Death on Jefferson Boulevard shows how Dallas fails to calm traffic

Armando Leija Esparza was mowing a customer’s lawn in Winnetka Heights when a speeding driver hit him and killed him on July 19. Death shattered his family and sent shivers down the spine of many North Oak Cliff residents who were already alarmed by the speeding tickets along Jefferson Boulevard. . Police said the Honda Civic that struck Leija was traveling at 76 mph when it collided with another vehicle and pulled off the road.

Neighbors’ concerns about speeding were so acute that they formed a task force in early 2021 to study the problem and improve safety along Jefferson’s Road through the neighborhoods of Winnetka Heights, LO Daniel and Sunset Hill. The group proposed closing one lane in each direction along Jefferson Boulevard to reduce the section between Hampton Road and Polk Street from six to four lanes, flush with the shopping district along the east end of the boulevard.

We are pleased that City of Dallas officials are working with residents to explore traffic calming initiatives. The city will conduct a three-month pilot project on the task force’s proposal and temporarily close lanes along Jefferson Boulevard – what city planners and traffic engineers call a “highway regime.” The pilot, also known as the demo, is scheduled to start the week of August 16.

Dallas residents should also note that the city’s proposed budget for 2022 includes $ 500,000 for traffic calming initiatives in residential areas, including highways, speed bumps and other structures. to protect pedestrians.

Road diets are nothing new to North Oak Cliff. The city tried one last year on Hampton Road, where the lanes only closed on weekends. However, this had the unintended consequence of driving some of the traffic through the streets of the neighborhood, said Pro Mayor Tem Chad West, who represents North Oak Cliff.

We support thoughtful efforts to mitigate unsafe traffic patterns, especially in residential areas. But because the urban mesh is so complex, the city must be particularly diligent. Traffic calming demonstrations require careful data collection and analysis, and we hope Jefferson’s Highway Regime reveals information that points the city toward solutions that work for both pedestrians and responsible drivers.

It is important to understand the fear and frustration that drove the residents of North Oak Cliff to create the Jefferson Boulevard Traffic Task Force led by volunteers. Russ Aikman, chair of the task force, recalled an incident last summer when a driver lost control and entered a dental clinic near Edgefield Avenue. It was dark, so the clinic was empty and no one was injured.

Months later, Aikman took his dog for a walk. As he turned onto Jefferson Boulevard, he noticed a lamppost and a traffic sign that had been overturned near Windomere Avenue.

It was then that he realized he had had enough.

“Between me and others, we thought, ‘This is just plain wrong,’” Aikman said.

Working with city staff, the task force learned that there had been more than 230 accidents on Jefferson Boulevard between Hampton Road and Tyler Street in the span of about four years, most of them caused by a non -respect of traffic lights. The task force also looked at city data which showed that at a few intersections along this stretch, one sixth to one fifth of west or eastbound traffic exceeds 40 mph, even though the speed limit is 30 mph.

The Dallas Police Department also spoke to the task force, Aikman said. The department has a dedicated traffic unit, although, as our colleague Sharon Grigsby pointed out in a recent column, the unit’s enforcement arm is woefully small: four sergeants and 22 officers.

At least two neighborhood associations have sent letters to West, the council member, officially supporting the highways regime on Jefferson Boulevard. West told us that if the neighbors decide after the protest that they would like to make the lane reduction permanent, they can ask the city for the change. This process involves analysis by city staff and requires a public hearing, with mandatory notification to all landlords within a certain distance. The city council would ultimately make the decision.

West told us the city is moving forward with other traffic calming initiatives in Oak Cliff. He said at least five pedestrian islands – raised concrete medians to protect people crossing wide intersections – are underway. One was recently installed on Colorado Boulevard and Turner Avenue. Another pending neighborhood approval would be located near James Hogg Elementary School.

West is also pushing the concept of roundabouts, which are structures installed in the middle of neighborhood intersections. Think of them as mini roundabouts that force drivers to slow down on streets with little traffic but still have speed issues.

Mayor pro tem said he would ask city council for permission to use District 1 bond funds to pay for two roundabout protests, including one near Sunset High School. The location of the second has not yet been determined.

“These will be examples, if the council approves it, where the rest of the city can come and see if they like them, and we’ll create a program where neighborhoods can apply,” West said.

We’re curious to see where this experience goes, and hope that the effective strategies for taming the traffic will spread to other parts of Dallas.

Neighborhood involvement is key to these initiatives, but we wonder how many people in this city even know Dallas has a traffic management program designed to work with neighbors on speed control and related issues. .

Although the city advertises the traffic management program on its website, it should consider hosting information sessions to educate residents. It should specifically target areas that do not have a neighborhood association or where language barriers may prevent residents from reaching the city.

Dallas doesn’t have unlimited money and resources, so it’s important to temper expectations about options and time frames. Nonetheless, residents should be provided with a basic knowledge of the tools that already exist to help them.

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