Grand Rapids implements pedestrian safety campaign

GVL / Emily Frye 
Officer Andrew Hintz assists GVSU students, Robbie Triano and Becky Oppman, across the street on Wednesday September 13, 2017.

GVL / Emily Frye Officer Andrew Hintz assists GVSU students, Robbie Triano and Becky Oppman, across the street on Wednesday September 13, 2017.

Joshua Vissers

Officials from Grand Rapids introduced the city’s first-ever pedestrian safety campaign Monday, Sept. 11, at a press conference in Wilcox Park. The first stage of the campaign focuses on 21 enforcement zones around Grand Rapids that will be marked with bright orange signs.

“At these locations, Grand Rapids police officers will observe pedestrians and motorist behavior and their interactions with each other,” said Chris Zull, the traffic safety manager for Grand Rapids. The zones will be active through Friday, Sept. 22.

“The officers will not be there to issue citations,” Zull said. “Rather, as necessary, they will provide warnings and education about the pedestrian safety laws in Grand Rapids.”

The campaign is being funded with a $120,000 grant from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning and is intended to help shape regulation, policy, engineering, education and enforcement surrounding the safety of people walking in Grand Rapids.

“Information that we gather during this first phase will help the city develop a comprehensive plan that will achieve significant, lasting improvements in pedestrian safety,” said City Commissioner Ruth Kelly. She highlighted the need for the program by quoting annual crash statistics compiled by the state that show the higher-than-average rate of crashes involving pedestrians in Grand Rapids.

“It’s just slightly below Oakland County’s 866 crashes, despite Kent County having roughly only half of Oakland County’s population,” she said, citing statistics taken between 2012 and 2015. Kent County recorded 790 pedestrian-involved crashes.

“We chose these locations for the high-visibility enforcement based on their high rate of motor and foot traffic,” said Lt. Dave Schnurstein of the Grand Rapids Police Department. The intersections are scattered around the city, with some placed in each of the three wards.

“When my classes get out, some people just walk in front of cars,” said Katelyn Kuenzel, pointing at the crosswalk between Secchia Hall and the Richard M. DeVos Center on Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus. Kuenzel is a senior at GVSU enrolled in the nursing program.

“College kids don’t pay attention,” she said.

Lindsey Wabeke, GVSU senior who is enrolled in the elementary education program, takes the bus to and from class as often as possible.

“The only place I worry about is the Garfield stop,” she said. The bus stop near the corner of Fulton Street and Garfield Avenue is not in one of the enforcement zones.

State Reps. Winnie Brinks and David LaGrande, both members of the Democratic Party, each voiced their support for the new project. Brinks highlighted the past success of the “Driving Change” bicycle safety program; LaGrande focused on potential driver responsibility laws and introduced different technologies that could be used to aid pedestrian safety.

“Our signals tend to be car-centric, and they don’t give pedestrians all the information they need,” he said.

Ron Van Houten, a psychology professor and traffic and pedestrian safety expert at Western Michigan University, implored drivers to work to change their behavior to be more safe on the road.

“You don’t hit what you’re looking for,” he said. “You have to train yourself to start looking for all the road users.”