Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Front Street: Unsafe at Any Speed

Front Street: Unsafe at any Speed

Council member Kevin Johnson is trying to get the city to do something about a dangerous intersection. He should  also make an issue of Front Street, in his ward, where Portsmouth’s traffic problems literally begin. Because of its mixed and incompatible uses, and its lack of a traffic light; and with only one stop sign, which happens to be hazardous; and above all because of the speeding,   Front Street functions as the Portsmouth Raceway Annex. As they enter Portsmouth on the West Side, on Route 104, drivers coming over the  Scioto River continue at harebrained speeds on to Second Street, without being slowed down by the posted 35 mile hour speed limit. Maybe the presence of the Speedway, which they pass as they enter the city, makes  them feel like they’re in the last lap of the Indianapolis 500.  The wild ones entering Portsmouth on Route 104 know that there’s an even faster way to speed through Portsmouth than Second Street. Just dogleg right on to Front Street, and you’ve got only one stop sign to bother with. That’s it. There’s not another stop sign on Front  Street from Scioto Street to Shawnee State. 

Mural watchers, two in wheelchairs, one in stroller, maneuvering around two of the  ugly fifteen planters on Front Street

What follows is a list of users on Front Street

·   There is first the mural traffic, which is naturally slow with frequent stops and starts.
·   Then there is the morning late-for-work and afternoon early-getaway-traffic, which pays no attention to the 25 mile per hour speed limit, partly because the only speed limit sign is at the other end of Front Street facing traffic coming west.
·  Next there are the motorcyclists who are attracted by the marvelous motorcycle mural, which is a magnet, the single most visited and photographed  mural on the floodwall. 
·   In addition to the vehicular traffic, there are the pedestrians, most of whom walk on the sidewalk on the northern side of Front Street. But some pedestrians, often especially those accompanied by children, prefer to view the murals by walking along the eleven-foot-wide strolling area next to the flood wall. Those in motorized wheelchairs also prefer to view the murals by traveling along this strip, as do classes of school children. One morning recently  I saw  preschoolers being shepherded along the strip by two adults, with cars speeding by a few feet away on the road.  
·  In addition to all the pedestrian traffic, joggers have in the last couple of years become a conspicuous part of the passing parade on Front Street. Many of the joggers are Shawnee State students, sometimes as many as twenty  in a phys-ed  class or  in clusters of four or five jogging to stay fit.  Joggers run on  both the road itself and the eleven foot wide strip next to the wall. Several organizations sponsor races that use Front Street as part of the course.

Joggers on Front Street running past moveable staging used to clean and touch up murals.

From the beginning, the 11-foot-wide strip had five large planters, holding  plants and flowers. One of the  original purposes of the big planters may have been  to serve as obstructions to any driver who might dare to pass a pokey tourist. No impatient driver would want to tangle with a heavy duty planter. Several years ago some group  placed a  dozen or so smaller planters on the strip with the aim of beautifying Front Street, as if the murals were not beautiful enough. Perhaps the plants and flowers are appreciated but the planters are not:  they are unattractive hazards and  obstacles for pedestrians and joggers, as well as for the two employees on movable staging who touch up and clean the murals year round.  The planters are made of a relatively light synthetic simulated  stone material that the wind and vandals occasionally knock over. There might be a proper place for the planters, in the cemetery perhaps, but not on a street that is as crowded as Front Street.
     Something has got to be done or there could be a serious accident, in which children or disabled people might be injured or killed. Now that J. Edgar Horner is history, maybe the Traffic Committee can be more constructive and less obstructive. But I doubt it. I am told anyone who doesnt comply with the do-nothing policy of the traffic committee is removed by one means or another. 

 Suggestions for the Traffic Committee 

·   Insist that the police enforce the 25 mile speed limit. Police cruisers frequently go well over  the 25 mile limit in driving from the Municipal Building at one end of Front Street to the police clubhouse near the other end, so they will have to turn over a new leaf before they begin enforcing the limit for others. Now that Horner is no longer chief of police, maybe officers will  not be quite so eager to get away from the police station.
·  Put several stop signs along Front Street. The one sign that now exists at the end of the floodwall is obviously not enough.
·   Consider lowering  the speed limit from 25 to 20 or even 15 miles an hour. When Front Street reaches Shawnee State University, the posted limited becomes 10 miles an hour, and speed bumps help remind drivers to observe the limit. I am told speed bumps were tried on Front Street back when Frank Gerlach was mayor, but  trucks going too fast over the bumps caused dishes in the Biggs House to rattle. Of course nothing will help—not speed bumps or stop signs—if speed limits are not displayed and enforced.
·  Request that whatever group put them there find a  safer, more appropriate place than Front Street for  their simulated stone planters.
·   Repaint the faded traffic lines on Front Street, which are now almost invisible.
·  Repaint the now invisible yellow line along the edge of the  eleven foot strip to make it clear cars and motorcycles should not park or drive on it.

One or more of these suggestions might be worth following. The more popular the murals and the heavier the traffic becomes, the greater the chances of serious injury. Drivers should be discouraged from thinking they are on the Portsmouth Speedway, where there are no speed limits, and  made to understand they are on Front Street, where there are limits that are strictly enforced.

The one stop sign on Front Street is a hazard because it stops only vehicles going east. The other side of the sign is blank, so those driving west do not have to stop, even though just ten yards ahead is a hidden opening where vehicles exit to Front Street from the river side of the flood wall.

Let the city stand on notice that an accident at this spot could cost taxpayers much more than putting another  stop sign on the blank side would.
In summary: Not only is drug trafficking a serious problem in Portsmouth, so is traffic per se. Between the potholes, the faded lane markers, the eliminated traffic lights, and the wannabe Marlon Brandos, driving in Portsmouth is unsafe at any speed. People tend to drive as they live. People who flout laws regarding money, and go bankrupt, as  Kalb, Malone, and Haas have done, also tend to flout laws regarding driving. They don’t observe speed limits because those limits are not enforced as much as they should be. I think people who can’t get ahead in life, want to get ahead on roads and highways by ignoring posted speed limits. I’ve never lived in a town that observes speed limits less than Portsmouth. Maybe the lawlessness of Portsmouth can not begin to be turned around until traffic laws are enforced, and a good place to start enforcing them would be on Front Street, where the police frequently speed between the police station and their clubhouse. Instead of setting a bad example, they should be ticketing.

The Wild Ones
 Jim Kalb is a prime example of a wannabe Brando. He’s been breaking traffic laws since he was knee high to a pill popper. He rides two wheelers but doesn’t have the brains of a three wheeler. As mayor he  crusaded to reduce the number of traffic lights in the city.  We are still living with the consequences of his traffic light foolishness. And how about the  wild wannabe,  city auditor Trent Williams, on his motorcycle?  And dont forget our serial speeder, councilman Saddler. I suppose city council president Haas is willing to pay much more for high powered foreign cars than he is for child support because he can pass everyone on the highway.  I’ve never lived in a town that observes speed limits less than Portsmouth. Maybe the lawlessness of Portsmouth will not be turned around until, as a first step,  traffic laws are taken more seriously and all the wannabe Brandos stop speeding on Front Street.