Students from the University of Toledo, who did a study on how to improve safety at Navarre Avenue and Wynn Road, asked Oregon City council to support their request for a left turn signal at the intersection.
Council has previously discussed whether safety could be improved at that intersection after 16-year-old Clay High School student Cody Van Hersett was killed there in a crash in January. Van Hersett was driving his vehicle west on Navarre Avenue when he collided with a semi that was turning left onto northbound Wynn Road. The truck driver was cited in the crash.
The students surveyed high school students, faculty and staff about improving safety at the intersection, and a majority supported a left turn signal.
“We know that State Route 2 is notorious for being unsafe,” said student Caitlyn McHugh. She, along with UT students Erica Payton and Aaron Diehr, presented their findings to council at a meeting on Monday.
“When we looked at the amount of crashes between the 4100 and 5800 block of Navarre, we noticed there was a total of 156 crashes between 2007 and 2012,” said McHugh. In January of this year, she added, there were eight crashes along that stretch of road.
“How many more crashes need to happen before we can act on this issue,” she said.
“Our main concern is the safety of Clay High School students,” she said. “We know students are at high risk for traffic accidents. We know that they’re inexperienced. They are going to be doing a lot of texting and driving, no matter what we do. We can try and reduce these things, but overall we know that the amount of precautions they are going to be taking is considerably lower than the amount of precautions you or I might take when we’re driving.”
Statistics show that between 9 and 18 percent of high school students never or rarely wear a seat belt while driving, she said. “And even more startling, between 4 and 20 percent drove after drinking one or more times in a 30 day period. Students will always be inexperienced and distracted and take risks. Our most modifiable factor is a turn light.”
Currently, the intersection has “permitted only left turns,” which are left turns when the traffic allows it.
Among the options at the intersection include “protected permitted left turn phasing,” where there is a green turn arrow.
The majority of research so far has shown that some type of phasing to left turns as opposed to just permitted only usually results in fewer crashes, according to the students.
Over half of the high school students, faculty and staff consider the Pearson Park area of Navarre Avenue to be unsafe, said the students. Seventy-five percent of the students and 85 percent of the faculty and staff supported a turn light at the intersection of Navarre and Wynn.
The students said they were seeking council’s support on getting a turn light at the intersection so they can look into the matter more with the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Mayor Mike Seferian said he had attended a seminar sponsored by the Ohio Department of Traffic Safety years ago and learned that fatalities increase at intersections with protected left turn signals when driver error is taken into account.
“It isn’t that we haven’t looked at these options,” said Seferian. “Our police chief and public service director have looked at it. We’ve taken things into account. There are things we try to take into consideration, all of the variables, that each of us has learned over the years. We really do take it seriously. Just because we haven’t done something doesn’t mean we haven’t ever looked at it. We’d love to have every intersection be as safe as possible. And we try to see to it that we can do the best we can with each and every intersection we have.
Public Service Director Paul Roman said he appreciated the students’ efforts in wanting to improve the safety of the intersection.
“I know it takes a lot of guts to put together a presentation and I appreciate the fact you’ve done that,” he said. “I think your constituents in this case have been mainly Clay High School students and teachers. What you have tried to collect is what they perhaps have perceived is the problem and what they believe is the answer. That is common. One thing I’ve learned with turn signals is if you give a protected turn, you are taking time from everyone else. So no matter what, you’re going to find that when you take time away from everyone else, they realize that when that change occurs, they may have to wait a little longer next time they come to that same light. They might grow a little more impatient, they might become a little more aggressive. And like the mayor said, it might have a negative effect. The cost of a turn signal is not that great. But I want to be very careful and not put something in that actually makes it worse. I appreciate what you’ve done. You definitely make it clear that there probably is a consensus of what people perceive and what they believe corrects things. One thing I don’t like to do is create a false sense of security.”
Roman said a study is being conducted by ODOT to determine what can be done to improve the safety at Navarre Avenue between Coy Road and I-280, which has a high accident rate.
“That’s our primary concern,” said Roman. “But we will go to the consultant that is doing this study on our behalf to have them also take a second look at Wynn and Navarre.”
If the city were to install a left turn light at the intersection, added Roman, it would be a “protected permitted light” similar to one at the Lallendorf Road and Navarre Avenue intersection.
“We’ll take this under advisement and forward it to our Safety Committee,” said Council President Tom Susor.