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Cross at your own risk: Officer says motorists don't yield unless pedestrian has stepped off the curb

A couple makes a run for it across a Villard Street intersection Friday.

As March turns to April and southwest North Dakota starts to shake winter from its hills and valleys, its people will begin to spend more time outside and less in the confines of offices, schools and vehicles.

Those choosing to abandon motor vehicles and use their legs to get around town will need to exercise caution as they cross the street, especially at intersections unprotected by traffic signals.

"It doesn't matter if you go to one of them," Dickinson High School senior Meleah Leiss said of crosswalks. "No one's going to stop for me there or they're not going to stop for me in the middle of the road."

She and her sister Macy Leiss were technically jaywalking as they crossed busy Villard Street between Sims Street and First Avenue West on Friday morning on their way to the businesses on the north side of Villard from the parking lot on the south.

Others trust that vehicles will stop if they're using the designated crosswalks.

"Right here's one of the best crosswalks here cause people will stop for you," Dickinson resident Jesse Martin said of the intersection of First Avenue West and Villard Street.

Martin lives downtown and walks frequently with the use of a cane, but believes his appearance helps keep him safe.

"And they see you coming, especially a guy like me," said the Cheyenne, Wyo., native. "Cane, pink beard, hard to miss."

For some, timing is everything.

"There was going to be no cars, I timed it so there wouldn't be," said Rick Presthus of Edina, Minn. He crossed Villard Street the same way the Leiss girls did.

Others don't trust drivers at all.

"Very few people stop," Dickinson resident Alissa Forster said. "Every once in a while you'll get somebody to stop."

The Dickinson Police Department recommends exercising similar caution at all crossing points.

"I think some of the problem is some pedestrians feel that the traffic is going to yield for them just because they're walking there," DPD Capt. Joe Cianni said.

There were a series of pedestrian deaths last fall, including the hit-and-run incident in November that killed Tracy Freer. A Missouri man, Timothy Menges, was arrested at the beginning of this month for negligent homicide.

There were two deaths along Highway 22 in October.

Brendan Smock, 28, was struck north of the city. Four days later, 68-year-old Roger Gawryluk was hit just south of the Museum Drive intersection with Third Avenue West.

"I don't think (motorists) are driving defensively and being as completely aware of their surroundings as far as seeing these pedestrians crossing," Cianni said. "For a motorist to have to yield to a pedestrian, they have to have stepped off of the curb."

Accidents where pedestrians are involved are usually classified as injury or hit-and-run, making it difficult to know how many were struck in the past year.

"It's really tough for me to pull out numbers for that," Cianni said.

In the city's comprehensive plan, "Dickinson 2035: Roadmap to the Future," KLJ indicated a need for more traffic signals throughout the city. The city added several in the northern industrial corridor along Highway 22 last fall.

To make drivers more aware of possible pedestrians, DPD has crosswalk indicators, which it will use on long stretches of road lacking stop lights, like Villard Street.

"Unfortunately they get ran over quite a bit," Cianni said. "They're beat up, they're really beat up. And I'm not saying motorists are doing it on purpose, but we believe they are hitting them on purpose on occasion."

Walkers should always exercise caution when crossing the street, he said.

"Never assume that a vehicle is going yield to you unless you have the common indicators of full eye contact, and the vehicle is obviously slowing and coming to a stop," Cianni said.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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