The death of Joyce Marie Betties has sparked concern in the Brookings community, with scores of residents demanding a crosswalk be installed north of Fifth Street.
Betties, 73, was struck and killed last Friday while crossing the highway after time spent at the Chetco Activity Center that day.
“I have no anger against the man who hit her,” said Betties’s daughter, Terri Single, of Grants Pass, as she admired the chalk art, flowers and pennies people had placed at the corner of Chetco Lane and Highway 101. “I want to find out what happened before I place anger anywhere.”
The chalk art on the sidewalk depicted a wave, the sun and the words “Have Happy Times,” what Betties often said when departing. Next to three flower displays was a heart rock piled with pennies; Betties was also known for finding for pennies on the ground and giving them to local children.
Betties was crossing the highway near Chetco Lane last Friday when she was struck by Wayne Eugene Welbourn, of Gold Beach. He was not injured in the crash, and it is unsure if he will be charged in the incident. Few details are known, as the investigation is ongoing, said Brookings Police Chief Chris Wallace.
Sunday afternoon, the mums and carnations on the sidewalk stood out in stark contrast to the scene of the accident, 20 feet away, where shards of crushed mints littered the ground and police investigative paint indicated where the vehicle, Betties, her purse, its strap, her glasses and a lens came to rest after the incident.
And people want something done. The speed limit increases as drivers head north out of town, and the activity center, where scores of seniors gather every day, is a half-block from the highway. Many in the low-income housing on Lucky Lane walk to do shopping and other errands, too.
People on social media expressed their dismay that it shouldn’t take a death to bring the situation to ODOT’s attention; others said they had worried about Betties’ crossing the highway, as she did it often to get to Fred Meyer.
Officials from the state Department of Transportation (ODOT) are aware of the situation that occurred — and noted that it will take less time than usual because ODOT conducted traffic counts along the highway last summer, said spokesman Dan Latham.
“Typically, when someone brings us a concern about a crosswalk, we do a traffic study, look at pedestrian counts, where the nearest crosswalks are, what traffic’s like, the history of the area, conditions that day, what speeds are and make a determination of whether a crosswalk is the best (solution),” he said. “Crosswalks are great, but you don’t want to have one at all intersections.”
Additionally, ODOT is awaiting the accident report from Oregon State Police and the Brookings Police, both of which have yet to be finalized.
Latham said he knows the corner of Chetco Avenue and Highway 101 is a three-way intersection, that there are no crosswalks north of Fifth Street along Highway 101 and that restaurants and hotels line both sides of the roadway. Chetco Lane is about 800 feet from the crosswalk at Fifth Street.
“Is that the best place to put it?” Latham posited. “Might having a crosswalk there have prevented what happened on Friday? Maybe there is justification for one north of Fifth. We’ll certainly look at it.”
It’s possible the speed limit might need to be changed, too, he admitted. The speed limit at the south end of town is 25 miles an hour and increases to 35 mph at Pacific Avenue, two blocks south of Fifth Street.
Another consideration will be the history of accidents at that intersection. Latham said in the past 10 years, there have been five accidents, and none involved a pedestrian.
Changing a speed limit has its own set of criteria, but primarily works off what is called in the traffic industry the “85 percent rule,” Latham said.
“You watch how fast people are driving, and base (the speed limit) on where 85 percent are driving,” he said. “If 85 percent of the people are driving at 55 or below, you post it at 55.”
Such elements as school zones and extra pedestrians are taken into consideration, as well.
Generally, it takes about a month to study traffic, analyze the data and then determine what to do about a problem area.
The study will likely take into consideration an older request by the city of Brookings to install a crosswalk at Highway 101 and Arnold Lane, and that low-income housing up Lucky Lane is slated to expand. Many in low-income housing don’t use cars to get around town, he said.
“Because of the results (of Arnold Lane), which seemed a little low, and the geometry of the roadway — a hill and a curve — it doesn’t look like that would be a good location,” Latham said. “So we’re looking at others. No determination’s been made.”
The slight elevation gain along that section of road comes into play — in the study, as well as in the minds of pedestrians, who might opt to cross a road instead of walking up a slight incline to use a crosswalk.
Latham noted that legally pedestrians have the right of way at all intersections, whether there is a crosswalk painted on the roadway or not.
“Wherever there is an intersection, there is a crosswalk,” he said. “It just may not be painted on the road. You can put the paint on the road and it doesn’t always make it safer. In some cases it gives pedestrians a false sense of security. So you put up signage, or a flashing beacon, or a worst-case scenario, an island in the middle of the road. Now we’re impacting traffic and businesses, and vehicles that would’ve turned left, now have to go up and turn around. It’s a ripple effect when you start making changes.”
A decision will be made this fall.
“Something’s going to happen soon,” Latham said. “We don’t want to create a false expectation that we will be putting in a crosswalk, but we will be looking at it, and we will be making a determination within a couple months.”