Winona, the Winona State University community has tried to combat the issue through new initiatives and continuing precautions.

The university held its second pedestrian safety event on Sept. 16 at various locations in Winona, safety director Erin Paulson said. Paulson is also involved in the Winona Chamber of Commerce transportation committee representing Winona State.

“One of the many goals of that committee involves pedestrian safety,” Paulson said. “They were concerned about getting their goods moved through town on our truck routes and roads in an efficient manner, but then also part of that is finding a way to deal with pedestrian issues as well because that impacts businesses moving their goods.”

The conversations surrounding pedestrian safety have been discussed throughout Winona for years but have been made more significant since Winona State sophomore Britney Nelson was struck by a car on Oct. 19 at approximately  9 p.m.

Nelson was on her way to meet with her friends Sydney Lund and Kailee Fischer that night.

“We got worried after she was taking so long. I called her roommate to see if she was at the house, and she told me no,” Lund said. “Then her roommate Alannah [Evelius] called me back and said someone was hit by a car on Broadway, and my roommate and I ran to the scene.”

As of Monday, Nov. 2, Nelson has been moved to Hennepin County Medical Center Knapp Rehabilitation Center and has begun physical therapy sessions, a CaringBridge journal entry online states.

Paulson said the committee discussed the pedestrian safety issue a few years ago, and what they could do from a pedestrian safety standpoint. Paulson found a Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) pedestrian safety campaign that was already developed to implement at Winona State.

“They were willing to just come down, help us get it set up, give us the materials,” Paulson said. “They were good materials that focused on drivers and pedestrians, so we weren’t reinventing the wheel.”

Members from the Winona Area Safety Council, Paulson and students from various groups on Winona State’s campus volunteered at the event. They chose intersections that were busy from both a pedestrian and driver perspective. At the intersections, they carried banners and escorted pedestrians across the road.

They also asked the pedestrians if crossing roads was concerning to them, if they had any close calls and what they could do to make crossing safer. They also handed out cards with suggestions on it for crossing more safely.

“It just got the conversation going,” Paulson said. “After it was done, we kind of just weighed feedback. What did people in the community think? What did people on campus think? Was it positive? And decided it was worth doing again, so we repeated it again.”

This year the group added the intersection near Winona Senior High School because it was a different area of town with a different neighborhood.

Paulson said she was not sure if the event would continue next year, but the feedback was positive.

“Hopefully it will be a thing that gets continued,” Paulson said. “There was no true educational piece like, ‘Here’s the exact wording of the law.’ That wasn’t the point. It was just discussion of what works and what doesn’t.”

Paulson’s advice for pedestrians to walk safer is to stop at every crosswalk and make eye contact with the drivers from both directions.

“Look both ways more than once because as everybody knows visibility is tough when cars park quite close to the intersection, so you have to be careful. You have to peer out ahead of the cars. You can’t just keep your pace and head across,” she said.

Motorists should be aware and have it in the back of their mind when they come to intersections there could be pedestrians approaching, Paulson said.

“Slow down, be aware, keep your eyes off the phone, off the radio,” Paulson said. “Eye contact with the pedestrians is helpful for drivers as well.”

Lund said she believes something should be done to improve pedestrian safety and avoid accidents like Nelson’s.

“I think improving the lighting and making flashing pedestrian signs would help a lot,” Lund said. “Around campus, the lighting is better than on Broadway. The lighting could always be improved to help with safety.”

Lund said she walks to campus for classes, and has not had any close calls. But she has seen people walk directly in front of cars near campus.

Sophomore elementary education student Keeana Pierre said she also knows Nelson well and that many intersections are very hard to see at night for both drivers and pedestrians.

“The residential areas need the most help since many students walk to and from campus,” Pierre said. “I do not walk to campus daily, but I have seen many close calls when either drivers are not watching or pedestrians just believe the drivers will stop for them.”

Pierre added the incidents bring awareness to the area and “that alone I think will help drivers be more cautious on the roads.”

Pierre and Lund said they both signed the petition for brighter lights in Winona, which was started by Winona State student Kyle Strand.

The Winonan will continue to follow this developing story.