Some places dangerous and illegal driving practices come and go, while some places dangerous and illegal driving practices become icons. Mandatory Milwaukee is all about the latter. Join us as we revisit beloved and well-worn local staples dangerous and illegal driving practices with fresh eyes, and explore how they might figure in the city’s future.

First of all, apologies for couching this public service announcement in a Mandatory Milwaukee piece. This series is typically about restaurants and bars, not horrible Milwaukee drivers.

Second of all, listen up, horrible Milwaukee drivers!

• You MUST slow down and/or stop (a.k.a. yield the right-of-way) to pedestrians crossing marked OR UNMARKED crosswalks. It’s the law.

• Let’s clarify: If a pedestrian is crossing the street at a painted crosswalk with a big “PEDESTRIAN CROSSING” sign, you MUST slow down and/or stop. It’s the law.

• Let’s clarify further: If a pedestrian is crossing the street at just any old unmarked intersection (with or without a stop sign), you MUST slow down and/or stop. It’s the law.

• If you’re turning onto another street, you MUST slow down and/or stop for pedestrians crossing the street you’re turning onto. It’s the law.

• If you’re at an intersection with traffic lights and pedestrian signals, drivers and pedestrians alike MUST follow those traffic lights and pedestrian signals. It’s the law.

Seems easy, right? Common sense. The thing to do. Not in Milwaukee, apparently.

In 2019, the City of Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee released a study on driver yielding rates at uncontrolled intersection crosswalks (i.e. crosswalks with no traffic signals or stop signs). The study observed 1,207 pedestrian crossings at 40 locations throughout the city. Drivers had an opportunity to yield 825 times. However, drivers only yielded 173 times, making for a pathetic/dangerous 21-percent driver yielding rate. (A previous, less-expansive UWM study found drivers only yielded 16 percent of the time.)

Not that Milwaukeeans need a study to remind them of the problem. “3 pedestrians injured, 1 in critical condition, after hit-and-run on Milwaukee’s east side,” reads a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headline from October. “Milwaukee man, 86, hit and killed by car while crossing street, police arrest driver” reads another October headline. Guess how many similar headlines come up when you broaden your search beyond just the past month? (“Within 16 days this fall,” the Journal Sentinel wrote in 2019, “four hit-and-run crashes in Milwaukee injured six children and killed two. All were crossing the street.”)

And that’s not all. OnMilwaukee wrote about pedestrian safety—or the lack thereof—in 2016, quoting personal injury lawyer Michael Hupy thusly: “There is not pedestrian safety in Wisconsin. There never was, and it’s gotten worse.” Milwaukee Magazine wrote about it in 2018, quoting UWM’s Robert James Schneider thusly: “The current social norm is for drivers not to yield. People are afraid to walk across the street.” Urban Milwaukee writes about it all the time, and always provides these grim numbers: “More than 130 pedestrians have been killed and 560 seriously injured in Milwaukee during the last decade.”

Then there’s the experience of, well, experiencing it for yourself. In the short time it took to snap a few pictures for this piece (around the North Avenue area on the East Side), I counted, oh, about a dozen times where I was standing expectantly in a clearly marked crosswalk, waiting forever as cars blasted past me. With a child in tow. It’s the kind of thing that happens all the time but doesn’t really sink in until you’re paying attention. It’s frightening how “normal” it seems.

So let’s go over those laws again, shall we?

• You MUST slow down and/or stop (a.k.a. yield the right-of-way) to pedestrians crossing marked OR UNMARKED crosswalks. It’s the law.

• Let’s clarify: If a pedestrian is crossing the street at a painted crosswalk with a big “PEDESTRIAN CROSSING” sign, you MUST slow down and/or stop. It’s the law.

• Let’s clarify further: If a pedestrian is crossing the street at just any old unmarked intersection (with or without a stop sign), you MUST slow down and/or stop. It’s the law.

• If you’re turning onto another street, you MUST slow down and/or stop for pedestrians crossing the street you’re turning onto. It’s the law.

• If you’re at an intersection with traffic lights and pedestrian signals, drivers and pedestrians alike MUST follow those traffic lights and pedestrian signals. It’s the law.

What, if anything, is Milwaukee doing to improve pedestrian safety? An Urban Milwaukee piece from this past summer details a host of “rapid implementation strategies to improve safety for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists on Milwaukee’s 1,424 miles of streets.” Narrowing driving lanes via repainted lines, and extending curbs via plastic posts (and sometimes concrete barriers) are two of the main strategies. Both are part of an extensive “Milwaukee Pedestrian Plan,” adopted by the city in 2019.

Of course, pedestrians should—and need to—remain vigilant. Here are some “pedestrian responsibilities,” courtesy of a Milwaukee Police Department pamphlet:

• To not suddenly enter the street if a vehicle is so close that it is difficult for the driver to yield to the pedestrian.

• Note that this rule has less to do with the speed at which a pedestrian enters the street and more to do with the distance between the pedestrian and the approaching vehicle.

• Is the vehicle far enough away from the crosswalk, given the speed limit and roadway conditions, for the driver to be able to yield the right of way to the pedestrian?

So be safe, Milwaukee. If you’re driving, please please please please follow the law, yield to pedestrians, and slow down in general (AND PUT AWAY YOUR GODDAMN PHONE). If you’re walking, stay alert, make your presence known, and give a little wave to drivers who stop for you (AND PUT AWAY YOUR GODDAMN PHONE, TOO). Let’s make these things “Mandatory Milwaukee” behavior. Please.

About The Author

Co-Founder and Editor

Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.

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