Ashland reins in walkers

ASHLAND — Dangerous crosswalks near Southern Oregon University prompted the city of Ashland on Thursday to allow police to start ticketing pedestrians for barging into streets without making sure traffic is clear — and possibly giving them diversion duty as crossing guards.

In a crowded hearing of the Ashland Traffic Safety Commission, many witnesses opposed expensive technological fixes, saying they worsen students' false sense of security — and they urged increased education and enforcement on careless drivers and walkers.

Other quick, inexpensive solutions proposed by Public Works Director Jim Olson included immediately upping the wattage on streetlights from 75 to 150, laying down rumble strips before crosswalks and getting the state to drop the speed limit on Siskiyou Boulevard from 30 to 25 mph.

Following the death of SOU student Gladys Jimenez last week, the panel embraced the ideas and turned to longer-term, more spendy solutions, such as installing flashing beacons at the Bridge Street crossing and embedded crosswalk flashers at Garfield.

The commission ruled out a pedestrian bridge, indicated interest in a traffic signal at Garfield and shied away from closing any crosswalks because students would likely jaywalk there instead.

Members called for a moment of silence for Jimenez, the 22-year-old criminology major who lingered in a coma for a week before dying — then heard eyewitness Preston Moser of Medford describe her "twirling around in the air and falling to the pavement."

A 5 mph speed cut would not have changed the outcome, said Moser, who covered her with his down vest and called 9-1-1.

Marshall Hucklebee of Ashland called on the commission to take the bold and politically loaded step of banning cell phones while driving or using crosswalks, but the panel did not discuss the move. Jimenez was on a cell phone, as was a student grazed this week by a car in a crosswalk.

Commission member Greg Lemhouse, a Medford police officer, cautioned against spending a lot of money on expensive technology and consultants.

He noted, "I've been to dozens of pedestrian-car fatalities and they're all ugly. We have to keep in mind we're still going to have injuries and fatalities, unfortunately"¦ things come together in a perfect storm and people die."

Lemhouse supported diversion programs for pedestrians who don't look both ways and, like the rest of the commission, welcomed immediate rumble strips, brighter lighting and flashing beacons triggered by either motion detectors or a pushed button.

Olson said fatality rates are significantly lower in 25 mph zones compared with 30 — and that the State Highway Engineer, who sets all speed limits in the state, would have to do a study of the strip before changing it. The state, he added, has already indicated its willingness to help the city enhance safety on Siskiyou.

SOU Women's Center Director Deltra Ferguson, who uses the Garfield crosswalk to get to and from work, called it "the Garfield gauntlet," adding that for years she's had to dramatically wave her briefcase and arms to get the four lanes of drivers to all stop at once.

"It's terribly difficult to cross that street. As a driver, it's also incredibly difficult to avoid pedestrians there"¦It's very sad it's taken a death to create action," Ferguson said.

SOU Co-director of Public Safety Eric Rodriguez said the university agrees with all the proposed steps, will "be an eager partner" in getting grants and will talk with the city about footing some of the bill. However, he said enforcement is critical or any safety regimen will "wear off."

Another witness to the fatal collision, Tom Brady, called it a "tough intersection, virtually impossible to get across" when making a left turn from Garfield to the boulevard after work — and added that cars often rear end each other when trying to stop for walkers, frequently with near-miss results for pedestrians.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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