By Kara Uhl and Mark Collier
|The crosswalk in front of Highlands High School was originally proposed to be improved by Fort Thomas City Council. FTM file.|
That's the question that has been posed recently at Fort Thomas City Council as they try to address attitudes towards pedestrians in crosswalks.
In February, Fort Thomas City Council approved a plan to install new LED lighting warning signs in at least five heavily used crosswalks.
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Initially, the crosswalks Council wanted to improve included two on North Fort Thomas Ave. in front of Highlands High School and Highlands Middle School, at Highland Ave. in front of Moyer Elementary, and on South Fort Thomas Ave. in front of St. Thomas School and south of that by Tower Park.
But, as first reported on FTM, only one of those crosswalks will receive improvement.
RELATED: Kentucky Dept. of Transportation Denies City's Request for Crosswalk Signage
These improvements are the result of Fort Thomas citizens expressing concern over drivers not yielding to pedestrians at crosswalks.
And recently, several tragedies have underscored the importance of drivers being better aware of pedestrians and bicyclists.
On September 27, Eric Rainey, a 12-year-old Campbell County Middle School student, was riding his bike to school on US-27 when he was struck by a vehicle and killed. And on November 2, Nicholase Roll, a 16-year-old Campbell County High School student, 16 years old, was hit and killed by a car while crossing US-27 in Cold Spring.
After Fort Thomas resident Sarah Cole, owner of Tickle Pickle, was hit and killed while crossing Hamilton Ave. in Northside on September 8, residents and business owners pushed for improvements that would aide pedestrian safety. These included additional speed limit signs and crosswalk striping.
Many Fort Thomas residents have expressed concern regarding pedestrian safety in the City, particularly around parks and schools.
Fort Thomas resident, Zach Wells, said that the interaction between drivers, runners, walkers and bicyclists presents the number one public safety concern in Fort Thomas.
"It is urgent and needs to be fixed right away. My dad's a police officer and I have tremendous respect for the job that the Department does here. But they can't be everywhere at once. This is an amazing community because so many people are out and about and active. But it's a miracle that there aren't more accidents," he said.
|A crosswalk on S. Fort Thomas Avenue, by St. Thomas School, was proposed by City Council to receive improvements, however city officials reported that the Kentucky Transportation Department did not approve the proposal. FTM file.|
"Virtually any time I venture into town, I see alarming developments: drivers gliding through stop signs or running them altogether. I cringe when I see kids in elementary school waiting to cross the street in crosswalks, only to have drivers zoom by at 30 MPH. Runners that clearly have the right of way must dodge cars at stop signs and in crosswalks. Bicyclists love to be a part of riding in the street, but have no interest in stopping at stop signs as they're legally required to do. And in the pitch dark, pedestrians wear dark clothing and are virtually impossible to see. It doesn't apply to everyone. But it is widespread issue. And we all need to challenge ourselves to be better and more educated before someone is tragically hurt or killed."
Laura Grimme, who was born and raised in Fort Thomas and has lived on Pentland Place for 15 years, has three sons who attend or attended Moyer (her youngest is currently a fifth grader). "We have walked to and from Moyer for the past 10 years and since there is not a crosswalk at Sweetbriar, and since that portion of Highland is extremely congested, we have used the Moyer crosswalk a lot," Grimme says.
"I felt the Moyer crosswalk was unsafe only when the crossing guard was not there to help kids cross," she says. "If my sons had to stay late, or arrive early, I would walk up and cross them myself. Cars drive too fast on that stretch of Highland, and it is very hard to see small children trying to cross due to parked cars. When the crossing guard is there, however, I do think it's safe."
The good news for those who use the crosswalk at Moyer is that Highland Avenue will be getting crosswalk improvements, which could cost the city upwards of around $10,000. Does she think the addition of the LED warning sign, which has been approved, will help?
"I absolutely think the changes will improve safety," Grimme says. "If only to make people slow down, and be prepared to stop for a chid crossing."
Topics related to pedestrian safety, including vehicles running stop signs and not stopping at crosswalks, were discussed in-depth at the August City Council meeting.
"I moved to Rosemont a couple years ago," said Fort Thomas resident Jen Paolucci at that meeting. "On a daily basis, people are flying through [the stop sign]. [The Fort Thomas Police] have patrolled it, they sit there a while, write a ton of tickets, then they disappear. I don't know what the solution is, it's not like they are speeding. I'm being a concerned, noisy citizen, new to the city. I've almost gotten hit twice."
Fort Thomas Chief of Police Mike Daly said he spoke with Paolucci when she moved to Rosemont Ave. in 2014. "It's a very interesting dynamic because you have two three-way stops within seconds of each other and in the morning time it's very heavy because of work and school traffic," Daly said. "We see a lot more cars are in violation of going through stop signs."
Paolucci said she has a good vantage point from inside her house. She sees vehicles coming down Strathmore Ave., and often they don't stop at the stop sign at her driveway. "They go up to the sign at West Southgate, they don't stop there, then [they go] up to Memorial and I hear them gun it onto there. I don't think we need speed humps, like on West Southgate, but it's really every day."
Paolucci's 9-year-old once created a tally sheet, counting the cars that ran the stop sign. "The only thing I can think is to put a speed hump right before the stop sign," she says.
City Administrative Officer Ron Dill said they have continued to work with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to make improvements. "The crosswalks as proposed are not an accepted signage under state regulation," he said at the October City Council meeting. "Most of the locations we've identified as possibly having a crosswalk are on a state route."
The only crosswalks the Council is currently considering improving is the one by Moyer Elementary and possibly one by Johnson Elementary, both of which are outside the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's jurisdiction.
Dill said that through this process they've learned that there are multiple types of signage that can be used to aide pedestrian safety. "The most current and most identified is known as a beacon," Dill said. "The beacon type of signage alternates in lights between the crosswalk emblem and an arrow that is situated below that sign. So rather than putting the alternating lights around the sign, we held off."
Dill added that the beacon type of signage will not be pursued unless there's someone acts to initiate it.
Dill admits that vehicles not stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks is a problem. "I don't think it's that they are bad people, but I don't think everyone knows that when someone is standing in a crosswalk you're supposed to stop and allow them to proceed," Dill said. "I've experienced it with my daughter and baby carriage. It's a little bit of a growing concern with people."
In addition to new signage, Dill said the City must work on better educating its citizens. "There has to be a mindset in the community about what a crosswalk means," he said. Road safety education goes beyond crosswalks. Dill said he also witnesses, from the City Building, many vehicles not yielding to emergency vehicles pulling into the station.
While pedestrian safety is the responsibility of the driver, City Councilmember Ken Bowman says pedestrians also need to remain cautious. "People have a false sense of security if they are in the crosswalks, that drivers will stop."
Councilmember Chuck Thompson agrees that education is vital to keeping our streets safe. "We're a city of walkers," he said. "A major education thrust is extremely important."