Fernwood Girl Scout project takes aim at pedestrian safety
March 31, 2017
By Sheila Julson
The paint that marks pedestrian crosswalks in the vicinity of Fernwood Montessori School has faded and the members of the Fernwood Girl Scout Troop 8344 have noticed. They’ve seen how dangerous it has become for children and adults to safely cross at intersections near the school.
Determined to improve pedestrian safety, the girls contacted Ald. Tony Zielinski, whose district includes Fernwood. They requested that the crosswalks be repainted in brighter colors like neon pink or purple and with eye-catching rainbows and unicorns.
The crosswalks of concern are at the intersections of Oklahoma and Kinnickinnic, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania and Fernwood, Pennsylvania and Falling Heath, Falling Heath and Swain, and Falling Heath and Kinnickinnic.
Nichole Williams, whose children are are enrolled at Fernwood, offered to help the troop with a lesson in civic engagement. She wanted to teach the girls about local government, the power and process of communication, how to address concerns in the community, and to demonstrate the power of citizens’ voices when they appeal to an elected official.
“Hopefully after the crosswalks are painted, the girls will feel valued and empowered [because] they have been heard and have contributed to the safety of the neighborhood,” Williams said. “I have been toying with this idea of improving the crosswalks in an artistic way. I thought about it and about the lesson the girls could learn from it and how it may provoke them to think more critically about their neighborhood and to see the importance of getting involved.”
Troop member Ania Sarnowski now realizes she can make a difference. “Now that I’ve learned that there are all these problems in our city, I want to try to help the community and fix them as much as possible. I know I can have a say in what happens with these things because I am part of this community,” she said.
“I also think we need better street signs because I’ve had times when I was about to walk across the street and cars just zoom past. I could get really hurt, and it could happen to other people. Maybe, for our next project, we could try to get better signs or make it more obvious to the cars that there is a crosswalk, especially around schools and on busy streets.”
Zielinski agreed to assist the scouts. “It is important that kids learn how to play a positive role in their community,” he said.
He contacted the city’s Department of Public Works to learn about the rules and guidelines governing repainting crosswalks.
A DPW official replied, “After much internal discussion, DPW has determined that we are unable to allow implementation of the proposed artwork or different colored lines for the crosswalks around Fernwood Montessori School. This decision is based on the Federal Highway Administration taking a position that all crosswalks must be white.
In addition, the Federal Highway Administration has also indicated that colored pavement in crosswalk areas is only allowable in red, rust, brown, burgundy, clay, tan, or similar earth tone equivalents. They also take a specific stance that artwork that degrades the contrast of the white markings is not allowed within or near marked crosswalks.
“This is specific to crosswalks. As we have done in other instances, we would be happy to consider painting in the intersection, mid-block, or on the sidewalk with aldermanic approval.”
The Federal Highway Association has prohibited crosswalk art since 2011. Cities that had colorful crosswalk art in place prior to the FHA ruling, such as in St. Louis, Mo., were allowed to keep the art until it faded but then must repaint crosswalks white.
Zielinski is committed to supporting the scouts’ effort to have the crosswalks repainted to improve visibility, even if perky neon pink and purple paint are no longer allowed. “I’m 110 percent supportive of doing whatever I can in my position to work with the students to make sure something is done,” he said.
He spoke with Joseph Blakeman, a DPW traffic control engineer, to discuss specific requirements before beginning to work with the students to move the project forward.
Zielinski said the city of Milwaukee improves the visibility of some crosswalks by painting them with a ladder-style pattern — two parallel white lines and “zebra stripes to create a ladder appearance — specifically at all mid-block crosswalks and at other selected crossings, including school crossings. The city is proposing painting a ladder-style crosswalk at the school crossing on Oklahoma Avenue at Pennsylvania Avenue, as part of its forthcoming paving project on Oklahoma Avenue in 2017.
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