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Progress delayed by a silly misunderstanding

The New Year is past, but Monday night’s Council meeting indicates that I need to make and follow a resolution for future meetings: Whenever I’m commenting on or asking questions about an agenda item, I should always mention (probably more than once) how I intend to vote on that item (unless, of course, I still haven’t decided), ideally using words of one syllable. Call it “Communications 101.”

One item on Monday’s agenda was a resolution supporting the use of traffic camera revenues for traffic and pedestrian safety improvements. I am under the impression that I have repeatedly endorsed this in the past — for example, I was quoted in the Oak Ridger supporting this back in January — and I recently made a comment to the same effect here on this blog as well as on Facebook. My position has been that the camera revenue should be used for one-time purposes (because we should not depend on having this money forever — there is a chance that the cameras will be discontinued as a result of a political or legal decision, and if they remain drivers ought to start behaving better and paying fewer fines) and because the stated purpose of the cameras is safety, the first priority for use of this money should be safety improvements. And as the newspaper reported in January, I have commented that some  safety improvements  could eventually eliminate the need for some cameras.

The resolution presented to City Council on Monday would authorize using “the Special Programs Fund [that’s the city account where the FY 2011 traffic camera revenue has been directed] for traffic capacity/safety, school crossing, and bicycle/pedestrian safety improvements.” I pushed for the creation of this separate fund in City budget discussions last year, and whenever the topic of the use of this money arises I have mentioned improvements related to traffic safety. Accordingly, I fully intended to vote for this resolution, but I (along with the rest of Council) was prevented from doing so on Monday because fellow Council member Charlie Hensley was convinced I was going to vote against it — and he managed to get Council to delay action for 5 weeks (until the next City Council meeting) to avoid what he was sure would be (in the absence of Council member Jane Miller) a 3-3 vote.

I’m not entirely sure what I said Monday evening that led Charlie to firmly believe that I had switched 180 degrees on this topic (and I don’t have access to a video recording of the meeting), but I do know what my position is — and what I thought I said.

The City staff has generated a list of projects for which the traffic camera money could be used, and that list was attached to the resolution. City engineer Steve Byrd and his staff have developed conceptual designs  for some of the higher-priority projects. I have a few questions and doubts about design details (many of which are subject to change before implementation), but I believe it is high time to move forward on the highest priority projects.

  • The top item on my priority list (and number 2 on the staff’s “major” project list) is installation of a “pedestrian signal” (i.e., stoplight with walk light) at the crosswalk between Oak Ridge High School and the Oak Ridge Civic Center. I believe there is strong community support for making this crossing safer (the main disagreement being from people who would prefer a pedestrian overpass), and I have a hunch that this stoplight could eliminate the need for the speed camera and crossing guards currently deployed at this location.
  • I also think it’s appropriate to move forward on the staff’s number-one “major” enhancement project, which is a package of pedestrian safety improvements at the intersection of Oak Ridge Turnpike (SR 95) and Illinois Avenue (SR 62). That complex intersection is not friendly to pedestrians in its current form, but staff has defined ways that it could be made much safer without detriment to traffic.
  • Those two projects could absorb all of the funds currently available, but there are two projects at the top of the staff’s “minor” enhancements list that are related to the locations where cameras are installed and that I think should be pursued without further ado: a northbound left-turn signal (traffic-activated) on Illinois Avenue at the intersection of Robertsville Road and a walk light and pedestrian crosswalk at the intersection of Oak Ridge Turnpike with Tyler and Administration Roads.

Monday evening I said that those four projects should move forward, but that I thought some of the other projects on the staff list (lower on the list than these) reflected the loudest voices in the city and were not necessarily the highest priorities, so I wanted additional public discussion regarding the priority list before proceeding on those items. Since I expressed disagreement with some elements of the staff proposal and since two other Council members were calling for public discussion before passing the resolution, Charlie misinterpreted my remarks as indicating that I would vote against the resolution.  He announced that the resolution was going to fail by a 3-3 vote (mystifying me, as I counted at most 2 votes against it) and moved to defer action for one month to allow for a public meeting on the proposed traffic enhancements, and his motion passed 5-1 (I was the only one to oppose it).

I’m disappointed in this result, as it means an unnecessary 5-week delay in making something very positive happen in Oak Ridge. Next time, I must remember to repeat “I intend to vote for this item” in the beginning, middle, and end of my comments — and hope that Charlie is listening to what I am actually saying and not what he thinks I am saying.



  1. Nancy England says:

    Sigh. Keep truckin’….

