HONESDALE, PA — While strolling through downtown Honesdale on April 30, borough mayor Derek Williams came upon the scene of a car accident at the intersection of Seventh and Church streets. A …
HONESDALE, PA — While strolling through downtown Honesdale on April 30, borough mayor Derek Williams came upon the scene of a car crash at the intersection of Seventh and Church streets. A pedestrian was crossing the street at an unmarked crosswalk area and was struck by a motorist turning from Seventh onto Church.
The pedestrian was taken to the local hospital, and did not appear to be seriously injured, according to Williams. However, it’s the kind of incident that has become all too common in Honesdale, and has resulted in several fatal collisions since the borough adopted its one-way traffic pattern on Main Street and Church Street more than a decade ago.
In fact, the same intersection was the site of a 2011 accident in which Ruth Ann Malti was fatally struck by a driver. Her family sued the borough, PennDOT and the engineers who planned the new traffic pattern for her wrongful death, resulting in a $2 million settlement after engineers concluded the intersection was “unnecessarily dangerous for pedestrians.”
It’s a tricky puzzle to solve, however, Williams said. Some solutions—like placing more flashing beacons at crosswalks that alert drivers when someone is crossing—are expensive. Others—like changing the flow of traffic—would take a long time to implement, since that requires studies through PennDOT. And ultimately, Williams said, it’s about finding a way of changing peoples’ mindsets so that the downtown area becomes a space shared equally by those traveling on foot and behind the wheel, rather than a freeway on which pedestrians take their lives into their own hands when traversing.
Imposing heftier and more frequent fines on speeders is of course one strong deterrent. But with just a part-time police force in the borough, local law enforcement may be stretched too thin to provide consistent monitoring. Plus, Williams points out, many of the crashes were not caused by speeding, but by inattentiveness, and that’s not so easy to police.
Pedestrian safety was a topic of conversation at a borough council meeting in April, where the mayor and the councilors discussed various strategies to get people to slow down and pay better attention. Many suggestions were voiced, but no clear-cut solution emerged.
Williams said he wants to look at the problem from a “systems” point of view.
“It’s about finding a way of changing peoples’ mindsets so that the downtown area becomes a space shared equally by those traveling on foot and behind the wheel, rather than a freeway across which pedestrians take their lives into their own hands when traversing.”
“That’s where I’ve been trying to steer the conversation as best I can, to encourage people to talk about what it feels like and what it means to be in the current transportation network downtown,” he said. “I don’t blame anyone who gets hit certainly, but I don’t even blame the drivers in these situations because it’s really the design that’s encouraging people to pay less attention and drive faster than they should.”
To get the conversation started, Williams posted about the most recent accident on his mayoral Facebook page.
“The one-way traffic pattern of downtown Honesdale favors the automobile. This has increased speeds and decreased safety over the past dozen years,” he wrote. “Honesdale is a place to be and our main streets are designed for drivers to pass through. I think it’s about time to open up the two-way reversion discussions again. I’m certainly ready to seriously talk about it.”
The post caught many residents’ attention, receiving more than 150 comments within 24 hours. A lot of people called for a return to two-way traffic patterns. Others suggested alternative remedies. Here are some of their suggestions:
“How about installing some automated speed-camera enforcement? They are all over Europe, and no police officers are needed. It definitely will slow people down if they have to pay for tickets.”
“A stoplight on both Main and Church might work.”
“The issue is how the parking spots are designed, where they meet cross-over streets. It is insanely difficult to see pedestrians AND to turn out onto Main and Church street[s] when driving because the parked cars block the view of oncoming traffic.”
“Increase the amount of crosswalk signage (make it large and easy to identify) as well as paint each in bold, bright colors… Put the crossings at locations that are known to draw a lot of our local consumers and/or summer clientele and make them beautiful and bright… Tear up the pavement at intersections and put a different road material like a cobblestone to help drivers and pedestrians better see that’s where people are meant to cross.”
Williams was heartened to see the markedly civil conversation that ensued from his original post, especially by Facebook’s standards.
“It was really a joy to see productive conversation in the Facebook commentary,” he said. “People asking questions, talking solutions out, it was really a cool thing.”
Williams also has some other possibilities in mind—like raised crosswalks that make it clearer to drivers that they’re passing over a pedestrian area, or putting together walking groups that make them more visible to drivers and help pedestrians look out for each other.
There are some cheaper options that might be a good place to start with too, he said. Some simple signage reminding drivers to reduce their speed and keep a sharp eye, bollards placed along the crosswalks, and temporary speed bumps all look like potential first steps to the mayor.
Whichever avenue the borough leadership decides to take, Williams hopes that they can keep sight of his biggest priority: shifting the culture of downtown driving.
“The road itself was designed to speed cars through town, and that might work connecting towns to other towns, but in a place like Honesdale, you just have to go slower,” he said. “I want to make sure, whatever we try, it keeps that conversation in mind, so we don’t lose track of what the heart of the issue is.”
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