Walkers, joggers and bicyclists on Scull Creek Trail will soon be required to stop and activate a traffic signal button before crossing North Street.
Numerous complaints from both drivers and trail users, followed by a non-fatal accident in which a bicyclist was hit by a vehicle, prompted a Street Committee safety review of the crossing in late February.
“If you talk to anybody who uses that intersection very often, it’s pretty clear that nobody – whether in a car or a cyclist – really knows how to act at the intersection,” said Ward 2 Alderman Matthew Petty, who also serves on the committee. “That makes it really unsafe.”
Trails coordinator Matt Mihalevich said the confusion could stem from state laws which treat pedestrians differently than bicyclists.
“State law says a bicycle is treated as a vehicle, so a cyclist does have to stop,” said Mihalevich. “A pedestrian, on the other hand, has the right of way.”
Petty said he wasn’t concerned so much with the differences in legal protection for drivers and cyclists as he was with the immediate safety of the trail users.
“I’m not really looking to change state law right now,” he said, “but I would like to start exploring safety improvements to help clarify which actions are appropriate no matter which side you’re on.”
Currently, the four-lane crossing utilizes a motion-activated radar unit which triggers flashing yellow lights for drivers and flashing red lights for trail users. Signs installed also indicate cyclists must first stop before entering the roadway.
“We feel like we’ve really been enforcing that the trail user must stop,” said Mihalevich. “I don’t know how else to reinforce this.”
After discussing the matter with various department heads, city engineer Chris Brown recommended installing a push-button activated signal which would stop vehicular traffic only when prompted by a trail user.
“I believe it’s the safest alternative,” said Brown.
By utilizing poles and other equipment the city already has in inventory, Brown said overall costs would be minimal (about $2,500), and installation could be completed quickly (about four weeks).
“The push-button is a great idea,” said Petty. “That way, all the drivers know it’s a protected crossing and all the trail users know it’s a protected crossing.”
Other committee members said they realize the decision might not sit well with everyone, particularly trail users who will be required to stop briefly even if there’s no oncoming traffic.
“There’s going to be some people who like it and some people who don’t like it,” said committee chair and Ward 3 Alderman Bobby Ferrell, “but we had a near-miss accident there and we’ve got to do something.”
If all goes according to plan, the new signal will be installed and ready to go by late May.