City Moves to Improve Train Crossing Safety in Wake of Boy's Death
First step is quick, economical installation of signs and pavement decals directed at pedestrians, but city will consider crossing upgrades that could cost up to $1.5 million, and officials also ponder lifting city's train horn ban.
The death of 11-year-old Joey Kramer, hit and killed by a train while walking to school, still resonates in Wauwatosa.
The city has already taken a first step toward reminding pedestrians to be alert to trains by ordering sets of signs and decals for all pedestrian crossings.
Those messages will be going up within a few weeks, Public Works Director Bill Porter told members of the Traffic and Safety Committee on Tuesday.
The signs will be mounted at eye-level and will say "Look for Trains," with a yield sign. The "Stop Trains" decals will be affixed to the pavement near the tracks as a reminder to anyone looking down instead of around as they approach — as Joey was doing as he listened to music over his earphones.
But much more than messages could be in the works.
Porter and his staff assessed nine crossings in Wauwatosa — eight on public streets and one privately owned — and offered a plan for what they thought would be the most effective physical pedestrian-safety measures at any reasonable cost.
They also looked at a potential new pedestrian-only crossing on the tracks south of where 74th Street intersects State Street. Such a crossing is called for in the new Village Plan. People now are illegally crossing the tracks in a heavily used "beaten path," Porter said.
Porter rejected some methods as being far beyond the city's means, settling on automated pedestrian gates — small versions of the existing traffic gates — as posing the least cost for the most effect.
Physical barriers could cost up to $1.5 million
But the least expensive plan, in this case, is by no means cheap.
- To install gates at six public crossings deemed to need them most would cost about $900,000.
- To install additional fencing in Hart Park along the railroad right-of-way bordering it would cost another $263,000.
- To install a whole new crossing with gates at 74th Street would add $325,000.
In all, Wauwatosa would be looking at spending nearly $1.5 million for the best cost-benefit pedestrian upgrades — and, Porter said, it's unlikely the railroads would pick up part of the cost.
The upgrades, if approved at all, would likely not all be done at once but over several years.
"This would be money well spent, but stretched out over time," Ald. Jeff Roznowski said. He said he felt that the priority might be the new 74th Street crossing, where perhaps greater danger exists than at the street-sidewalk crossings.
Roznowski pointed out that city money was already budgeted to implement infrastructure improvements in the Village Plan.
"Maybe that's the first thing we do," he said.
But two aldermen in the Budget and Finance meeting later had different feelings.
"There has been one accident. I would have no appetite for this kind of expenditure," said Ald. Pete Donegan.
Ald. Brian Ewerdt agreed and seemed even to take issue with the minimal expenditure on signs and decals already in the works.
"We have to have signs for people who are looking down?" he said. "It gets a little ridiculous. What's next, should we put signs on balloons for people who are looking up?
"I think there's a point where you have to let personal responsibility take over."
Lifting of city horn ban raised
Former Assistant Chief Michael Anton, who served with the Wauwatosa Fire Department for 32 years before retiring last year, told aldermen and city staff he had studied crossing safety just five years ago, and the city had not listened to his findings.
"In 2007," Anton said, "I did a fairly comprehensive report on railroad crossing safety. I identified some crossings as much more dangerous for pedestrian safety than for traffic safety. The crossing in the Village is the busiest.
"It may be time to reconsider the use of train horns in the community. That would be a more immediate opportunity," compared to a protracted series of crossing upgrades.
It might also be an unpopular opportunity, Anton acknowledged.
Wauwatosa imposed a "whistle ban" or "quiet zone" in the 1970s after years of complaints about the noise. And many still complain to this day, either about engineers sounding their horns at the nearest crossing to the east in Milwaukee, which has no ban, or on their own discretion, which is allowed.
"The reality is, there is no horn ban," McBride said. "Engineers blow their horns when they please."