The message was clear from most residents and council members in attendance during Thursday’s London City Council meeting: “We want the traffic lights to stay.”
The public seating area was full during the meeting following news of a recent Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) traffic safety study which showed lights at the High Street intersections of Walnut, Union and Oak streets, as well as Madison Road, are no longer necessary.
Only traffic patterns at High and Main streets warranted a signal light, according to the study.
Representatives from ODOT spoke to council about the findings. They said cameras were mounted on the intersections on Tuesday, April 22 and recorded the number of pedestrians and vehicles going through the areas from 7 to 9 a.m. and noon to 6 p.m.
U.S. Route 42, which is High Street within London, is scheduled to be repaved in 2018, said ODOT representative Jennifer Jenkins. The traffic and safety study was conducted in preparation of the project.
“ODOT can’t spend money (upgrading) unwarranted signals,” she said. “We saw some potential safety improvement by removing the unwarranted lights.”
Between 2010 and 2012, there were 66 crashes at the intersection and 22 of those were rear-end crashes, Jenkins said. The three most common contributing factors were following too closely, failure to yield and running red lights.
Should the city decide to remove the lights, it would be best to do so soon so paint re-markings can take place as part of the paving project.
Council member Jason Schwaderer said he was concerned about the signals’ removal. The intersection of Madison and High streets out to the railroad tracks is a “drag strip,” he said.
“If you take that out, it’s going to be a longer drag strip,” he said. He also expressed concerns about children riding their bicycles across all four lanes of traffic.
Council president Pat Closser said he agreed with Schwaderer, specifically conveying concerns with the railroad track crossing.
“I could see people going right off it like a ramp if this were to happen,” he said.
At the intersection of Walnut and High streets, that light serves as a safety measure for the fire department, Closser added. If drivers on Elm Street know there is no light until Main Street, they could “take that corner and ride it in,” he said.
“If they come around that curve and there’s a fire truck pulling out, that’s a bad situation,” he said. “I think it would increase accidents, myself.”
Closser read letters from resident Bill Beathard and employees of the Madison County Courthouse echoing the concerns.
But county resident Joe Meyers said he felt the traffic signals were dangerous. While he agreed downtown is a “drag strip from light to light,” he said his experience being rear-ended at Walnut and High streets offered him a different perspective. He questioned why there is no left turn lane and why the lights are not more often set to flash.
“You go to the big city, and they’ve got 10 times the traffic and they don’t have accidents,” he said.
He also questioned why state routes 38 and 142 can dump out on High Street without a light, but others insist on having several downtown.
“We want to have the appearance that we’re a bigger town, but we are not a bigger town — we are choking ourselves down,” he said. “These traffic lights are dangerous for everyone. If you want to ignore the professionals, it’s what we do here in London.”
Resident Gary Feliks, who owns what was once O’Connors at the corner of High and Oak streets, said his concerns were two-fold: Removing the lights would be a danger to drivers and pedestrians, as well as local businesses.
“Right now if you try to cross from my old store to Subway, it’s like playing Frogger,” he said. “I can’t imagine trying to cross that street without a traffic light on foot, much less a car.”
ODOT studies should take into account how poorly-managed traffic can affect local businesses, he said. London wants the traffic, but wants to be able to manage it too, he added.
“I think if the state is trying to save money — I could probably give them a couple suggestions,” he said. “But the reality is this is too small of an expense to risk the potential loss and harm of life.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Closser thanked ODOT representatives for presenting their findings. The city is not mandated to follow through with the state’s suggestion, as the area remains within city jurisdiction.
Andrea Chaffin McKinney can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 1619 or via Twitter @AndeeWrites.