crosswalk

The crosswalk at Second and Washington (84th) Streets in Papillion where Abby Whitford, 10, was killed in August. Officers issued tickets and made an arrest there last week.

The modern driving experience is infected by speed, impatience and distraction, Papillion Police Chief Scott Lyons said last week.

“People get in that car and they’re wanting to get from point A to point B as fast as possible,” Lyons told The World-Herald. “They’ve turned it into a video game.”

The result, the police chief said, is a generation of drivers who aren’t learning about safe, defensive driving because they aren’t seeing their parents and peers model such behavior.

On Wednesday, a task force of law enforcement officers hit Papillion’s streets to remind drivers of the rules of the road. Part of the enforcement focused on a downtown Papillion crosswalk where a 10-year-old girl was struck and killed in August.

The eight-hour enforcement was conducted by the Sarpy County Traffic Safety Task Force, a team of officers from the Bellevue, Papillion and La Vista Police Departments; the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office; and the Nebraska State Patrol. More than a dozen members of the task force gather twice a month in different cities and parts of the county for enforcement work.

Officers began the day at 11 a.m. by monitoring a crosswalk at Second and Washington (84th) Streets in downtown Papillion where Abby Whitford was killed. A uniformed officer wearing a reflective vest pressed a button to activate flashing lights at the crosswalk and then attempted to cross.

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If a driver failed to yield, the officer relayed that information to officers waiting in nearby patrol cars, who then conducted stops. Officers also watched the road for speeders.

The crosswalk has come under public scrutiny in the months since Abby’s death. Some Papillion residents have said they think drivers are confused by signage surrounding the intersection. Others have said motorists don’t slow down when driving through the downtown area.

The city’s public safety committee is still discussing the crosswalk’s future, Papillion spokesman Trent Albers said.

City data has showed that 30,000 to 40,000 vehicles travel through the city’s downtown each day. “You have a lot of people that are cutting through this town,” Lyons said.

Wednesday’s crosswalk enforcement resulted in four crosswalk violation citations, 15 speeding citations and one arrest, in addition to some written warnings, according to Lt. Jerry Prazan of the Papillion Police Department.

The team also stopped vehicles on 96th Street north of Highway 370 and on Schram Road between 96th and 108th Streets.

Lyons’ frustration doesn’t lie solely with speeding or distracted drivers. He also expressed concerns about the state law that addresses pedestrians’ right of way in crosswalks.

Under the law, drivers are required to yield once a pedestrian has begun crossing the street, but that requirement doesn’t extend to someone standing on a sidewalk waiting to cross, Lyons said.

Other states, according to the police chief, have stricter laws that allow a pedestrian to use their hand to signal — from the sidewalk — that they’re about to cross. Once that has occurred, vehicles must yield.

“I think (Nebraska) law puts pedestrians in a very curious position,” Lyons said.

In total, the task force stopped 76 vehicles during Wednesday’s enforcement. The hope, Prazan said, is that enforcement efforts like the one in Papillion slowly change motorists’ habits.

Through such education, Prazan said, “we reduce the injuries ... and make the roadways a safer place to travel.”

reece.ristau@owh.com, 402-444-1127

@reecereports

Reece covers Sarpy County for The World-Herald. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL grad who spent time in Oklahoma and Virginia before returning home. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127

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