The Huntsville City Council in a split vote Tuesday ratified the installation of stop signs at Robinson Creek Parkway and Medical Park Drive — a measure that drew criticism from council members who said they were concerned about “a knee-jerk reaction” to complaints about pedestrian safety there.
On the second reading of the ordinance, council voted 7 to 2 to retain the signs, which were erected about 90 days ago.
Ward 3 council member Ronald Allen and at-large council member James Fitch voted against the measure. Ward 1 council member Joe Emmett, Ward 2 council member Tish Humphrey, Ward 4 council member Clyde Loll, at-large council members Keith Olson, Don Johnson and Lydia Montgomery, and Mayor Mac Woodward voted in favor of keeping the stop signs.
Calli Dretke, marketing and community relations director at Huntsville Memorial Hospital, and Roxann Langston, director of the Joe G. Davis School of Vocational Nursing on the grounds of the medical complex, urged council to leave the stop signs up. Dretke showed council a video to illustrate the number of pedestrians — such as student nurses and patients in wheelchairs —who must cross the street, which has a speed limit of 30 mph.
Langston said 40 nursing school students cross the street in the early hours of the day and that she herself had almost been hit twice. “It’s hard to see a car coming over the hill at 30 mph in the dark,” she said.
But Allen and Fitch said they believe the use of stop signs was not the best option to address the safety issue and also did not reflect the city’s response to pedestrian hazards in other high-traffic areas of the city.
Allen used as example Huntsville Intermediate School students who cross Highway 190 protected by flashing yellow lights rather than stop signs. Fitch used as example Sam Houston State University students crossing Bobby K. Marks Drive and Sycamore, where rolling hills contribute to high speeds.
“My worry is there is a knee-jerk reaction to getting complaints, and we’re putting up stop signs,” said Fitch, deputy chief of the University Police Department at SHSU. “Where do we draw the line when we have so many other issues in town?”
Fitch and Allen suggested a cross walk or warning signs announcing the presence of a pedestrian crossing on Robinson Creek.
But Allen said he also wanted the hospital to help by providing a crossing guard.
“I don’t think a stop sign is going to keep anyone from getting hit,” he said. “In my opinion, you need yellow blinking lights before this stop sign. Y’all (HMH) need somebody who walks (patients and nursing students) across the street...That’s what Huntsville Memorial Hospital needs to provide.”
Allen asked Dretke if HMH thought it shared in the responsibility of pedestrian safety on Robinson Creek Parkway. Dretke said about half the pedestrians affected were not associated with HMH but that hospital leadership was open to ideas about how it could make the street safer.
“Stop signs are at least a precautionary measure,” Dretke said, “not necessarily the end-all solution.”
Aron Kulhavy, director of public works, said that a crosswalk might be a solution to protect pedestrians but that it must be compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The price for installation would be about $7,200. Kulhavy said the city had discussed sharing the cost of an ADA-compliant cross walk with HMH.
In response to questions from Fitch, City Engineer Yellambalsi Ramachandra said a city engineering study concluded that stop signs would be the best response to a sight distance issue at the intersection, but they were not intended to address pedestrian safety. He said the city would need to do a separate study on a cross walk there before one could be installed. Ramachandra said there had been two accidents in 12 months at the site before the stop signs were put in.
Fitch said he objected to the ordinance because it would set the standard for how the city responded to future citizen complaints about traffic issues.
“I want everyone to be safe,” Fitch said, “...I think there are other things that can be done, but we’re responding to a small population here and what you all are considering will set a precedent.”
But Loll, reflecting the majority opinion, said: “The mere fact that we’re talking about it as a safety issue means we need to do something.”
In other business, council unanimously approved a resolution supporting a settlement agreement regarding the transfer of operational control of Entergy’s transmission system to the Midwest Independent Transmission Operator. According to MISO, this will allow Entergy customers to pay only for transmission projects that benefit them. The move would result in average annual savings to Texas retail customers of $17 to 22.5 million, according to city staff.
Following an executive session, council unanimously approved a measure to allow city staff to negotiate the sale of the city’s wastewater effluent to the Walden Community of Montgomery County. Walden approached the city about three years ago about purchasing the rights to Huntsville’s wastewater effluent, which the city discharges into the San Jacinto River and which then flows into Lake Conroe, according to Director of Public Utilities Carol Reed.
The city, which submitted an application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for the rights to sell its wastewater effluent to Walden last year, could make as much as $100,000 per year for the sale of the effluent, money that would then go back into the city’s wastewater fund.