Warsaw Police Department Sgt. Lewis Fuller listens to other members of the Traffic Commission discuss Husky Trail and student safety along the busy road. Fuller presented the board with some data collected by the WPD in January 2018 and June 2019. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Warsaw Police Department Sgt. Lewis Fuller listens to other members of the Traffic Commission discuss Husky Trail and student safety along the busy road. Fuller presented the board with some data collected by the WPD in January 2018 and June 2019. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

As the mother and grandmother of Gideon Cook sat in the audience Wednesday, the Warsaw Traffic Commission discussed Husky Trail and potential ways to make it safer for children.

Cook, 8, was killed June 10 as he was crossing the road to Harrison Elementary School at the intersection of Husky Trail and North Pointe Drive. He was the second pedestrian to be killed along that stretch of road in the last three years. On Jan. 22, 2016, 67-year-old Sharon Mitterling was killed when a Winona Lake police car hit her while she was crossing the road to get her mail.

Just Discussion

Mayor Joe Thallemer began the discussion on Husky Trail by noting the board was not going to vote on anything then.

“What we’re here to do is have a discussion of safety measures and traffic patterns and accident reports and data that will help us partner with the schools to create the safest environment possible for our young ones going to and from school,” he said.

Thallemer said it’s a partnership with the school, but any infrastructure needs or traffic changes will have to be brought before the Traffic Commission.

Thallemer said he met with school representatives last month after the tragic death of Cook “and we wanted to make sure that we were looking at this together, we wanted to make sure this was an important issue for the school corporation with regards to policy. It’s a very important issue to the city with regards to safety and any changes that could potentially come as a result of this.”

He acknowledged that Husky Trail is an arterial road that serves the northern/northwestern part of the county.

“With that and State Road 15 being the two main north/south routes in from the northeast part of the county ... before the school was there, before (Parkview) hospital was there, before the Y(MCA) was there, before any commercial development was there, that road was a busy road just because of the nature of it,” Thallemer said.

He noted that because the June 10 incident is still under investigation, no specific questions would be taken about it.

Husky Trail Data

Traffic Commission member and WPD Sgt. Lewis Fuller then presented data collected by WPD Capt. Joel Beam.

Fuller said Beam generated two reports. The first one was for the week of Jan. 4-10, 2018, and the second was for June 18-23, 2019. The reports are for southbound traffic only on Husky Trail and the information was collected in the 1800 block of the road at the bottom of the hill.

In 2018, the total volume for the seven days was 28,219 vehicles, with the average volume per day at 4,031.3 southbound only. The average speed was 34.51 mph, with the speed limit in that area being 35 mph. Fuller said there were a few outliers but most traffic speed fell “within the threshold of what we were looking for.”

In 2019, the total volume for the seven days in June was 28,315, with the average volume per day at 4,719.2 southbound only. The average speed was 35.98 mph.

The maximum speed that was registered in 2018 was 77 mph. In 2019, that was 70 mph, twice the speed limit allowed. Fuller said they didn’t know why those vehicles were going that fast, but possibilities include they were outliers, hospital traffic or emergency vehicles.

“It’s a major, major route for KCH and Parkview,” Fuller said.

He then presented some accident data for Husky Trail.

In 2014, WPD responded to 16 accidents on Husky Trail, of which 10 were on private property. In 2015, there were 19 accidents, with 9 on private property; 2016, 23 accidents with 7 on private property; 2017, 27 accidents with 9 on private property; 2018, 20 accidents, with 7 on private property; and 14 accidents so far in 2019, with 6 on private property.

Fuller said the road included goes from Parker Street extended to CR 200.

From 2014-19, there were eight personal injury accidents on Husky Trail, with two fatalities.

At the intersection of Husky Trail and North Pointe Drive, where Harrison Elementary School is, there have been five total accidents since 2014.

Police Chief Scott Whitaker commented, “As we move forward with discussion, with this horrific loss of Gideon and traffic crossing guards, the traffic flowing obviously north and south is kind of what we’re talking about with speeds, this tragedy occurred with a vehicle turning northbound off of North Pointe onto Husky Trail at a slow rate of speed.”

Possible Solutions

Thallemer indicated that crossing guards could be something that the city and schools will have to take a really close look at.

“Having a crossing guard out there obviously is a big part of the solution. With regards to any traffic signalization or changes, there’s been suggestions to make North?Pointe a one-way going west; there’s been suggestions of a stop sign at North Pointe and Husky; there’s been discussions of a red flashing light instead of a yellow flashing light,” Thallemer said.

