Advocating for Walkable Communities: A Way to Make Wisconsin Safer for Everyone

Fatal collisions between cars and pedestrians are on the rise according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). By this time in 2018, 20 people died when hit by a motor vehicle. There have been 30 fatalities in 2019 thus far, an increase of 50 percent. In some cases, advocating for walkable communities could decrease fatalaties.

Did you know? According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the relationship between vehicle travel speeds and pedestrian injuries are correlated. A study showed that five percent of pedestrians would die when struck by a vehicle traveling at 20 miles per hour or less. That rate increases to 40, 80 and 100 percent as car speeds increase to 30 miles per hour, 40 miles per hour, and 50 miles per hour respectively.

What is a Walkable Community?

Walkable communities promote safe passage for those who cannot drive or choose not to drive. Many factors can be considered when defining a walkable community including the presence of sidewalks, posted speed limits and other signage. Here is a list of large cities in Wisconsin with walk, transit and bike scores indicated:. The average walk score of the Wisconsin cities is 35 out of 100.

Did you Know?  In 2016, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation reported 1,252 crashes involving pedestrians in Wisconsin. In these crashes, 49 pedestrians were killed and 1,181 pedestrians were injured. Pedestrian crashes most often occur on weekdays between 3 and 6 p.m. About half of pedestrian-involved crashes occur in the roadway and about 40% occur in the crosswalk.

How the Council Advocates for Walkable Communities:

A yellow pedestrian sign and accessible pedestrian signal button.
The Council encourages individuals to advocate for accessible pedestrian signals.

As the primary statewide organization serving people who are blind or visually impaired on an advocacy level, the Council educates legislators, state and community officials and Wisconsin residents on the importance of creating and sustaining walkable communities. In September, for example, Denise Jess, Council CEO/Executive Director, met with state-level road design engineers. Denise chose four items to discuss during that meeting: Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS), curb cuts, colored pavement and bump-outs to indicate street crossings. They benefit the largest number of pedestrians and help drivers make good decisions.

The Council also educates Wisconsin residents about how they can become involved in statewide and local projects enhancing walkability such as advocating for Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS).

This month, the Council is hosting two press events about the White Cane Law and pedestrian safety, open to media and the general public. The first is in Madison at the Council office (754 Williamson Street), on Wednesday, October 9 at 9 a.m. Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is scheduled to attend. The second is on Friday, October 11 at 1 p.m. It will be held in La Crosse, exact location to be announced. If you live in either of these communities, or want to travel to attend either press event, you are welcome to join.

From now until October 15, the Council is running bus ads in La Crosse and Eau Claire. Visit the Council’s post on Facebook to see the text and photos of the ads.

Calls to Action:

When preparing to advocate for change in your community, it is a good idea to consider your responsibility as a pedestrian.

  • It is helpful to get effective orientation and mobility training. Proper use of a white cane and/or guide dog will ensure you as a pedestrian are doing all you can to travel safely. Walking through an area you are concerned about with a Certified Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist can provide expert weight behind any requests you bring to your community officials. (Read more about white canes, training from a Certified O&M Specialist, and how the Council can assist you in finding a certified O&M Specialist in the Council’s News You Can Use E-newsletter, publishing on Monday, October 21).
  • To advocate for an APS, first contact your alder/city council member. In smaller towns that don’t have divided representation, you could reach out to a town board member or the chair. These elected representatives can help you navigate the municipal system. Alternatively, you can reach out to the department of public works or the streets division in larger communities. If the community is fairly large, there will be a streets and/or traffic engineering department.
  • When considering a move, consider the location’s walk score – or proximity to amenities like grocery stores, restaurants, parks and more. Check an address’s walk score by typing it in at Note that the Walk Score does not include pedestrian hazards like roundabouts, unsignalized intersections, nor does it ensure accessibility of amenities.

Learn more about the White Cane Law.

By making legislators, roadway engineers, local police officers and community members aware of pedestrian safety, we can all work together to decrease pedestrian deaths and make Wisconsin a safer place for all people, whether they drive, walk, bike or ride public transportation.

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