October 24th, 2016
Two Years Later, Pedestrian Only Plan Still In The Works
Posted on October 21, 2016
Our local government is committed to making walking in Chagrin safe. Still, a sad reminder that we have work to do sits on the corner of Washington Street and South Franklin. A ribbon around the pole and fresh flowers always at the base, this memorial commemorates Eli Sachar, an 8 year old child killed crossing the street here over 2 years ago. The loss of a child would be enough of a tragedy for any small town, but what makes this particularly troubling is that he was doing everything right. He was in the crosswalk, walking with the walk sign, his hand held by his parent as he crossed.
What went wrong? And more importantly – could it happen again?
Clearly, the fault was with the driver. She was prosecuted and is no longer driving – but there is more to the story. After this incident, other parents and residents came forward to tell of their own close calls in our crosswalks. In the last two years, we’ve had other pedestrians hit by cars in our intersections. Our police examined the accident data and made recommendations to Council for actions that could help. A traffic engineer was consulted. A plan was made. And then, it stalled.
The short story is this: we want to change our traffic light system so that pedestrians have protected time to cross the street. In less travelled intersections, we may try a “pedestrian only” phase, with walk signs at the crosswalk never overlapping with green turning arrows for crossing cars. This would eliminate times when both the person walking and the person driving have been given the green light to proceed simultaneously. In busy intersections, the proposal is to give the pedestrians a “head start” with some protected time to get across the half of the crosswalk that would be used by left turning vehicles, then the green arrow for turning would overlap with the walk signal. Although this “head start” isn’t ideal, it’s a compromise to make sure traffic isn’t backed up for 10 blocks.
What’s the holdup? When the town investigated changing the light timing, they discovered we need a new piece of hardware in our streetlight system to be able to make this happen. The hardware has a large price tag — around $35,000. With money as tight as it has been for our village, they decided to try for grant money. They didn’t get the grant this year, and now we are once again on hold. Mayor Tomko says that they plan to apply again soon and that our chances are good. We are headed in to winter, with fewer pedestrians on the street and less activity in town. If we get the grant on our second try, we may have the lights changed for next summer. So, there is still a plan and action being taken, but the wait is frustrating.
And Now, An Unsolicited Safety Lecture
Talking about pedestrian safety is a hot button issue in Chagrin Falls. There are those that will tell you that the cars go to fast. Others will say the jaywalkers – always present – are the problem. Obviously, it’s a combination of things.
We all do our best to stay safe out there, but there is one particular type of car/pedestrian encounter I’d like to call attention to today, because it was central to a number of our close calls.
Left-turning-car-meets-pedestrian is a problem that’s been recognized nationwide. It’s such a problem that NYC Council asked Google Maps last year to offer an option in their directions to avoid left hand turns whenever possible, following a study showing that left hand turns were a major issue in pedestrian and bike safety.
This isn’t only an issue in large cities, however. To the left is an excerpt from a newspaper in Oregon where they’ve grappled with the exact same problem, working towards the same solution we’d like here in Chagrin, and they’ve encountered the same issue – cost.
Eli Sachar was hit by a left turning car. Afterward, a parent came to council to report that his daughter was also nearly hit that day – by a left turning car. Just the other day, as I turned off Main Street on to Bell, I nearly hit a woman crossing quickly with a wagon. It’s a problem.
In honor of our cancelled Walk To School Day, let’s all take a moment to remind our kids – and ourselves – about what happens when a car is turning left at an intersection.
Here’s what happens for the driver: you approach the intersection, and if your light is green (no arrow) you wait for a break in the flow of traffic to dart across and complete your turn. Your attention is on the traffic, and the heavier it is, the more likely you are to speed up to cross quickly. Only then, after completing that maneuver, do many drivers look up and see the crosswalk in front of them.
Here’s what happens if you are the pedestrian: you wait at the curb until traffic on the street you want to cross gets a red light. Then, the walk symbol comes on. You look to make sure traffic has stopped, and step in to the crosswalk.
If these two events happen at the same time, it can lead to disaster – or at least a screeching brake.
The study’s simulator drivers, all residents of Corvallis, were outfitted with “Star Wars”-styles visors that tracked the movement of their eyes at intersections with flashing yellow arrows.
“Those who did glance at pedestrians spent less time looking as automobile traffic increased, indicating a challenge to balance multiple tasks,” the researchers said. They added that drivers paid more attention to the crosswalks as the number of pedestrians increased.
As soon as Washington County officials started seeing such safety risks, they hired engineering-and-planning firm Kittelson & Associates to help it to rewrite the logic from scratch for 40 percent of its traffic controllers.
If a pedestrian activates the crosswalk signal, drivers waiting for a left turn don’t get the flashing arrow as long as the “walk” light or red “Don’t Walk” are flashing. “We have a significant order for new controllers out there” at $1,500 per unit, Roberts said. “We’ll be closer to 70 percent (reprogrammed) later this year.”
Taken from The Oregonian, April 25, 2013.
If you are the pedestrian, it’s important to look for turning vehicles, and if you see one make eye contact with the driver. Make sure they see you! If they don’t, don’t cross. You may have the right of way, but that won’t help if you are hit.
If you are the driver, take extra care to look for pedestrians approaching the crosswalk. Don’t assume they will stop.
We’ve got several locations in town where left hand turns present a danger. Here are the ones that immediately come to mind.
Please tell your children about this risk if you haven’t already.
As we wait for new technology to bring “pedestrian only” times to Chagrin, we must all be more careful when we walk and drive in town.
We owe it to Eli.
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People in small towns, much more than in cities, share a destiny.Richard Russo
Audio from September 12, 2016
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