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ODOT looks to improve pedestrian safety near Phoenix

A pedestrian hit by a car in an area on Highway 99 north of Phoenix last week escaped serious injury, but others haven’t been as fortunate over the past four years.

Since 2016 there have been four pedestrian deaths and one bicycle fatality in the area between the north Phoenix city limits at Coleman Creek Road and Garfield Street in south Medford. All but one has been south of South Stage Road.

Crashes between Phoenix and Garfield jumped to 34 last year after averaging 19 per year from 2012 through 2018, and two fatalities occurred south of South Stage last year. All pedestrian fatalities have occurred in hours of darkness.

Oregon Department of Transportation officials are meeting to determine enhancements that would help the situation, said Gary Leaming, spokesperson for the agency. A meeting was held in January and another is set for this week.

Much of the area in unincorporated land and the roadway lacks sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks and has a dearth of lighting. There are a number of manufactured home parks in the area and a mix of highway businesses. Buses stop at multiple points along the road, which has numerous access points for vehicles. The roadway is four lanes with a center turn lane.

“District Manager Jerry Marmon called the meeting. He wants to hear how soon this can be done and let’s get on and do it,” said Leaming. Marmon wants agency divisions to come up with plans and to move entanglements out of the way. Among the options being looked at are:

  • Reducing speed in the corridor from 45 mph to 35 mph.
  • Narrowing the slower outside lane by adding some kind of fog line to create a narrow bike path.
  • Adding pedestrian refuges in the center turn lane where they wouldn’t interfere with turning traffic.
  • Adding lights to more existing Pacific Power poles south of South Stage Road.
  • Installing pedestrian crosswalks with rapid repeating flashing lights that can be activated by walkers at three intersections: Northridge Terrace, Birch Street and Rose Street, all south of South Stage.
  • Possibly providing reflective devices. ODOT has reflective wrist bands available that local businesses that see heavy foot traffic could hand out.

“These would all be done in the right of way. Purchasing right of way is long and expensive,” said Leaming. He said overall the corridor probably needs about $25 million in work.

Corridor pedestrians Wednesday afternoon voiced concerns about the roadway.

“Between 3:30 and 6 p.m. the traffic is very heavy,” said Mitch Hensley, who stays across the road from Crown Market, near last week’s accident site. “I walk here a lot to the store. For the pedestrians it’s hard to cross the road here.”

John Wentz of Medford had to cross the highway for a visit to La Clinica Phoenix Health Center after riding the bus.

It’s not a good thing to do,” said Wentz, who had to stop in the center turn lane to wait for traffic. “What are you going to do? You’ve got to get across.”

Wentz noted the area in front of La Clinica is one of the few along the stretch with a section of sidewalk. Wentz said he rides his bike in better weather on the Bear Creek Greenway, which is east of Highway 99.

“I wouldn’t want to ride on this road. It’s too dangerous,” said Wentz. He’d like to see more lighting, saying not everyone has reflective clothing and that it is extremely dark at night.

Both drivers and pedestrians can take measures to decrease problems, said Leaming. Drivers need to use caution, especially at night, and slow down, which will decrease their stopping distance. Pedestrians should wear lighter-colored clothes, have reflective apparel and carry a flashlight at night.

Coleman Creek just north of Phoenix is scheduled to have a bridge put in next year to replace a culvert under the roadway that is inadequate for flooding. The project originally included money for sidewalks and bike lanes, but that was removed when funds were needed for two other Southern Oregon highway projects. The agency is exploring options to restore the safety funds.

Phoenix City Councilor Sarah Westover raised the corridor’s traffic safety issues at the Jan. 6 council meeting. The area is outside Phoenix city limits but is included in its designated urban reserve as an area for potential annexation. According to city documents, about 69% of the land is suitable for residential development with the rest commercial. Except for a private road, Highway 99 is the only way in and out of the 250-acre area.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

The Phoenix Plaza on Highway 99.