BLUFFTON — A major intersection in Bluffton is the focus of a renewed effort to install pedestrian safety measures there.
Some residents say the intersection of Main Street and College Avenue, which borders Bluffton High School, the Bluffton Public Library and a gas station, isn’t safe. They’re especially concerned about students who cross Main Street to get to athletic facilities located farther east on College Avenue.
Concerned citizens are scheduled to meet with local officials of the Ohio Department of Transportation and village administrators at Bluffton’s Town Hall on Monday to discuss more ways to enhance the intersection’s four-way pedestrian crossing.
Resident Paula Pyzick Scott said that, despite village improvements in the last two years, such as new signs, a flashing yellow beacon, the removal of several parking spots and higher-visibility paint for the crosswalks, the intersection remains dangerous.
“Two weeks ago, a car on Main Street stopped for me, and the car behind them nearly took my nose off as I crossed the next street (College Avenue),” said Pyzick Scott, who’s led the crosswalk safety effort. “It was an accident that almost happened.”
Pyzick Scott has led the campaign to improve the intersection after learning that a friend’s baby stroller had been bumped by a driver.
“I became very conscious of the fact that it’s not as safe and easy to cross small-town Main Street as it should be,” she said.
“This has been a dangerous intersection for years,” wrote Dave Essinger, of Bluffton. “We need to restore a traffic light or a 4-way stop.”
But Pyzick Scott said the village administration and the council “really don’t seem convinced that there is a problem,” a criticism that Jessie Blackburn, assistant to administrator Jamie Mehaffie, disagreed with.
“He’s been more than” responsive to concerns, said Blackburn. “He’s worked well with ODOT, trying to take the next step,” Blackburn said.
The traffic signal at College and Main was removed in 2009 for a Main Street improvement project. Two other traffic signals were also removed at Church Street/Cherry Street and at Elm Street. The village needed ODOT permits to re-install them, and the engineers behind its Main Street overhaul conducted a study. They found there wasn’t enough traffic to justify them. In ODOT parlance, they weren’t “warranted.”
However, the village later applied for, and got, warranted permits to re-install traffic signals at the Elm Street and Church Street/Cherry Street intersections because they’re in the heart of Bluffton’s commercial district, where driver visibility up and down Main Street was found to be limited by downtown buildings.
That wasn’t the case at College Avenue, which is located on the southern edge of the commercial strip,.
“I can’t surmise to you why a signal is warranted in some locations and others; it’s not,” said Kirk Slusher, deputy director of ODOT’s District 1, which includes Bluffton. “There’s a very detailed listing of the criteria and how the data is collected.”
He said there have been five accidents since the traffic signal was removed in 2009. All involved property damage only. There were no injuries or pedestrian accidents, he said.
But Pyzick Scott said there are plenty of “near misses” that go unreported. She said it’s a matter of perception, not just statistics.
“It’s more about creating a hostile environment for pedestrians than it is about counting injuries or fatalities,” she said. “Pedestrians have the same right (to the road), and they’re not being supported.”
In response to Pyzick Scott’s and others’ continued concerns, ODOT installed a camera at the intersection for a few days to gather additional data. Slusher said the footage showed that drivers were “confused” about where to stop their vehicles if a pedestrian was in the crosswalk. He said that could be addressed with changes to the pavement markings or by adding a pedestrian-activated flashing red light.
Such a light, called a HAWK, is on Pyzick Scott’s wish list for the pedestrian crossing. It could cost upwards of $80,000, according to online estimates. It would not require a warrant.
Slusher said he’ll present these findings to the village during Monday’s meeting.
“We, ODOT, don’t have any jurisdiction,” said Slusher of the village’s Main Street. “We’re only acting as an advisory to the village because they asked us for some recommendations as to how to address public’s concerns.”
Blackburn said the village welcomed the chance to address citizens’ ongoing concerns.
“We’re just trying to take the next step, see what that would be, to make this intersection safer,” he said.
Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or Twitter @lima_eddings.