University Police plans to enforce pedestrian laws

Nikki Brahm, Assistant News Editor

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The University Police Department will be working on an informative media campaign on jaywalking in the spring semester and plans to strongly enforce pedestrian and driver laws by issuing tickets.

UP Chief Kurt Leibold said the initiative was spurred by a study by a criminal justice research methods course on campus. Victoria Beck, a criminal justice professor, led the study.

The study found that in spring 2018, 87 percent of students jaywalk at the crosswalk in front of Reeve Memorial Union and at the crosswalk in front of Sage Hall.

This is a large increase compared to fall 2017, where 31 percent jaywalked at the Reeve crosswalk and 20 percent jaywalked at the Sage crosswalk. However, Beck said she believes that semester’s data is incorrect due to student error and that the number was actually much higher.

In fall 2016 and spring 2017, the study found that jaywalkers were among 90 percent of students crossing or higher.

Student groups collected the data each semester for one hour between 7:45 and 8:45 a.m. on Tuesdays or Thursdays.

Beck said she has perceived jaywalking as a problem when she’s driving on streets surrounding the campus.

“For me, this behavior is particularly worrisome when it is dark and the jaywalkers are wearing dark clothing making it difficult to see them in the road,” Beck said. “With the exception of the one semester, the data collected by students in my research methods course do indicate that jaywalking is prevalent at the controlled crosswalks in front of Reeve and Sage.”

The tickets UP plans to start issuing range from $150.10 to $326.50. The pedestrian laws come from several Wisconsin state statutes: 346.38 (2), which states pedestrians cannot cross a crosswalk unless they have a crosswalk signal; 346.24 (2), which states pedestrians cannot cross an uncontrolled roadway when a vehicle is so close it would be difficult to yield; 346.24 (3), which states drivers cannot cross through an intersection when a vehicle is already stopped to allow pedestrians to pass; and 346.25, which states pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to cars when crossing an uncontrolled roadway.

Leibold said he’s seen many violations himself, especially across from Dempsey Hall.
“[That is] where there’s a stop-and-go light, and even when it’s green for vehicles to go, students still go in the crosswalk,” Leibold said. “And I think they think they have the right of way. They don’t. If it’s a green light, the vehicle has the right of way.”

Leibold also said he sees issues midblock, where there is no crosswalk, on which students cross the street.

“It’s legal to cross the street midblock as long as you don’t impede traffic because the cars and vehicles still have the right of way there,” Leibold said.

Leibold said the other issue on campus he has seen is at the crosswalk across from Reeve.
“Even though that has a pedestrian light that flashes, that’s still an uncontrolled pedestrian walkway,” Leibold said. “So pedestrians are still supposed to wait until traffic clears and then cross the street.”

Leibold said they have had previous initiatives in past years to get people to follow pedestrian laws, such as handing out UP tokens to students so they could redeem prizes. This year, he said UP will be aggressive and they will be enforcing the laws not only on students, but on faculty, staff and other community members.

“We want to probably do a big media campaign; we’ll do social media also to let them know, because I want to give them a fair warning,” Leibold said. “I want them to change their behavior rather than make us make them change their behavior.”

Leibold said they will start issuing warnings and then citations following the media campaign.
“The citation fines are pretty expensive, they’re big,” Leibold said. “Most likely we’ll keep track of who already has warnings, and if we have to warn them again, the second time will be a citation.”

UWO junior Elizabeth Sanderfoot said she feels it’s the driver’s responsibility to watch for people.

“I think jaywalking, it’s not the safest, but at the same time a lot of our streets are one way, so you only have to look for traffic one way,” Sanderfoot said. “And if there’s clearly no cars in the area, I don’t really see if it makes a difference if you’re walking diagonally or if you’re crossing a street.”

Leibold said overall, the goal is safety, and he’s hoping UP doesn’t have to issue any citations.
“I want students to set the example,” Leibold said. “Push the button, encourage other students to push the button. Use those crosswalks. It’s for their safety.”