“Ladies and Gentlemen! In the blue corner we have a real heavy weight, the average car, weighing in at 4,000 pounds. In the red corner, we have little Johnny Doe, a student at Bluffton Middle School….”

Who do you think is going to win in the battle of cars vs. kids? On July 6, I gathered with adults and children who want safer conditions for pedestrians at the corner of College and Main in Bluffton, Ohio. We addressed the village council, expressing our fears, asking questions, and urging the village to side with the kids.

I went in feeling pretty clear about why drivers need to yield to pedestrians: because it’s the law! Because I’m tired of being ignored by drivers and feeling threatened when crossing the street. To my surprise, I came away with a new view of this situation.

Public comments included:

  • Children and adults are anxious and unhappy about conditions at College and Main Street.
  • These residents understand that they could be hurt or killed by a car.
  • Many drivers are not alert to pedestrians.
  • Few drivers recognize the pedestrian’s right to cross the road when there is vehicle traffic.
  • Children are often dependent on adults to help them cross at College and Main.
  • This crosswalk is at a critical location for children. It is
    • Adjacent to the high school on the west
    • Adjacent to the public library on the east
    • The most direct route for individuals and classes going to the tennis courts, football field, and Ricky Matter center.
    • It is the first marked crosswalk on Main St. coming from the village limits to the south (.7 miles)
  • Even school bus drivers are not yielding to pedestrians.
  • Students who are anxious to make it to practice on time (at the football field) are running to beat cars.
  • Vehicle speeds on Main Street are too fast.
  • Couldn’t crossing guards be used?
  • Enforcement of right of way and speed laws should be increased.
  • An environment that discourages walking is bad for our health and safety.
  • Residents don’t understand why controls–a traffic signal and 4-way stop–were removed.
  • An educational campaign is needed.
  • Educating those who don’t live in Bluffton will be more difficult.

I was excited to see children–from our elementary, middle and high school–at the meeting. Several described their close calls and frustrations. They gave me a new understanding of how inadequate our signs and flashers are and how poor driver behavior affects children the most.

The independence of these kids is really being limited. While we have managed to avoid pedestrian injuries and fatalities so far, our worries have us handcuffed. Do you remember the first time your parents let you walk to school by yourself or bike to the store? The ability to walk and bike around town should be one of the bonuses of living in Bluffton. We really owe it to our children to make conditions safer and to find ways to improve driver behavior.

This meeting should be the start of making improvements to the intersection of College and Main. Since my first contacts with village representatives in May, they have contacted the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and are considering low cost options within the village’s control.

Village council and staff comments included:

  • Recent recommendations from ODOT–such as additional signage and striping–are being considered.
  • ODOT will be doing another traffic survey in the near future.
  • State codes do not allow a control signal at this location because of low traffic volume. Cost is not the reason the light was removed in 2007. (It is my understanding that crash reduction is the primary goal in removing “unwarranted” signals.)
  • Repainting of the crosswalk is currently done every 6 years.
  • Citations (of unspecified type) are being issued to drivers.
  • Water bills can be used to communicate with residents.
  • If new signage and striping do not provide adequate results, other options will be investigated.

How do we know what will be done and when? Mayor Judy Augsburger urged us to return to future meetings. The council meets at 8 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of each month. The agenda is announced on the Friday before and items can be submitted until 5 p.m. on Thursday.

To change the balance in battle of cars vs. kids, we need your help. You can make a difference by 1) stopping to allow pedestrians to cross the street, 2) urging others to follow state law, and 3) letting the village and Bluffton schools know that it’s time to take action.

Who wins in the battle of cars vs. kids depends on all of us.

school zone