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Crosswalk improvements in Ashland are no guarantee of increased safety

The flashing lights, blinking red crossing warnings and extended curbs about to make an appearance at a number of downtown Ashland intersections might help a driver notice someone crossing the road.

Then again, they might not.

That's going to be a fact worth keeping in mind as you navigate Ashland, whether on foot or by car.

The city, in response to the death of a 73-year-old woman struck in the dark by a driver at the corner of First and Main streets in 2001, plans to spread the safety devices among nine downtown intersections.

Six intersections, including the one at which the woman was killed, will get curb bumpouts to bring walkers waiting at the corner into drivers' view. Five will get new crossing signals with numbers that count down seconds to a solid red block in place of the usual words and hands. One, the intersection of Lithia Way and Oak Street, will get lights embedded in the road, as on an airport runway. They will flash when a pedestrian pushes a button before crossing.

All are appropriate attempts to improve safety in the busy downtown area. But none is a proven method of making drivers more aware or pedestrians safer.

While they seem likely to help, so did crosswalks. Many traffic experts now say painted crosswalks alone are more dangerous than no marking on the road at all. Cities including Medford have decided to let theirs fade in areas where they give pedestrians a false sense of security.

The devices Ashland has selected have been popular in some places they've been tried and quickly abandoned as troublesome elsewhere. They are interesting as an experiment, but possibly not much more.

For drivers, there is no substitute for moving slowly and carefully through Ashland's busy and sometimes dark downtown corridor. Walkers are safest when they cross at intersections with signals, especially at night, and watch what drivers are doing.

No device can eliminate the potential for tragedy when cars and pedestrians mix. Greater caution on the part of both drivers and walkers, however, can reduce that potential.

Lighten up

A proposal to make optional four of eight subjects planned for Oregon's certificate of academic proficiency is a good idea ' particularly in light of diminishing resources in the public schools.

Under the state Board of Education plan, the state would develop tests for social studies, second languages, arts and physical education and report results, but middle and high school students would be able to choose to take the tests in all four subjects, some, or none of them.

Students still would be required to take tests in reading, math, writing and science. They would have to pass all four to earn the state's badge of academic proficiency ' the Certificate of Initial Mastery.

During its meeting last week, the Board of Education agreed on the optional route, but the board will wait for educators and the public to respond before an official vote.

With the increase in class sizes, we think testing in all eight subject areas would create an undue burden on teachers. Schools these days simply do not have the resources to conduct the rigorous testing program originally envisioned by state officials at its inception.