More than a year since a Southern Oregon University student died after being struck by a car while crossing Siskiyou Boulevard at Garfield Street, city officials are finally making the intersection safer.
In February of 2008, a car slammed into Gladys Jimenez, 22, as she walked across the busy street in the intersection's crosswalk, just as night was falling. Critically injured, a week later she died.
Angered by the crash, SOU students and officials called on the city to fix the intersection, which features minimal lighting and a long crosswalk that cuts across the intersection diagonally.
That crosswalk, and its unique perils, will soon be a thing of the past, said Larry Blake, SOU's director of campus planning and sustainability and a member of Ashland's Planning Commission.
"It's sort of the end result of the city and Traffic Safety Commission's response to the death of Gladys Jimenez," he said. "The city had a pedestrian and bicycle consultant make recommendations early this year, so we've really just been waiting for good weather to implement them."
The city began construction on the intersection Monday, blocking of the left lanes on Siskiyou Boulevard, Ashland's main thoroughfare, near Garfield Street — creating a temporary headache for drivers.
The intersection will soon mirror others on Siskiyou Boulevard.
The crosswalk will start on the northeast corner of Garfield Street, so it will be perpendicular to Siskiyou Boulevard, instead of diagonal, reducing the distance walkers have to travel to cross the street. A median will be installed in the center of the street, so that walkers can stop and make sure it's safe to cross the remainder of the street. Flashing beacons and another streetlight will also be put in.
"It's a much safer option," Blake said. "It's just got so many more safety features than we had before."
The city's Traffic Safety Commission, now called the Transportation Commission, considered installing traffic lights — the safest crossing option — but ruled them out as too costly and not in keeping with Ashland's small-town character, he said.
"The only thing I think we could do beyond this would be actual traffic signals at every intersection and that would be cost-prohibitive and might be more signalization than the city would prefer," he said.
As it has done in the past, SOU will split the cost of the flashing beacons with the city. The city will pay for the rest of the improvements.
Ashland officials have estimated that the entire project will cost between $50,000 and $60,000, including the cost of labor from city employees, which the city pays anyway, said Jim Olson, the city's engineering services manager. It will take about three weeks to complete, he said.
Last week, SOU also improved pedestrian safety on the campus-side of Siskiyou Boulevard, between University Way and Indiana Street, by installing eight new streetlights, Blake said.
He hopes the improvements on Siskiyou Boulevard will result in fewer tragedies like the one last year, he said.
"We're trying to do everything we can to make the crosswalks as safe as they can be," Blake said. "But ultimately the safety of pedestrians is always going to be dependent on how observant and watchful the motorists are."
Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.