MARSHALL - It was a question that got right down to business. Looking out at an audience of about 30 people gathered at the Marshall Area YMCA, Doug Goodmund asked, "How many of you have had a close call crossing the street?"
Hands shot up all around the room.
The audience members were at a pedestrian safety rally Tuesday night at the YMCA. Besides sharing their concerns about trouble spots on Marshall streets, community members were there to share their ideas on how to make things safer for people on foot.
"We are asking our pedestrians to help us out," said Goodmund, who was representing Marshall Community Services at the event.
While there might not be a lot of immediate solutions brought about from the rally, Goodmund said it was a good chance to figure out where to start improving safety.
The rally was organized with the help of Carole Martin, Catherine Amato and Jean Replinger and Marshall Community Services. The three women started a petition and campaign to increase awareness about pedestrian safety in Marshall, and their efforts got the attention of the city, local law enforcement and plenty of local residents.
Speakers and audience members said there are two main problems with pedestrian safety in Marshall. One is a lack of knowledge about traffic laws, for both drivers and pedestrians. The other is a lack of enforcement.
Officer Eric Klenken of the Marshall Police reviewed state laws concerning pedestrian crossings. According to the law, he said, the driver of a vehicle must stop for a pedestrian crossing the road at a marked crosswalk, or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk when there are no traffic-control signals in operation. The driver must stay stopped until the pedestrian has cleared their lane. In turn, pedestrians must obey traffic signals, and they cannot suddenly run or walk into the path of a vehicle that is too close to stop.
Other drivers cannot go around a vehicle that has stopped for a pedestrian.
"You see that all the time on A Street," Klenken said. "That's not only against the law, it's very unsafe."
"I don't think people even know these laws exist," said audience member Jon Chalmers. "Even just some enforcement would help."
Audience members asked Klenken if anyone in Marshall had ever been given a misdemeanor, the official penalty for disobeying crossing laws. He said he didn't know of anyone.
Local residents provided a long list of areas they thought were especially dangerous. They ran the gamut from high-traffic intersections on East Main Street, Bruce Street, East College Drive and South 4th Street, to crosswalks on Saratoga Street near Schwan's and the Marshall Middle School. A resident of Marshall's "tree streets" neighborhood commented on the lack of yield and stop signs in that part of town.
Other obstacles pedestrians said they encountered included "walk" signals that changed too quickly, a lack of sidewalks and crosswalks in different parts of town, and unshoveled sidewalks and crossings in winter.
Audience members also talked about what might help encourage drivers to obey crossing laws or pay attention to crosswalks. Audience members said they liked the kind of pedestrian-crossing signs that are placed in the middle of the street, although they realized that might not be feasible for every crosswalk. Goodmund said the city has received suggestions to lower the speed limit in all of Marshall. Audience member Toby Davis suggested using flexible traffic poles to mark lanes or crosswalks.
"There wouldn't be any damage if they got hit," Davis said.
Shane Waterman of the Marshall city engineering office said one option that might reduce unsafe driving on East Main Street would be the addition of a central left turn lane, like the one on East College Drive. Waterman said the city and the Minnesota Department of Transportation would need to work together to address safety concerns on state highways in town.
Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig said he was also interested in hearing ideas on how to better get the word out about pedestrian safety. Public safety announcements or media campaigns could be possibilities, he said.
Carole Martin said organizers were happy with the number of people who attended the rally.
"I think it shows how important (pedestrian safety) is," Martin said.
Goodmund said there's still an opportunity for local residents to get involved in the safety campaign, or to share their knowledge and ideas. He suggested people call Community Services at 537-6767.
For more information on traffic safety laws in Minnesota, Klenken suggested visiting the state Office of Traffic Safety's website, at dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/Pages/default.aspx.