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City traffic guidelines put pedestrians at mercy of drivers

The Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Diversion program has vehicles equipped with cameras that snap photos of license plate on other vehicles, seeking those which are currently uninsured. [Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman]
The Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Diversion program has vehicles equipped with cameras that snap photos of license plate on other vehicles, seeking those which are currently uninsured. [Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman]

I've spent a quarter century attending meetings at City Hall, listening, taking notes and sharing stories. Last Friday marked the first time I was the one speaking in the City Council chambers, presenting my case for adding stop signs in my neighborhood.

In the past few years, I've noted cases that demonstrated how the traffic commission is set up to represent the interests of motorists over pedestrians.

Property owners along NW 23 in Uptown prevailed in their effort to lower the speed limit on this increasingly pedestrian-oriented corridor despite commissioners telling them it was a bad idea because it might lengthen travel times.

When it was my turn, I was faced with a report by the city's traffic engineer stating he could not recommend the stop signs because there was no history of accidents, injuries or deaths at the intersections and that a three-hour, mid-morning traffic survey did not indicate any speeding or problems with line of sight for drivers.

I was surprised to see, however, that the traffic count did top the minimum of more than 1,800 cars a day. Coincidentally, the neighborhood to the west submitted their own stop sign applications, and they were heard at the same meeting.

A long winding street that also connects to a third neighborhood — with not a single stop sign — was our shared concern. Having lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade, I've seen cars speeding through with little warning or clear line of sight of kids crossing streets, folks walking their dogs and parents out with their infants in baby strollers.

We were told the stop signs were not warranted and that policy guidelines dictate they should not be used for speed control. That's silly, and folks in my neighborhood strongly disagree with that approach.

The speeding is what makes safe crossings dangerous for pedestrians. But of course, pedestrian safety gets little mention in the report presented to the traffic commission.

The engineering study is all about vehicle counts, speeds and driver line of sight, and not one measure of pedestrian traffic and safety.

In what I find ironic, traffic commissioners argued stop signs are dangerous for pedestrians because they might assume drivers, more distracted than ever, will actually stop. Well, yes, and as drivers, we assume other drivers will stop at red lights. If we're to avoid traffic control because of those who ignore lights and signs, why not just do away with them altogether?

It's a silly argument, one that tilts the rules against pedestrians and for drivers.

Also consider this tidbit: the engineering report dictates stop and yield signs should not be used along the heavier volume traffic corridor. So to summarize, our city traffic guidelines dictate in favor of drivers speeding through long, winding neighborhood streets without having to slow down for stop or yield signs.

This is great for drivers and terrible for pedestrians.

My neighbors and I accepted not a single one of these arguments, which I reminded the commission date back to an era when the city went decades without building or requiring developers to build sidewalks.

We live in 2019; either we want a healthier city where people walk and are outside interacting with their neighbors, or we can keep following these rules which put vehicular travel over all other concerns.

We prevailed in our effort, even winning over a commissioner who had voted against an almost identical application for the adjoining neighborhood. I applaud them for siding with pedestrians.

But walking out, I wondered how many other neighborhoods will be able to make such an argument? And with the policies and guidelines drawn up to dismiss the interests of pedestrians, when will our city take a serious look at trashing those rules and drawing up rules that can create a healthier, safer community for all of us?

Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's... Read more ›