By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Bob Perry has witnessed three near-disasters at the Enid Trail’s Van Buren crossing.
He once was southbound on the highway at the crossing when a woman came into view from the west side of the road. A large dog was dragging her at full leash.
They didn’t stop.
“We slammed on our brakes,” said the local businessman, also remembering the semi behind him that also had to stop suddenly. “Nobody was hurt, but it was awfully close.”
As more people use the Enid Trails System, close calls like that may become more common in what Mayor Bill Shewey calls an already dangerous crosswalk.
Thousands of cars each day drive along the stretch of Van Buren south of Garriott, where the Enid Trails System intersects the highway in a wide crosswalk.
Estimates from a 2011 study of traffic along state highways showed that on an average day there were 16,300 vehicles passing through the area.
Cole Hackett, a spokesman for Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said figures from 2012 still are being compiled.
The idea of a stoplight at the crossing hasn’t found its way to the drawing board, Shewey said, adding that city officials still are kicking around ideas.
“We’ve got to have some kind of traffic control there as trail traffic picks up, because it’s a very dangerous place to cross right now,” he said.
Ideally, Shewey would like to see a pedestrian-controlled stoplight, similar to the one on Garriott between Enid Fire Department headquarters and city hall.
That control light, though, mainly allows fire trucks to exit the station without pulling into traffic.
If the city wants to install a traffic-control system along Van Buren, which also is U.S. 81, the state’s transportation agency would have to authorize it first.
Both the city of Enid and ODOT authorities would complete a joint study to find out the best options.
“Then, once a light or whatever is put out there, the city would have to maintain what’s built,” Hackett said.
Any traffic control along U.S. 81 would have to meet federal highway standards. Hackett said depending on the type of signals, it could cost between $50,000 and $100,000.
Another idea being floated by city staff would have yellow warning lights installed at one-tenth that amount.
There may be no silver bullet, to both protect pedestrians and avoid disrupting highway travelers. City Manager Eric Benson believes highways take priority over pedestrian trails, and said he is not confident ODOT would approve a full stoplight.
The warning lights also pose another problem, where pedestrians and vehicular traffic could become confused about who has the right of way.
“We’re looking at cost for this flashing light, but there again, I’ve got to make sure I don’t put a death trap up there,” said Benson.
After witnessing three separate incidents in broad daylight, where pedestrians were almost hit, Perry said he would like to see a full-on stoplight there that people on the trail activate.
In a recent incident, he stopped well short of the crosswalk for men pushing their bicycles across the street. As they began to cross the highway, a pickup driver in the next lane had to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting them.
“When I pulled up to stop, which is what I needed to do, it encouraged those young men to walk out. And the pickup behind me had no idea there was somebody there,” said Perry, who drives a small sedan. “If I had been driving a van or any other kind of truck, that pickup would have run over them and had no idea they were there.”
Decision-makers at city hall are aware of the dangers, but the installation of any kind of new safety device still is far away.
“Definitely, something will be done,” said Shewey. “The last thing you want is to get someone hurt.”
And there may be a time when the city similarly extends trail paths across Garriott.
Benson said he is trying to find the right path to take, hoping he doesn’t forsake safety for expediency.
“I’m confident we’ll find a very suitable solution,” Benson said. “It won’t make everybody happy, but it will be a suitable solution.”