By Dylan Deprey
It was mid-afternoon, and a steady flood of traffic filled the intersection of 35th and Mitchell on Milwaukee’s south side. Buses lined up alongside Greenfield Bilingual School, which had just let out.
Students crossing the intersection were welcomed by a crowd of sign wielding individuals that read, “YIELD to pedestrians,” and “Let me cross.” As traffic steadily picked up, pedestrians and students were ushered safely through the four-way intersection.
This was the same intersection where 62-year-old, Israel Soto-Colon, was tragically killed during a hit-and-run while crossing to pick his children up from school on April 18th, 2017.
In respects to Mr. Soto-Colon, MilWALKee Walks held a crosswalk safety event on April 26th, 2017 to spread awareness and remind drivers to yield to fellow citizens walking through crosswalks.
MilWALKee Walks is a coalition working to increase pedestrian safety and decrease traffic accidents. The coalition consists of: 16th St. Community Health Centers, Hupy and Abraham Law Firm, Wisconsin Bike Fed: Share & Be Aware, Professor Bob Schneider PhD, Milwaukee County Transit Authority, Professor Ann Basting PhD, Milwaukee Safe Routes to School and many citizens.
“We’re sick and tired of people having such a hard time crossing the street and having drivers cut you off and feel like you’re going to die very frequently when you’re crossing the street in Milwaukee,” said Jessica Wineberg, MilWALKee Walks coordinator.
Within the last six years, Milwaukee residents have been killed and thousands injured. Last year at this time, there were four pedestrian related deaths. As of April 27, 2017, there have been seven deaths.
“People in crosswalks both marked and unmarked, have the right of way. So, today we’re at a signalized intersection, and sadly quite a few fatalities and crashes still happen at intersections with lights,” Wineberg said.
Gabriela Murguia, a student at Escuela Verde, marched through the intersection brandishing her sign to remind drivers to follow the speed limit and yield to pedestrians.
“People need to yield to pedestrians,” Murguia said. “Whether its people being careless, or rushing to wherever they need to be at, it’s dangerous.”
In 2016, the Governor’s Highway Safety Council estimated the United States endured its largest annual increase in pedestrian fatalities since such record keeping began 40 years ago. Wisconsin’s 4.8 percent increase was half the national increase.
“This horrendous traffic crime is just the latest incident in what is now an epidemic of out-of-control and reckless driving across Milwaukee,” Ald. Bob Donovan stated in a letter released April 19, in response to Mr. Soto- Colon’s tragic death.
MilWALKee Walks has met with Milwaukee Police Chief Flynn to discuss traffic enforcement and decreasing collisions. MilWALKee Walks is also partnering with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to increase justifiable crosswalk enforcement law.
Attorney Michael A. Hupy, Hupy and Abraham Law Firm, has fought many personal injury battles and was also in attendance. He said that the key to forcing drivers to slow down and yield to pedestrians was to give citations to drivers unwilling to yield at crosswalks. He added that over the past several years he has reached out to the past 19 Milwaukee mayors and police chiefs to start issuing citations.
In a recent letter to Ald. Bob Donovan, Hupy laid out that most drivers do stop for pedestrians, but even he has have experienced plenty of close calls.
“Every 6.9 hours a pedestrian is hit by a car in Wisconsin,” Hupy said. “Many are killed and this is unacceptable.”
Wineberg noted that our driving culture has become one of distractions and hurriedness. She gave a simple solution to drivers.
“A key thing is to leave enough time to get where you’re going. If every time you get in a car, and you’re in a rush, you’re going a little too fast, you’re pushing the red lights, eventually something bad is going to happen,” Wineberg said.