Neighborhood meeting addresses pedestrian safety on Monroe Street

After two pedestrians were struck by cars on Monroe Street last week, a Neighborhood Listening Session was arranged Thursday night for the community to voice concerns about pedestrian safety. During the meeting, the community learned from South District Police Captain Joe Balles that a third pedestrian had been hit on Monroe shortly after 6 p.m.

The third incident occurred on the corner of Monroe and Knickerbocker Street where a woman holding a pedestrian crossing flag was struck in a crosswalk, Balles said. The previous two incidents occurred last week on the corner of Monroe and Prospect Avenue, with one woman suffering severe injuries and the other unidentified person suffering only minor injuries.

The news of the third pedestrian accident seemed to underscore the neighborhood residents’ concerns about pedestrian safety on Monroe. Over the course of the meeting, residents cited experiences when they had felt concerned for their safety while crossing the street.

Residents like Sally Lehner described recent personal experiences crossing Monroe at Harrison Street to go shopping at Trader Joe’s with her son.

“What routinely happens, and what is really scary is that a car will stop,” Lehner said.  “Someone will be really nice and wave ‘go ahead.’  And then another commuter will come up behind, have no idea that car is stopping because they're letting me go, and nearly hit us.”

Another source of concern for neighborhood residents is the high numbers of middle and high school students crossing Monroe Street. School bus routes travel down the street picking students up and dropping them off during peak rush hour times when crossing can be both difficult and dangerous for pedestrians.

To address these issues, residents suggested several solutions over the course of the evening, all with the underlying theme of improving pedestrian visibility to drivers. Suggestions included speed bumps and stoplights, ideas that may not be feasible for the street’s high traffic.

Of the suggestions, some ideas were fairly simple to implement, like painting crosswalks in bright fire engine red or adding streetlights to intersections like Monroe Street and Prospect Avenue to increase pedestrian visibility. Other ideas were more involved, including a proposal to add pedestrian hybrid beacons, also known as High-intensity Activated Crosswalk (HAWK) beacons to problematic intersections.

The HAWK beacon is a traffic signal used to help pedestrians cross traffic. The signal is comprised of three lights—two lenses on top and one underneath.

In its resting position, the signal’s lights are off to allow drivers to pass by without stopping. But when a pedestrian wishes to cross, they can stop traffic by pushing a button to activate the signal’s red light.

At this point, the lower lens turns yellow and the upper two lenses flash red before turning solid red. Once the lights have turned red and the vehicle has stopped, the pedestrian receives a walk signal and can safely cross the street.

Madison currently has one HAWK beacon located at the intersection of Blair and Mifflin Street. Residents present at the meeting who live in the area considered the beacon to be highly effective. City of Madison Traffic Engineer Arthur Ross said the beacons are about 98 percent effective.

Whether educating citizens about HAWK beacons or changing the way drivers think about pedestrians in the crosswalk, Ross and neighborhood residents agreed that changing drivers’ attitudes is one of the biggest challenges to improving pedestrian safety in Madison.

“Education needs to be constant,” Ross said.  “How often is traffic safety in your face? Very, very rarely.”

Despite this rarity, Ross said when efforts to educate drivers on traffic safety are increased they tend to make a difference.

During the meeting, Capt. Balles detailed former efforts the Madison Police Department had made to make Monroe Street pedestrian crossings safer.   

In the past, Madison’s Traffic Enforcement and Safety Team conducted programs like the Walk Like a Duck Pedestrian Enforcement program.

This program was designed to improve pedestrian safety and increase citizen awareness of unacceptable driving behaviors by installing ‘yield to pedestrians’ signs and educating motorists on pedestrian laws. Drivers who did not slow down for pedestrians in a crosswalk also received citations.

While the Walk Like a Duck program is no longer active, Capt. Balles said the police department will increase police presence in the area and begin to once again implement the program as soon as possible.

Any major physical changes for pedestrian safety, including HAWK beacons, flashers or center islands, will not be completed until scheduled reconstruction of Monroe Street begins in 2014, Ross said.

Until then, Disrict 13 Alder Sue Ellingson encouraged neighborhood residents to start discussing options with their own neighborhood associations on how to improve pedestrian safety.






Monroe Pedestrian Safety Ridge

I was at the meeting and couldn't hear all of it because of my hearing and where I was sitting.  Thanks so much.  Excellent summary and great writing. 

I would add that un-documented, but anecdotal evidence seems to indicate  that the Fish Hatchery and University Ave. construction projects are adding commuter traffic to Monroe St. right now and will for the next few months.  Seems like the time is ripe to do a Public Service campaign to ask people to be patient, be aware of those around them- peds, cyclists, and other vehicles, and to use the few extra minutes the commute may take, to think about solutions to these traffic and saftey problems.  Maybe there are some creative solutions hatching inside those cars. Maybe behaviors would be more likely to change if people thought it was a short-term issue....then we could figure out a way to make the more civil behaviors and attitudes long-term.  Kind of the "let's all pull together to get through this difficult time knowing better times are coming" attitude.  I'm sure there are other streets in the area that are suffering the same "trickle-down" effects of the road work.  Seeing the temporary electronic speed monitors in place is great.

I'm wondering if slightly elevated pedestrian crossings (like much wider speed bumps) whose sloping sides would be painted with reflective paint that would be very attention-getting would work.  Very directional lights to illuminate this "pedestrian saftey ridge" would help.  The degree of the slopes could be such that it wouldn't impede emergency traffic greatly, but would definitely make drivers take notice with the obvious change in terrain, lighting, and reflective paint that's visible because of the slope of the "ridge".  It would also raise the pedestrians to a higher profile and make them more visible.  The bridges could extend directly to the level of the curb and could be a continuous sidewalk, with culverts through or storm drains on either side. 

I also think that changing the Prospect/Monroe/Van Buren crossing to mid-block, which could also service the Monroe/Edgewood crossers, would be something to consider since those bus-stop /cross walk / non-direct street intersections are so congested and there are so many variables to keep track of. 

I'm a parent of a teen who crosses Monroe multiple times/day going to and from West and who will soon be driving on Monroe. Scary on all fronts.

Well-written article!

Thank you Anna for taking time to attend the meeting and gather information about this issue. Your article is really well-written and will serve to document how the community is addressing the issue of careless and/or ignorant drivers.