I found myself face-to-face with the disastrous consequences of a failed public policy last Wednesday morning at the intersection of Lincoln and Dodds. It scared me to death. It made me angry. And I'm going to tell you about it. But before I do, I must declare acute sensitivities to both of the issues involved here - automobile accidents and failed public policy.
My family life was ravaged by an auto accident in 1984. And as a professional journalist for the past 20 years, I've chronicled what I consider to be an epidemic of failed leadership on the part of our public officials, at every level of government, and I'm tired of it.
I also want to emphasize that I do not speak for my neighbors in the Bryan Park neighborhood. They are fully capable of speaking for themselves. And I know they will. This time around, I trust they will not be treated like fools, as they were when they last asked the City of Bloomington to address the public safety threat that still exists at Lincoln and Dodds.
Also, it isn't my job to protect public safety, but I accept my share of responsibility for the story I'm about to tell because I did not sufficiently challenge the City's failure to act. I hope others will do the same and will not waste another minute before getting the problem solved.
Lincoln and Dodds is extremely dangerous for a couple of reasons.
From the crest of the hill a long block-and-a-half to the south, Lincoln is a one-way, downhill race to the stop sign at First Street. From college kids rushing to class to police officers hustling in for shift change down at the cop shop, a dangerous percentage of South Lincoln motorists are oblivious to the speed limit.
Additionally, three of the eight houses on the block between Dixie and Dodds are duplex rentals. There are probably eight to 10 students who live on the block, all with cars/SUVs and friends with cars/SUVs. Parking is adequate. But it is usually tight.
Between the speed and the parked cars, visibility at the intersection of Lincoln and Dodds is poor, an understatement if ever I've written one. As was demonstrated once again on Wednesday morning, motorists - in unacceptably large numbers - simply do not see each other.
This potentially deadly combination has manifested itself in multiple accidents throughout the 13 years I have lived on South Lincoln. The last was a couple years ago when a car pulled out in front of a northbound Fed Ex truck. The truck hit the car, ricocheted over the sidewalk, and actually struck a house.
In response, the neighbors did what any reasonable group of citizens would do in the wake of such a frightening incident. They petitioned their government to address the problem. They went to the City Traffic Commission and asked that a stop sign be erected.
Now, it's important to understand that the folks down here on South Lincoln are not fools. My across-the-street neighbors at the time were librarians. My next-door neighbors are in the jewelry business. A catty-corner neighbor is a highly respected craftsman.
Except for the students, all of my neighbors at that time had lived here longer than me. The woman two doors down has lived in her home for something like 40 or 50 years. We had all heard the screeching tires, witnessed the near misses, and rushed to the scenes of too many hits.
We shared what we knew with the Traffic Commission - intelligently, eloquently, forcefully, and, at times, emotionally. Unfortunately, having covered literally hundreds of such meetings as a reporter, I can't say I was surprised at the results of our efforts.
Traffic Commission members listened intently to the neighbors at the first meeting. They shared our concerns. They seemed sympathetic. Their engineer, however, was anything but. She said her book said that stop signs at any intersection are only warranted if there are X number of accidents in Y number of years.
Lincoln and Dodds was X-1, she said. Without another accident before Y expired, no stop sign was warranted. Never mind that a truck hit a house. The commission members seemed truly troubled that first night. They tabled the issue for further study.
Before the next meeting, City workers took traffic counts and cops recorded speeds at the intersection. At the next meeting, the engineer repeated that no stop sign was warranted. She and the commission talked about all sorts of alternatives to a stop sign -- eliminating some parking, improving sight lines, employing traffic-calming devices, etc.
When it became clear that the commission was not going to put in a stop sign and probably wouldn't do anything substantive, some neighbors predictably grew agitated and began debating individual Commission members from their seats.
At that point, District 5 City Councilman David Sabbagh intervened. He had sat with neighbors throughout and advised them to not waste time arguing with the Commission. He assured us that the City Council would put in a stop sign if the neighbors really wanted one.
After listening to neighbors' concerns and studying the situation, the City's solution was to install a couple of rumble strips halfway between Dixie and Dodds. For a day or two they put a radar sign on Lincoln that told people how fast they were going. The cops sat on Dodds and handed out a few tickets, a couple of times.
That would seem to be the last time they gave the matter any thought, until last week, that is. At about 11:45 or so on Wednesday morning, another serious accident occurred at the corner of Lincoln and Dodds.
A young mother with her infant son in the back seat collided with a car carrying an older couple, the woman on oxygen. I heard the impact from my back yard. She didn't even have time to hit her brakes.
I was among the first to arrive on the scene. It was a horrifying situation that my neighbors and I told the City was going to happen if they didn't act. They didn't act, and it happened. They need to be held accountable.
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative.