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Corvallis City Council receives earful on safety
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Corvallis City Council receives earful on safety

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Red scarves. Red ties. Red hoodies. Red hair ribbons. Red vests and red T-shirts and red soccer jerseys. Red flannel. Red on red inside of red.

There was red on councilors and red on members of the public at Monday night’s meeting of the Corvallis City Council.

The issue was pedestrian safety as the Corvallis community continues to deal with the aftermath of the death of 11-year-old Rhiana Daniel, who was struck Jan. 8 by a motorist on Third Street in South Corvallis.

Daniel’s death was the third in the corridor in the past 18 months, following cyclists Eric Austin (June 2018) and Jeremy Gruver (October 2019).

During more than one hour of community comments 16 people testified on the bicycle/pedestrian safety issue. It was a mixture of emotion and forward-thinking.

Two 11-year-olds came up to the speaker’s table. Only one spoke, but the symbolism was inescapable. And the one who spoke, Maggie Brown, knew Rhiana Daniel.

Brown said the city should make Third Street safer “to make it up to her. She was an amazing person and a super friend.”

Mac Gillespie testified, accompanied by his son, Moses. Gillespie was part of a group of members of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board that appeared Aug. 20, 2018, before the council less than two months after the death of Austin.

The board made five recommendations to the council. They were: to adopt a "vision zero" policy, which emphasizes the responsibilities of all road users; to increase police funding to support crosswalk enforcement in South Corvallis; to upgrade the flashing lights at crossings on Third Street; complete the proposed multiuse path from the Marys River to Crystal Lake Drive; and work with the Oregon Department of Transportation on traffic calming measures on the highway.

“As of today, none of the five have happened,” Gillespie said. “Please act before this happens again. There is a lot that you can do, but it’s too late for Eric Austin and Rhiana Daniel and a lot of people in this town. People are in pain.”

Rebecka Weinsteiger, a housing official and longtime South Corvallis community organizer, was leaving the South Co-op with her 8-year-old son at about 6:40 p.m. on Jan. 8. Unable to make a left turn onto Third because of the traffic she turned north on the highway and doubled back to the southbound lanes using B Street. She came upon an emergency scene.

“I arrived right when the motorist was getting out his car and people were putting blankets on Rhiana,” she said. “I could have been that motorist. It could have been my child.”

Weinsteiger, who lives off of Tunison Avenue and works downtown, has quit driving to work. She walks.

“This is the third preventable death we have had down there,” she said. “I will continue to walk to work until it’s safer.”

Jay Thatcher, a former member of BPAB who also helped work on the city’s transportation system plan update, told the story of a death on the highway in the 1980s and noted how much growth there has been in the region and how much traffic has increased.

“It’s now a city street and you should represent it as a city street and take care of it,” said Thatcher, who has helped organize “walk-ins” in which pedestrians have continually used the pedestrian crosswalks on Third to emphasize the safety challenges.

Thatcher also noted that Third Street doubles as state Highway 99W and that it is under ODOT jurisdiction

“The management of Third Street by the state of Oregon has failed us,” Thatcher said.

There was no action item on the agenda on the safety issue, but councilors discussed both short-term and long-term fixes during deliberations that followed the public testimony.

Some of the items discussed included HAWK lighting systems, red lights at pedestrian crosswalk and rumble strips to make motorists more aware of upcoming crosswalks.

“Everything is on the table,” said City Manager Mark Shepard, who also has been meeting with ODOT officials on ways to improve safety.

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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