Residents want enforcement of pedestrian right-of-way, better sidewalksCouncilors heard from Richard Wilkinson — who is legally blind — about almost being hit multiple times trying to cross Cloquet Avenue and other streets in town.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Cloquet Police Chief Wade Lamirande is well aware of the dangers pedestrians face trying to cross busy streets in town.
In fact, he was stopped to let a pedestrian cross the street not long ago and the driver in the car behind him tried to pass.
“It could have been a fatal accident,” Lamirande said, after three visually impaired Cloquet residents addressed the Cloquet City Council Tuesday about stricter enforcement/higher fines for violating pedestrian right-of-way laws. “Luckily, the pedestrian was paying more attention than the driver behind me.”
Councilors heard from Richard Wilkinson — who is legally blind — about almost being hit multiple times trying to cross Cloquet Avenue and other streets in town. They heard from Dick Wisneski, who said people don’t realize that handicapped people often move more slowly. They heard from Dan Rogers, who said he was crossing Doddridge Avenue at the lights by Highway 33 and the lights changed before he made it across.
“It’s risky,” Rogers said. “But we don’t want to become shut-ins.”
State fines for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk are $100 plus another $100 if that pedestrian is blind.
The trio also pointed out how helpful the new audible signals — which were installed by the state of Minnesota at the Highway 33 intersections with Carlton and Cloquet avenues — are for the visually impaired, who otherwise have to listen for the sound of cars stopping to know when the light changes (a challenge when traffic is light, such as the Cloquet Avenue and 10th Street intersection).
Wilkinson, Wisneski and Rogers presented councilors and Mayor Bruce Ahlgren with a copy of the Minnesota “White Cane Law,” with the two different sections highlighted. The first was the civil liability section, noting the following: “The driver of a vehicle approaching a totally or partially blind pedestrian who is carrying a cane predominantly white or metallic in color, with or without a red tip, or using a service dog, or totally or partially deaf person with a service dog identified with a burnt orange collar or leash, shall bring such a vehicle to as top and give the right-of-way at any intersection of any street, avenue, alley or other public highway.”
Wilkinson pointed out that any pedestrian has the right of way.
The second highlighted section dealt with another issue for pedestrians in Cloquet: poor sidewalks. The governor’s proclamation noted the citizens’ need to “keep safe and functional for the disabled the streets, highways, sidewalks, walkways” and more.
“You talk about adding trails, we have miles and miles of trails here. They’re called sidewalks,” Wilkinson said, pointing out that part of the reason he goes to Florida each winter is because residents don’t shovel their sidewalks consistently, making it impossible for him to get around.
Wilkinson also presented the council with a poster-sized collage of photos he had taken of damaged sidewalks near his home not far from downtown.
The sidewalk issue is one that has been discussed repeatedly by the current council, which has been debating the city’s role in keeping major walkways clear of snow when it is, in fact, the homeowner’s legal responsibility to keep sidewalks clear of snow and debris and in good repair.
“Maybe sidewalks can be classed as a public utility and just add the cost to everyone’s bill,” Wilkinson suggested.
Lamirande said more enforcement of the right-of-way laws would be ideal, but noted that it’s an issue of staff time, which is in short supply. The police chief has been asking for an increase in police officers for several years.
Mayor Ahlgren said he would like to see more signs actually in the street reminding drivers that pedestrians have the right of way.
In other matters Tuesday, the mayor and council took the following actions:
+ Approved Cynthia Slater for reappointment to the Housing and Redevelopment Authority;
+ Approved numerous Labor Day celebration requests. This year’s event will begin with the “Old Timers Banquet” at noon Sept. 1. Then on Labor Day, events begin at 8:30 a.m. with the new Blue House Orphanage 5.5K and 11K run at Pine Valley, followed by the car show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., a parade at 11 a.m. and a free picnic at the Labor Temple at noon. There will also be family friendly amusements at Veterans Park from noon to 5 p.m.