He said there also was some talk about a High-intensity Activated crossWalK (HAWK) beacon, used for pedestrian crossings. He said typically those crossings occur away from an intersection and flash red.

Later in the meeting, Sara McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey, a Glad Street area resident and a Democrat candidate for the city council District 1 seat, said she was glad to hear that the Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) and HAWK were part of the discussion.

She also discussed lowering all speed limits in school zones to 20 mph.

Warsaw Community Schools Director of Buildings and Grounds Jim LeMasters discussed the flashing yellow light crossing that was put in on Smith Street next to Lakeview Middle School a few years ago.

“The problem that Lakeview had was it’s dark there part of the year when kids are going across. So we put them in two different places where kids were going across. It’s fairly effective but we still have people out there. ... that blow through there. I’m old, so I understand the distracted driving, but the texting and people on their phones, not paying attention, we’ve had several close calls there even though we have two sets of lights that go off,” he said.

LeMasters said part of it is driver responsibility.

He said WCS is looking very seriously at crossing guards and how best to train and implement them. At Harrison Elementary, he said a personal assistant would go out and hold up a stop sign but drivers still didn’t stop.

“I’m kind of horrified when somebody supposedly went 70 mph down that road. What is somebody thinking? It is a clear way but there are a lot of apartments in that area,” he said.

LeMasters pointed out that crossing guards can’t be there all the time. So if a child is late for school and crosses the road without a crossing guard there, what’s the best solution?

Working With The Schools

After the meeting by telephone, Thallemer said that while the school representative to the Traffic Commission, Dr. David Robertson, could not attend Wednesday’s meeting due to a prior commitment, Robertson met last week with Traffic Commission Administrator Steve Foster to discuss the matter. WCS Director of Transportation Mark Fick and LeMasters were in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting.

Also after the meeting, by telephone, WCS Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert said the school corporation is working hand-in-hand with the city and police department. The police department is making sure any crossing guards WCS uses are properly trained according to state statute.

Hoffert said the school corporation is also looking at its walking and busing routes and the traffic lights near its schools. School corporations do not have the authority to place any lights or traffic signals on roads, so any changes made regarding those would have to go through the Traffic  Commission.

Over the next month, Hoffert said WCS will continue to look at solutions to increasing student safety. “We want to ID the safest routes for all of our kids,” he said, and WCS is looking forward to working with the city on that.

The school system is also doing its own independent studies for busing and walking routes, as it does annually. Things can change in a year so the study is important, he said.

Crosswalks & Indiana Code

Fuller summarized Indiana Code regarding crosswalks by stating, “The vehicles have to slow to the pedestrians in the crosswalk when they’re in their lane of travel.” He said the police receive many complaints about vehicles not stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalk, but because of state statute the vehicles don’t have to stop for them unless the pedestrians are crossing in their lane of travel.

He said there was discussion about a city ordinance to change that a little bit, and that’s an option they could look at.

Jack Wilhite, commission member and city councilman, said he believes there’s something that can be done, whether that’s a strobe light or something to get drivers’ attention.

Foster said he approached the city attorney about looking at a crosswalk ordinance. Thallemer said he didn’t know what the city could do to supercede Indiana Code.

“If we could do something locally, it would make perfect sense to consider that,” Thallemer said.

Fuller said it was worth looking into but he didn’t know if that was a possibility for the city.

“It might be something to take to our state legislatures and say, ‘Look, this needs to be beefed up.’ And I don’t know if it’s going to require a change at the state level or if it’s something we could do locally,” Thallemer said.

Foster said Street Superintendent Jeff Beeler gave him the name of a contact for a Purdue engineering group called the Helpers Project. The group is looking at the intersection and hope to have a report to him by the end of July.

Beeler said LTAP is funded through the state and provides training and resources to all municipalities in Indiana. Helpers Project is a part of LTAP and do a road safety audit, such as they’re doing for Husky Trail.

“What happens is they get a team of people ... that will come in from outside of your area. They have fresh eyes and don’t know anything about it. They’re looking at it very objectively ... They do intersections, curbs, entire roadways, depends on what the municipality or jurisdiction is looking for,” Beeler said.

Conclusion

Thallemer concluded the approximate 50-minute discussion by saying, “We’re looking from a solution standpoint of at least three different areas: We’re looking at policy ... enforcement ... and the final one, and I think is probably the most critical, is awareness for the motorists. Having crossing guards out there will help, but those outliers unfortunately ... that’s where everything done from policy to enforcement doesn’t mean anything if motorists aren’t aware. So I would challenge the city, the school and our motorists to come up with solutions.”