Traffic panel looks at street safety

Traffic Safety Commissioner Patti Busse was moved to tears Thursday evening when the subject came up that Ashland's City Council tabled recommendations for safer crosswalks on Siskiyou Boulevard.

"I have been on this commission for seven years," she said. "And during that time we have lost three citizens because of accidents. That nothing's being done is unconscionable. It's wrong to continue to stall."

Following the death of Gladys Jimenez, a Southern Oregon University student who died after a car struck her in a Siskiyou crosswalk, the commission approved five relatively quick and inexpensive recommendations for the public works department to implement. The council discussed the recommendations at a recent meeting, but took no action.

The commission recommended increasing the wattage of the meridian lights along the strip of Siskiyou Boulevard near SOU, gluing down rumble strips, petitioning the state to reduce the speed limit to 25 mph, installing two sets of pedestrian-activated, flashing crosswalk lights and not closing the Garfield intersection or crosswalk.

Jim Olson, interim director for Ashland Public Works Department, received pressure from some city councilors to put the recommendations on hold until the council took a look at them.

Councilor Cate Hartzell said at a recent council meeting that she did not support the idea of rumble strips, a recommendation Olson said would cost approximately $2,000. She also did not support flashing crosswalk lights.

Hartzell said the city should not be throwing away money at ideas that might not make a difference and wanted city staff to get outside expert help.

The council ran out of time before it could vote on any motions and tabled the recommendations.

Commissioner Greg Lemhouse was also frustrated with the council's inaction.

"A woman died and (the traffic commission) made safety recommendations a top priority," he said. "I encourage the council to put this as the first item on its next agenda."

Going forward

Olson asked the commission to agree on less controversial items that his department could actually implement.

"We know there's a problem and that something needs to be done," he said.

The commission discussed petitioning the state to lower the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph from where Siskiyou Boulevard begins to Walker Street.

Craig Morris, vice president of finance and administration at SOU, said a member from Governor Ted Kulongoski's staff phoned the university's president.

"They said if we needed help moving ODOT along to change the speed limit, they'd help us," said Morris.

Morris also reaffirmed that SOU will pay for pole-mounted, pedestrian-activated crosswalk flashing lights to be installed at two crosswalks. With the two that Olson is ordering, all four Siskiyou crosswalks in front of SOU will include the flashing crosswalk lights.

Councilor David Chapman expressed concerns about the recommendation to increase the wattage of the meridian lights along Siskiyou.

He said at the city council meeting that there is no data to say whether increasing the wattage along Siskiyou Boulevard would improve safety. Chapman, who used to be a lighting technician, said it would be a shame for the city to disregard its policy of protecting dark night skies.

Lemhouse said he'd be willing to disregard the city's dark skies policy if it means safer streets.

The commission formed a subcommittee to study the lighting issue. Chapman, commission chair Matt Warshasky and city staff will experiment with different light options and analyze test sections along Siskiyou.

Olson said after the meeting that he thought ODOT could also offer some lighting advice.

The longest discussion of the evening involved the Siskiyou and Garfield intersection and crosswalk. The crosswalk, where Jimenez was struck, is five lanes long, crosses at a diagonal and does not include a meridian refuge for pedestrians.

The commission last month had recommended not eliminating the left-hand turning lane or closing the crosswalk. But Hartzell said she'd like to see proposals from engineers who could look at ways to improve that intersection, as well as the Bridge Street and Siskiyou Boulevard crosswalk.

Morris said, "We're not married to the idea of keeping the turn lane open; but there is a considerable amount of truck drivers that use that lane to get to our loading area."

Many suggestions were offered, including a drawing from Chapman.

"Obviously we could talk about this all night," said Warshasky.

Lemhouse moved that the mayor form an ongoing ad hoc committee to address Siskiyou safety issues.

The commission agreed that the committee should include two traffic commissioners, two bike and pedestrian commissioners, two city councilors, an SOU representative and possibly a volunteer ODOT engineer.

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