WARSAW — Following the death of an 8-year-old boy who was struck by a vehicle on Husky Trail last month, city officials are working to make changes to improve safety.
“We are not here to vote on anything today,” said Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer at the Warsaw Traffic Safety Commission meeting held Wednesday, July 10. “What we’re here to do is have a discussion of safety measures in traffic patterns and accident reports and data that will help us partner with the schools and help us create the safest environment possible for our young ones going to and from school.”
Gidieon Cook was struck and killed by a vehicle on June 10 as he was returning home after summer school classes. Cook had been dropped off at Harrison Elementary and was crossing Husky Trail where it meets North Pointe Drive on his way home with some of his siblings.
That marked the second traffic-related fatality on Husky Trail since 2016. On Jan. 22, 2016, Sharon Mitterling, 67, was struck by a vehicle when she was crossing the road to retrieve her mail.
Thallemer said he has heard suggestions, such as making North Pointe a one-way street going west and having a red flashing light instead of a yellow flashing light at the Husky Trail school crossing.
Thallemer asked Warsaw Community Schools Director of Maintenance, Buildings, and Grounds Jim LeMasters to give input as to the effectiveness of the crossing signal at Lakeview Middle School on Smith Street.
LeMasters described it as being “fairly effective” but said there are still people who “blow through there.”
“We’ve had several close calls there even though we have two sets of lights that go off,” said LeMasters. “So I think part of it is driver responsibility and it’s also an education thing.”
As for crossing guards, LeMasters said even if there are guards at the school helping students cross from 8:30 a.m. until 9:00 or 9:10 a.m., “What if someone gets up late and has to go across there when there’s not somebody there?”
“What’s the best solution?” LeMasters asked. “We can’t have somebody at the crossing 24 hours a day to help people get across the road. So what can we do to prevent an accident like this from happening again?”
“I have to believe there’s something that can be done,” said Commission Member Jack Wilhite, who broached the possibility of lowering the school zone speed limit on Husky Trail to 25 mph at all times, rather than just during certain hours.
One option discussed at the meeting is the High Intensity Activated Crosswalk pedestrian crossing beacon known as HAWK
Unlike an ordinary traffic signal, the face of the signs are dark until activated by a pedestrian who wishes to cross. When a pedestrian activates the beacon, the HAWK beacon sequence is started, with flashing yellow, then steady yellow and finally steady red for several seconds.
Another option is the Helpers Project, which is part of an Indiana Local Technical Assistance Program known as LTAP.
“They’re funded by the state,” said Warsaw Public Works Superintendent Jeff Beeler. “They provide training and resources. They do a road safety audit. What happens is they get a team of people, usually between 8-12 people, who come in from outside your area. They have fresh eyes, they don’t know anything about it. They’re looking at it very objectively.”
Thallemer said he feels a road safety audit would be valuable since he views this as a road safety issue as well as a school transportation issue.
“Let’s say we decide that no one will walk to school and everyone is going to take the bus no matter what,” said Thallemer. “You still have those times of day…in the summer, after school, there’s a playground over there…kids are still going to want to cross that road.”
Sarah McNeal-Strahan Lenfesty, a Warsaw city council candidate for District 1, spoke toward the end of the meeting. McNeal-Strahan Lenfestey said she has been doing her own research and was pleased to hear that commission members are looking into LTAP as an option.
Thallemer said three areas need to be addressed in order to come up with a solution: policy, enforcement and awareness.
The next regular meeting will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7.