Dec. 22, 2004 - Northwest residents concerned about traffic safety around Mountain View High School have successfully petitioned the county to lower the speed limit in front of the school.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors are expected to vote Jan. 4 on an ordinance to lower the speed limit on Linda Vista Boulevard in front of MVHS from 45 mph to 25 mph. Supervisors at a Dec. 14 meeting said they supported the 20 mph speed reduction, despite results of a Pima County transportation department traffic study that indicate the sheriff's department would have difficulty enforcing that speed limit.
The county's study called for the speed limit in front of the school to be 35 mph. However, parents and students at a community forum at MVHS Nov. 15 disagreed with that conclusion, saying the speed limit needed to be lowered to 25 mph to ensure student safety. County staff denied their requests, stating that legal challenges to the speed limit would not hold up in court.
An Oct. 1 accident - when a car traveling 45 mph struck 15-year-old MVHS student Talin Rogers while he walked in a marked crosswalk on Linda Vista - inspired community members to insist the county make traffic changes. Following the accident, Rogers remained in a coma for almost seven weeks. He emerged from the coma just before the Thanksgiving holiday.
A family friend of the Rogers, Sue Koepke, began a drive to collect petitions so the county would understand the widespread community support for traffic changes in front of the school. Koepke presented nearly 9,000 signatures to the Pima County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 14.
A MVHS parent, Kevin Oxnam, distributed petitions in support of the speed limit reduction in front of the high school, and was one of four community members who addressed the board at the meeting. Each of them favored lowering the speed limit to 25 mph. He said that while gathering signatures, he did not encounter anyone who opposed reducing the speed limit in front of the school.
"This is about parents wanting their kids to come home from school alive," he said.
Due to the overwhelming community support of the 25 mph speed limit, Supervisor Ann Day moved to change the ordinance that called for lowering the speed limit to 35 mph. She said the speed limit in front of the school should be reduced to 25 mph as the residents requested.
The speed limit on Linda Vista Road west of the school will be reduced to 35 mph to Camino De Oeste, because, according to Arizona law, speed limits can only be reduced in increments of 10 mph. The county board of supervisors will vote on that ordinance Jan. 4.
The board of supervisors passed two other ordinances on the agenda, which made it illegal to turn right on red lights at the Linda Vista and Thornydale roads intersection and would allow deputies to cite pedestrians jaywalking in front of the school. The other recommendations made by the county in the traffic study did not require county ordinances and also will go into effect soon. One of those recommendation includes the construction of a lighted, overhead crosswalk in front of the school.
Community members had complained that the crosswalk was not prominent enough to grab the attention of drivers.
According to the county's study, 894 pedestrians crossed Linda Vista Road during a 10-hour period on a school day in October. Of those, 281 crossed at the marked crosswalk at the west end of the school where Rogers was hit and 162 pedestrians - more than 20 percent - were jaywalkers. The remaining 451 crossings occurred at the marked crosswalk at the traffic signal at Thornydale. Because of the high percentage of jaywalkers, the study's recommendations include the construction of a six-foot, chain link fence on the south side of Linda Vista along the school's frontage, and the placement of No Pedestrian Crossing signs on both sides of the road.
Lt. Sandy Rosenthal, who is in command of Special Operations at the Pima County Sheriff's Department, which includes the traffic and motorcycle unit, said even lowering the speed limit to 25 mph will not guarantee student safety. Any situation in which students intermingle with traffic can present a hazard, he said.
The first step to enacting the traffic changes is education, Rosenthal said. The Pima County Sheriff's department will first distribute flyers to MVHS students so they are aware of the traffic changes, and prominently post the changed ordinances on Linda Vista Road.
The sheriff's department also will have to increase enforcement around the high school.
"We'll have no choice but to bring out more officers initially," Rosenthal said.
Deputies will first issue warnings to drivers and pedestrians who violate the newly enacted ordinances, and after a certain period of time, they will begin issuing citations. Whether those citations are upheld in court is for the judge to decide, Rosenthal said.
He added that it's difficult to predict if people will obey the reduced speed limit on the road before the ordinance goes into effect, because people will often make personal judgments about if they will obey the speed limit based on their comfort on the road.
"Most people drive a roadway based on how it appears to them," Rosenthal said.
But what distinguishes the situation at MVHS is that many community members have signed a petition stating they support these traffic changes.
"We hope that those citizens that signed the petition will abide by that speed reduction," Rosenthal said.
Pima County Transportation Director Kurt Weinrich said county staff made the recommendation of 35 mph on Linda Vista based on the facts collected by the traffic study. He said the transportation department must make its decision based on the safety and interests of all motorists and pedestrians involved in the data, and not base its decision in reaction to a single accident.
Weinrich said the county will continue to work with the Marana Unified School District and officials at MVHS so students remain aware of traffic and safety issues surrounding their schools.
"We still have a lot more work," Weinrich said about the level of safety around MVHS. He said the school has several traffic issues with respect to the loading and unloading of buses. Traffic problems also emerge when parents drop off and pick up their students, Weinrich said.