Traffic safety work honored

Bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers can get around more safely in Ashland because of the work being done behind the scenes by city Engineering Services Manager Jim Olson.

Olson recently received a statewide award for his work to improve safety for everyone who uses streets and sidewalks in town.

"It's nice to be recognized for something you're passionate about," he said.

The Beaverton-based Alliance for Community Traffic Safety in Oregon presented Olson with a Community Traffic Safety Award during the 2009 Oregon Transportation Safety Conference, which was held at the end of October in Hood River.

Olson was also recognized for receiving the award during an Ashland City Council meeting last week.

A city employee for 38 years, Olson said he has been especially interested in safety issues for the past two decades.

Projects he has worked on include Helman Street sidewalks, the Central Ashland bike path, traffic calming on Oak Street and pedestrian improvements along Siskiyou Boulevard.

While Olson has been focused on traffic safety for years, the issue became a top priority in 2008 after Southern Oregon University student Gladys Jimenez was struck by a car while crossing Siskiyou Boulevard. She died a week later from her injuries.

Olson spearheaded a flurry of improvements to Siskiyou Boulevard that included installing flashing beacons and rumble strips to warn drivers about pedestrians crossing the busy street.

Crews also worked this summer to reorient the crosswalk at the intersection of Siskiyou Boulevard and Garfield Street so that it would run straight across the boulevard, rather than at a longer diagonal. A new median and added lights at the intersection have further increased pedestrian safety.

The speed limit on Siskiyou Boulevard as it runs past the university was lowered from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour.

"You never want to say it takes an accident to focus people's attention, but it in fact does. It makes you look at things from a different angle," Olson said.

The city of Ashland had completed a major Siskiyou Boulevard reconstruction project in 2004 that included new bike lanes, signs and improvements for pedestrians.

"The accident pointed out that a pretty good job is not enough. We need to do an extraordinary job," Olson said.

He credited city staff members, the Ashland City Council, the Ashland Traffic Safety Commission, Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Department of Transportation with coordinating efforts to make the Siskiyou Boulevard improvements happen.

"I think ultimately everyone came together. It was a common goal and we just jumped into working on it," Olson said.

He served for years as the staff liaison to Ashland's Traffic Safety Commission. That commission and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission were disbanded in order to form the more encompassing Transportation Commission in February.

Olson is now a staff liaison to the Transportation Commission.

He called the commission members a dedicated group of volunteers with a strong sense of purpose.

Olson said he shares members' satisfaction in seeing on-the-ground results from hours spent planning safety improvements.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or

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