Friday, January 12, 2001

Lights are green, but more drivers are seeing red

Blocked intersections growing problem

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BLUE ASH — It's 5:30 p.m. at Glendale-Milford Road and Reed Hartman Highway, and though the light is green, traffic heading east on Glendale-Milford is at a standstill.

        The problem?

        Drivers going south on Reed Hartman get caught by a red light and block the intersection in all directions — provoking more than a few curses and tight grips on steering wheels.

[photo] At Glendale-Milford Road and Reed Hartman Highway in Blue Ash, Patrolman Weldon Julien directs a driver to pull over so he can write a citation for blocking the intersection.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        Blocked intersections are an increasing problem in the Tristate area and nationally, the result of urban sprawl that puts traffic lights every quarter-mile, making for frenzied lifestyles and increasingly aggressive driving.

        In Cincinnati, for example, police officers wrote 22 citations for blocking an intersection in 1999 — eight of which involved accidents. That number rose to 327 in 2000, with 25 involving accidents. The increase was due mainly to police attention to the problem during big event weekends.

        The jams create frustration for drivers — raising the possibility for road rage or distraction. But congestion also can block emergency vehicles, put pedestrians at risk and increase the likelihood of collisions.

        One local hot spot is this intersection in Blue Ash, an area laden with office buildings. Workers pour out at about 5 p.m. and cause rush-hour congestion.

        “I used to get incredibly frustrated, with my knuckles turning white and all that. But now, I just look on it as a way of life,” says Dennis Binkley, who works at a Blue Ash chemical company.

        “But other people — you just see the impatience building up, especially when they sit through two, three green lights and still can't go. I've seen people screaming at the top of their lungs,” says Mr. Binkley.

        He sometimes spends up to 45 minutes driving the 13 miles to his Loveland home — much of that time at the intersection.

        Highly developed or fast-growing areas such as Blue Ash are prime breeding grounds for intersection jams, says Judith Stone, president of the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

        “The roads usually are behind the growth, and intersections are especially tough and expensive to fix,” says Ms. Stone. “We're seeing this more and more all around the country as development has exploded.”

        Other Tristate problem spots include:

        • Fourth and Vine streets downtown, where pedestrians complicate the mix.

        • Turfway and Houston roads in Florence, where traffic is fueled by a mile-long strip of national chain stores.

        • The Tri-County Mall area along Ohio 747 and Kemper Road in Springdale.

        In Blue Ash, officers wrote two citations at the Reed Hartman/Glendale-Milford intersection for blocking or disregarding signs or signals in 1998. In 1999, that number was 27.

        The number dropped to six in 2000 because, Blue Ash Police Sgt. Paul Hartinger says, the city lacked staff to tag intersection-blockers.

        “If anything, it's worse now than ever,” Sgt. Hartinger says, “When we go out there, we still have people who see us and still pull out into the intersection. If someone were to stand out here for two or three days straight, we'd have just as many citations or more.”

        In Florence, fire officials say getting through either Turfway or Houston roads between 4 and 6 p.m. can be problematic, even with their sirens blaring.

        “Anytime there's a delay, whether it be from gridlock or for any other reason, it's a concern,” says Florence Fire Department assistant chief Gary Zumbiel. “Anytime you have more traffic, you have to use more caution, and that can slow us down too.”

        Pedestrians are particularly at risk downtown, with cars jumping through intersections at the last minute.

        “Somebody (on foot) is going to get picked off, because there's a close call nearly every day,” says Mary Hamlin of Goshen, who works at Fourth and Elm streets downtown for Firstar. “Me, I won't jockey between the cars just to get across the street. It makes me nervous and I'll wait sometimes five minutes until the coast is clear.”

        Cincinnati Police Lt. Robert Hungler, who commands the city's traffic unit, says concerted efforts like the one during Labor Day weekend last year can help. But for normal traffic, he and other officials are limited by a lack of available officers.

        “The city put up (30) "Do Not Block Intersection' signs all around downtown about 1 1/4 years ago, and we try to put officers out there for ball games and other busy events, but we don't have the staff to have someone out there all the time,” Lt. Hungler says. “We try to get the message out, and that's about all we can do.”

        Other officials say that aside from extra personnel or expensive technology, the only other option is teaching drivers.

        Officers in Florence can't tag most intersection blockers, because those in an intersection without a “Do Not Block Intersection Sign” before the light turns red have not violated the law. But some will pull over offenders to let them know what hazards they might have caused.

        “As with any other part of traffic, the key is education,” Florence Police Lt. Tim Chesser says. “And with this one, we have to let people know that they're not going to get where they're going any faster if they try to make it through that one cycle of lights. If anything, they're making it worse on themselves as well as other drivers.”

High-tech provides help in Springdale

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