Lawrence & MacArthur

Focus on deterrence in bid to make intersections safer
By Kurt DeWeese
State Journal-Register, Published Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Historic Westside Neighborhood Association (HWSNA) shares everyone’s concern about traffic safety and will support reasonable, prudent solutions to the problems at the MacArthur/Lawrence and Walnut/Lawrence intersections.

We do not oppose change. We support growth and development in the area, if it can be accomplished with the least disruption to the environment and with full consideration of the quality of life for area residents. We sincerely hope that there is not a rush to judgment, nor endorsement of the straight-line thinking of traffic engineers who only recommend major capital improvement of the intersections as the highest and most immediate priority.

We have repeatedly recommended safety improvements for these intersections, and support the modest initiative of installing the yellow warning lights. We agree that it is time for additional action. Mayor Tim Davlin recently reported that the warning lights have already had a significant impact. Similar, relatively low-cost options should be immediately considered in lieu of a massive capital improvement.

First, a hard analysis of traffic accident data should be conducted to determine primary causes. For example, it was obvious from his description that the cause of the accident involving former Ald. Irv Smith was driver error. The person responsible ran the red light, which could have happened at any intersection whatever the configuration. Our preliminary analysis indicates that most of the accidents at these intersections have also been the result of fundamental, speed-related or reckless driving.

Springfield drivers are notorious at many intersections throughout the city for “… gunning it on the yellow to beat the red light …” and “… failing to yield on left turns …” The configuration of an intersection is not a primary cause of these types of accidents. We believe that prevention should focus on deterrence, prior to implementing changes that will only invite more and higher speed traffic.

Residents in the immediate area support constructive solutions. One resident who lives just three doors from the MacArthur/Lawrence intersection noted that she was personally involved in an accident at another, properly configured intersection in Springfield.

“I was hit at the Monroe/Veterans Parkway intersection by a careless driver,” she said.

Another nearby resident just two doors off the same intersection observed that: “Effective tree-trimming in the spring and summer months makes a difference in the accident rate.”

Mike Jackson, who lives at that intersection said: “I’m delighted the city wants to spend an extra $ 1.5 million in our neighborhood. We just need to help them get their priorities straight.”

Other residents whose homes are located on Lawrence Avenue, Phillip Anderson and Donna C. Boggs, feel that widening the intersection may result in higher speed and collisions and that this could lead to more injuries and fatalities. Anderson, who lives four houses from the corner, said, “People really fly down Lawrence for these long stretches. Other major streets in Springfield – North Grand, South Grand, Fifth Street, Sixth Street, Macarthur and Wabash – all have more frequent stoplights, one after another, but not Lawrence.”

The Historic Westside Neighborhood Association recommends that an additional, pedestrian-activated light be installed at either Amos or Feldkamp. These residents agree that enforcement of the speed limit is the most effective way to radically reduce accidents. Drivers must know that they are at high risk of getting a ticket. Signs that read “Speed radar enforced” should be posted. If the intersections gain a reputation for busting speeders, it will certainly slow traffic nearer to the legal posted 30-mile-per-hour limit.

Retiming the traffic signals and adding left-turn arrows for southbound and eastbound traffic are other suggestions that should have a positive impact at a fraction of the $1.5 million estimated cost that has been cited for the capital project restructuring the intersection. The current set of lights was installed decades ago when there was less traffic congestion.

There also needs to be a more deliberate pause between the red, yellow and green lights to deter drivers from speeding up to “beat the red light,” or cruising through an intersection in anticipation of the green light before the lights actually change. The only downside to this approach may be a few seconds added to drive time, but this would obviously be outweighed by the value of accidents avoided, injuries prevented and lives saved.

Ward 8 Ald. Kris Theilen has suggested that lighting be staggered so that each direction will have its own travel period – in much the same manner as traffic is regulated at the Wabash/MacArthur and Wabash/Chatham Road intersections. We have been informed that these techniques have proven effective in other cities throughout the country. This must be accompanied by stricter enforcement activity, which may include photographic monitoring.

We sincerely plead that the city of Springfield attempt low-cost, less-intrusive options before any allocation of funds for a major capital project. There are clearly higher priority capital projects, including basic maintenance of all city streets and remaining downtown improvements.

We agree that the status quo is not reasonable, but the fact that other alternatives have not been attempted over the past 20 years does not mean that they are not viable. We do not believe that traffic engineers for the city of Springfield have given full and fair consideration to the alternatives.

City officials must also consider the fact that there are two elementary schools in the immediate vicinity, and heavy use of Washington Park. Capital improvements that increase traffic volume and speed, together with reductions in the rights-of-way along these busy streets add to the safety risk for the children who walk to and from school, as well as for the residents throughout the city of Springfield who frequent the Williams Boulevard/Washington Park areas.

Finally, it is simply too easy to say that the residents of the HWSNA are standing in the way of progress and putting their own selfish interests ahead of the entire community. We believe that the historic near west side of Springfield is at extreme risk of deterioration.

The city comprehensive plan gives a high priority to the preservation of our residential area. The quality of life remains high, but we fear that the pressure for turning the area streets into thoroughfares will send the wrong signal to residents that the city of Springfield puts the interest of commuters over the residents of the near west side.

I believe that the approach to this issue can be a turning point. Minimizing the interests of area residents may mean that the remainder of MacArthur Boulevard will give way to the commercial blight that exists between South Grand Avenue and Wabash. It is not so long ago that the commercial corridor of South MacArthur was residential. We hope that the rest of the city of Springfield continues to protect and preserve the near west side and to support our effort to implement reasonable and prudent traffic safety solutions.

Kurt DeWeese is vice president of the Historic Westside Neighborhood Association.

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