See.Safe.Smart: We cross here; watch for us
Throughout New Ulm, The Heart of New Ulm Project and the Safe Routes to School Action Team are working hard to promote walking and biking as a form of transportation and recreation. There are so many benefits associated with walking and bicycling that it seems like a no-brainer. However, if people don’t feel safe doing either, they most likely won’t do it.
Whether walking or driving, we all need to be good role models to ensure safety for everyone — and especially our children who are walking to school. In surveys conducted by the Safe Routes to School Action Team, New Ulm parents have repeatedly said that they don’t let their children walk or bike to school because of the amount of traffic, the speed of traffic and safety at intersections. That’s why this month’s message in our SEE.SAFE.SMART. safety campaign is so important: “We cross here; watch for us.”
The crux of the message is this: EVERY corner is considered a crosswalk, whether it is marked or not. If a pedestrian has one foot in the crosswalk, it demonstrates their intent to cross the street. Everyone needs to pay attention to their surroundings and stop for those waiting at intersections so they may cross. It is also important to scan the street for people walking, especially before turning.
“For us, a safe crosswalk is essential for our families to use our services and to allow our children to play at local parks and go for walks,” said Evan Curtin, Director of the Southern Minnesota Crisis Nursery. “Oftentimes with the children we serve, we don’t have a good idea of what safety skills they have when we meet them, so it’s really important to us to have our local streets be as safe as they can possibly be.”
For children of school age, walking to school provides several benefits. It helps them focus better once they arrive in the classroom and perform better in school. In fact, research shows that children who are more physically active score higher on tests and receive better grades. Walking also helps children develop a healthy active lifestyle that can last a lifetime.
For adults, walking is good for both physical and mental health. New Ulm Medical Center physician Dr. Daryn Collins said, “We should all strive to be physically active for at least 60 minutes each day. In addition to helping decrease our risk of costly conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, staying active can improve our sense of wellbeing. Walking to school or to the park are wonderful ways to help meet our physical activity goals. Better yet, do it with some friends or with your family!”
In addition to being good role models, it’s also critical to teach our children about safety when walking or bicycling. The Statewide Health Improvement Partnership has invested funds to train New Ulm teachers on the “Walk! Bike! Fun!” pedestrian and bicycle safety curriculum from the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, which teaches children the skills necessary to be good pedestrians and bicyclists.
As we think about safety, it can help to remind ourselves that we are all pedestrians at one time or another. We can’t drive directly into our workplace or church. Many of us have to park along the street and then cross a busy street to get to work. Some children don’t have a choice on whether they walk to school or not.
What we all can do is be better stewards of our streets both as drivers and walkers. We need to stay off our cell phones, take off our headphones and pay attention to our surroundings while traveling in New Ulm and elsewhere. Let’s all SEE people biking or walking, act SAFE, and be SMART.
Specific Concerns for New Ulm
1. Speed: The speed limit on most New Ulm city streets is 30 mph, but as we all know, we don’t always drive the speed limit. The New Ulm Police Department recently used their traffic calming device on 5th North Street and found that 21 percent of people traveling on that street were driving above the speed limit. Drivers who are speeding make it dangerous for people walking or bicycling because it is more difficult for their vehicle to stop. Pedestrians and motorists both share the responsibility to determine if oncoming traffic has enough distance to safely stop to allow the pedestrians to cross.
On average, a car traveling 30 mph will take 89 feet to stop in dry conditions. That is equal to about six car lengths. Under the same conditions, a car traveling at 40 mph requires 139 feet to stop, or about nine car lengths. Since a city block is approximately 430 feet in length, a car traveling between 30 and 40 mph and located at mid-block or slightly beyond can easily stop for a pedestrian waiting to cross the street.
2. Problematic intersections: The Safe Routes to School Action team has identified several intersections that are barriers for children walking to and from school. These intersections include:
• N. Highland Ave. and Oak Street
• N. Highland Ave. and Center Street
• Center and Garden Street
• Oak and Garden Street
• South Broadway and 4th South Street
• South Broadway and 14th South Street
• 1st North and Garden Street
• 1st North and Payne Street
• South Payne and 8th South Street
• 5th North and Washington Street
In addition, people trying to cross the street to get to work have identified the intersection of Center and State Streets as problematic. Since Center Street is a two-lane street, it is important to remember not to pass a vehicle that has stopped to let a pedestrian cross the street.