  2. […] be there, and I will be interested to hear what residents have to say. I’ve already shared some of my views on this blog, but it’s time to say some […]

  3. Karon Morris says:

    I would appreciate your listening to my comments. I really believe your a listener more than a talker because of the things you say when you do speak. I do like that about you. I think my issue about safety is more important than all the rest BECAUSE I have actually seen people injured in wrecks on three occasions. Interestingly, I wonder how many I have not seen because I have seen those. These wrecks started happening AFTER the red light cameras were installed. They have all happen on the corner of Illinois Ave. and W. Outer Dr. I never saw a wreck at that intersection prior to the cameras being installed. My belief/theory is simply that people are taking the backroads to avoid the cameras thereby putting people at a higher safety risk by using roads not designed for heavier traffic that has caused people to be injured who would not have been injured otherwise if the cameras had never been installed. I am saying people are being severly injured BECAUSE of the cameras. I want the cameras removed FOR SAFETY REASONS. Thats my claim. There was a small boy that was ran over by a car that I also believe went down the back road to avoid the cameras. I have not witnessed anyone hurt at any of the locations where you are calling to spend the money and I know that just because I never witnessed it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happen BUT what I have seen at that intersection and along West Outer is something I can’t ignore. I don’t have access to information TO CHECK on this. I just want someone to consider it because if I am right and people are being injured avoiding the cameras THEN the cameras need to go for safety reasons. Please consider wrecks in a time frame BOTH before and after the cameras and I am certain someone will have to conclude something(?) is causing more wrecks at that intersection. That something I believe is cars congesting the secondary roads. Consider 3 wrecks in 3 years WITH INJURIES after the cameras were installed and NO wrecks for 10 years prior to the installation of the cameras. That is what my eyes has seen. Can you say the places you want for the camera money will see more saftey improvements when I am so concerned about people being injured BECAUSE of the cameras? I could care less about who wins on an issue. I really am concerned about people getting hurt is all. I have seen bad wrecks there please understand that and THAT is what motivates me to have the cameras removed so much. I would LOVE to feel the cameras are making things better for our city because I am all about improving things always but I don’t believe that because I have seen people really hurt by their installation and I think people actually being hurt is more important than “could get hurt” anyday.
    I feel like it is my duty just as a plain ol person to try to make sure noone else gets hurt. Now if you can prove to me IN ANY WAY that I am wrong about this by showing me some statistics .. I would actually be relieved to find that out but as it is now I cannot in good conscience say anything good about them being installed for safety. That’s the best I can say it to you I hope you understand too.

  4. Ellen Smith says:

    Wow — witnessing a traffic accident of any sort can be a very upsetting experience, but three injury accidents at one location must be particularly disturbing for you.

    I don’t have statistics about that intersection, but after seeing your comment, I have asked the city manager for information on accidents there. Personally, I think that is a difficult intersection — one where I’m always a bit nervous about the possibility of another driver making a dangerous mistake.

    Accident statistics aren’t awfully helpful in understanding traffic safety risks in Oak Ridge, since the rate of accidents at even our worst intersections is pretty low. Even when there is a big increase or decrease, the numbers are too small to be a basis for drawing conclusions. For example, a change from 5 accidents in one year to 7 in the next year is an increase of 40 percent, which is large, but the small difference in numbers can easily be explained as random chance. Generally, decisions about safety management and safety improvements have to be made on the basis of other factors that are easier to measure, such as traffic counts and sight distances.

    Speaking of traffic counts, I know that one reason some people were driving West Outer was to avoid construction on the West Turnpike. Have you noticed any drop in traffic volume since that long project finally ended?

  5. Karon Morris says:

    I don’t think traffic has slowed any from less construction so my answer is no. I understand the varibles and I agree we need to factor in the construction. I can think of other ways to find out as well such as checking the amount of cars coming out Illinois and Turnpike vs W. Outer and Illinois too. I would wager there is as much traffic on West Outer to Illinois as there is the Turnpike to Illinois. Actually if you count the cars I think W. Outer will have more in a day.
    I think they can do that can’t they and that also would be very telling I think? How would you feel to find out more cars are coming out of West Outer to Illinois than comes from the Turnpike to Illinois in a day.? I think THAT is a real possibility that it would be very close.
    It was disconcerting for me to see people hurt in a wreck. I didn’t know who any of the people were either but I know it could of been one of my kids who use that road all the time. The road is so congested there coming from the west. I think the city could widen it on the worse side(west) and easily take more right of way and that would help the tight squeeze of cars that happen there.
    I appreciate your listening and giving it to Mr. Watson as well.

  6. Ellen Smith says:

    I see your point about West Outer traffic not going any slower now that Turnpike construction is finished — if there are fewer cars, they may even be going faster. For what it’s worth, I think there are a lot of Oak Ridgers who would nominate the Illinois-West Outer intersection for a traffic enforcement camera.

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