SEE.SAFE.SMART.: Save lives, not seconds: slow down New Ulm!


“×387.jpg” alt=”pedestrian survival” width=”800″ height=”387″ class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-635613″ />Have you ever driven your car faster than the posted speed limit on a street in New Ulm? If you’re like most people, your honest answer to that question is likely “yes.” That’s why New Ulm’s School Resource Officer Mike Brehmer has something for all of us to think about the next time we find ourselves speeding down the street because there isn’t anything to prevent us from going over the speed limit. His message is this: “Imagine the worst thing that could happen to you on your drive to work or an errand. Now imagine stopping for 10 seconds to let that child who is walking to school safely cross the street.”

It’s a powerful reminder that we all must slow down to save lives, not seconds — and it’s this month’s message for The Heart of New Ulm Project’s SEE.SAFE.SMART. campaign. This month’s column provides a brief look at some information about our New Ulm streets, some facts about how fast we’re actually driving, and some strategies that have been considered or are currently being considered to help promote safety for our children and everyone in our community.

Slower speeds: The difference between life and death

The speed limit on most New Ulm city streets near the schools is 30 mph. Even so, only 50 percent of children will survive a collision with a vehicle traveling the speed limit. At 40 mph, only one in 10 children will survive. Given these sobering statistics, it’s not surprising that in surveys conducted by New Ulm’s Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Action Team, parents have clearly expressed their concern about the speed of traffic in New Ulm — specifically near the schools.

Many people have wondered why New Ulm does not have any designated “school zones” with lowered speed limits. The SRTS Action Team looked into creating school zones, however, the team’s transportation consultant advised against the approach because of the width of New Ulm’s streets. Also, in order to justify creating school zones, the State of Minnesota requires an extensive traffic study of the areas, which can be costly and would need to be done in several locations.

Wide streets: Good for transit, bad for speed

New Ulm is fortunate to have nice wide streets. They make it easier to get around town and easier to clear the snow. Unfortunately, wide streets also promote increased speeds; the wider the street the faster the speed. It’s human nature. There is really nothing to slow us down other than a conscious effort to watch our speed or our friendly law enforcement officials, who can’t monitor traffic everywhere at once.

In late September, the SRTS Action Team conducted a curb extension demonstration project

at the intersection of 5th North and North Washington streets near the New Ulm Area Catholic Schools. The demonstration showed residents how narrowing the street resulted in slower traffic, making it safer for our children to walk or bike to school. While some people were inconvenienced by slowing their travel time, the slowdown was minimal. We must always ask ourselves, “Aren’t the lives of our children worth slowing down for?”

Traffic calming devices: The speed data doesn’t lie

Last May, The New Ulm Police Department placed a new traffic calming device on 5th North to collect data for the SRTS Action Team. The new device actually collects speed data, while the department’s older model only flashed the speed as vehicles drove past. The results of the data collected showed that of the nearly 3,600 vehicles that drive the street daily, less than half of drivers — 41 percent — were appropriately driving between 25 mph and the 30 mph speed limit. Twenty percent were driving between 30-35 mph and nearly 2 percent were going over 35 mph. The busiest times for vehicle traffic were during school arrival from 7-8 a.m. and dismissal from 3-4 p.m.

The department also placed the traffic calming device on N. Highland Ave. near Oak St. for one day in April between 10 a.m. and midnight. On that day, 23 percent of the 2,366 vehicles that drove past the device were going faster than the 30 mph limit. The busiest time for vehicle traffic was also between 3-4 p.m. While school was not in session that day, if a student would’ve been struck by a vehicle while trying to cross the street to get to the high school, they would’ve only had a one in two chance of surviving.

Save lives, improve lives

Today, only 12 percent of New Ulm children walk to school, compared to nearly 50 years ago when nationally 50 percent of children walked to school. That’s despite the fact that 37 percent of children in New Ulm live within a mile of their school, or a 20-minute walk.

If people drive slower near our schools, more parents may choose to let their kids walk or bike to school. This in turn can help cut down on the amount of traffic near the schools during the arrival and dismissal times, and make it even safer. In addition, all schools in New Ulm offer shuttle sites, where parents are encouraged to allow their children to walk to the school nearest their home and then catch the shuttle bus to their school.

By slowing down and making our streets safer for everyone who chooses to walk or bike, we can:

Help ensure our children get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day if they walk to and from school.

Help our children do better in the classroom, as studies have shown that children who walk or bike to school do perform better on tests and have less behavioral problems in the classroom.

Save lives. Even driving the speed limit could potentially impact the life of someone who may be walking or riding their bike to and from school.

Let’s all SEE people biking or walking, act SAFE, and be SMART.