Editorial: Reconsider taking out stop lights at Hawthorne intersection

Published 7:55 pm Thursday, February 13, 2020

Concerns flared Wednesday evening when a representative from engineering firm SRF Consulting Group presented the design plans for the Bridge Avenue corridor, which is slated to be reconstructed this summer.

The project has been the topic of much discussion over the last 15 years, including whether to implement changes in the number of lanes, traffic signals and even whether to install roundabouts.

While we were pleased to hear plans for most of the project, we were dismayed to hear plans to take out the traffic lights on Bridge Avenue at the road’s intersection with Hawthorne Street. In their place, plans called for pedestrian signs with flashing lights on Bridge Avenue and stop signs on Hawthorne Street for motorists looking to cross over or turn onto Bridge Avenue.

The representative from the consulting firm cited traffic volumes as the reasoning to take out the lights.

While we recognize this firm and engineers across the state use certain guidelines to make their recommendations, we think other factors are more important to consider in this case.

This intersection is widely used by some of the most vulnerable pedestrians of our community: our children, as they go to and from school only a few blocks away.

These children, most of who walk to Hawthorne Elementary School because of their proximity to the school, must have a system that is easy — and reliable — to cross the street.

Having frequent access to similar signs in front of Lou-Rich on Front Street, we have seen how these flashing signs work — and don’t work — in getting motorists to slow down and, when necessary, to stop for pedestrians looking to cross the street.

Add into the mix that children often lack perceptual judgement and motor skills to safely cross a busy road consistently without putting themselves in danger, and that only makes matters worse.

According to a 2017 University of Iowa study, children from 6 to 14 years old were placed in a realistic simulated environment and asked to cross one lane of a busy road multiple times.

The results found that children up to their early teenage years had difficulty consistently crossing the street safely, with accident rates as high as 8% with 6-year-olds. Only by age 14, did they navigate crossing the street without incident.

“Some people think younger children may be able to perform like adults when crossing the street,” said Jodie Plumert, professor in the University of Iowa’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, in an article about the study in “ScienceDaily,” a website dedicated to science and research breakthroughs. “Our study shows that’s not necessarily the case on busy roads where traffic doesn’t stop.”

The younger the children were, the more difficulty they had judging the gap between a passing car and an oncoming vehicle, considering speed and distance from the crossing.

While the Bridge Avenue and Hawthorne Street intersection would have flashing pedestrian signs under the proposal, these signs are not the same as traffic lights or even stop signs and, thus, the same concerns from the study are relevant.

In the coming weeks as the plans for this road are finalized, we ask the city and county leaders to take a hard look at this issue.

Take time to observe as school begins or ends, and remember we must do all within our power to watch out for those members of our community who may not always be watching out for themselves.