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MoDOT, city engineers discuss pedestrian safety with task force

With nearly 20 binders filled with thick planning documents and federal rules sitting in the back of the room, engineers with MoDOT and the City of Columbia explained in one hour their guidelines for construction of pedestrian facilities.

The Mayor’s Task Force on Pedestrian Safety held its second meeting Tuesday at City Hall, a part of their “discovery” process, as co-chair and Fourth Ward City Councilman Ian Thomas put it, before working on decisions and recommendations for the full council in the spring. After several pedestrian accidents, some fatal, in a six-month period, Mayor Bob McDavid called for a data-driven analysis of what Columbia has and needs in the way of pedestrian safety measures.

MoDOT Traffic Engineer Trent Brooks explained his department’s policies and work on improving safety. Brooks told the task force that MoDOT does not allow construction of facilities such as crosswalks or pedestrian signals at stoplights if there is no safe place for those people to go.

The issue came up related to a project at Stadium Boulevard and Old Highway 63 – two state-owned roads. A first draft of the project had only two crosswalks at the four-way intersection. Many members of the council, led by Thomas, felt the area would be safer with four, despite MoDOT’s policy, in addition to the city pursuing a sidewalk for the area at a later date. The council approved the new plan with all four crosswalks, after MoDOT agreed to it.

Rachel Ruhlen, a member of the task force, as well as the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission, hopes that the city adopt a new policy requiring intersections have crosswalks when doing construction there.

“Put in those facilities, or at least make it possible to design the intersection in a way that it makes it possible to go back and add those facilities very easily,” Ruhlen told ABC 17 News.

Brooks also spoke about the deaths on state roads in the last decade. From 2005 to 2010, the state watched the number drop from 1,257 to 821 – a 35% reduction. Brooks credited the drop to building shoulders, rumble strips and guard cables on major highways, but noted the number has dropped only slightly in the five years since 2010. In 2014, 757 people died on state roads.

“We kind of need a culture change,” Brooks told ABC 17 News about what could cause the next significant drop in deaths. “We need people that are willing to put their cell phone down, or they’re willing to not text and drive.”

Brooks said distracting driving causes problems not only for drivers, but cyclists and pedestrians that could be nearby.

“If you’re not paying attention to the road, something can happen in front of you, and you don’t see it,” Brooks said. “And it just takes that split second of not seeing something, and something bad could happen that can ruin a life forever.”

Ruhlen thought MoDOT’s own culture change had gotten better to become more friendly to pedestrians along their roads – which includes many significant and well-travelled ones in Columbia – but could still improve.

“They’re still wanting to move vehicles, rather than people,” Ruhlen said.

The task force’s next two meetings will focus on pedestrian issues at the University of Missouri and for public school students. The group plans to meet the third Tuesday of every month at City Hall.

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