Sedona, AZ (November 8, 2012)
It’s been a year to the day now, since the battle of the lights was decided. The referendum election was held on November 8, 2011, and the citizens voted to have the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) retain ownership of that portion of State Route 89 (SR 89a) through Sedona. The hotly contested stretch was the two and one half miles from the intersection of 179 and 89a to Dry Creek Road.
It was a multiyear topic that kept the city divided for six or more years. The matter arose as a result of a May 2006 ADOT Pedestrian Crossing Study on SR 89A, MP 371 to 372.99, in West Sedona that was triggered by the deaths of four pedestrians who were struck by cars between December 2000 and April 2006 (three were struck in the study area). Although the practice of the ADOT Northern Traffic Engineering Region is only to utilize a three year period when performing traffic studies, it was expanded to six years, contrary to the normal practice. The fourth pedestrian was struck west of the Dry Creek Road intersection, outside the study area and under different circumstances.
Alcohol figured in three of the accidents. Then Mayor Pud Colquitt asked ADOT to address pedestrian safety on 89A in West Sedona. Following the ADOT May 2006 study results recommending continuous roadway lighting, a Hwy 89A Safety Advisory Panel of professionals and citizens was formed and alternative safety measures were evaluated along with the safety benefits of lights. The community division was basically those who wanted continuous roadway lights versus those who wanted other safety measures to be considered.
Fast forward to November 8, 2011, when, after a referendum where citizens overwhelmingly voted not to take ownership of the road, the community had to accept the 108 ADOT lights. A YES vote would have resulted in the city taking ownership of SR 89a, ADOT repaving the highway, adding a signal at Andante Drive, and the city receiving ADOT’s $10 million in cash to use for its own safety improvements. In the bank at 2% the $10 million would be worth $10.2 million.
The election is past, and lights on 89A are a fact. The highway was repaved and a traffic signal was installed at Andante Road and SR89a. Bike lanes have been striped. The suicide lane is still present, although slightly narrower than before paving. ADOT now views Sedona in its rear view mirror, likely pleased to have moved on to other highway projects in the state.
But how safe are we? What about pedestrian safety which was the original issue prompting the debate? The struggle in Sedona was: what was the best way to improve pedestrian safety and yet maintain the natural landscape and small town character along our main street through the heart of the community where 70% of the residents live?
The Sedona Community Plan section 6.3 states: “Work with ADOT to establish highway standards appropriate for a small community rather than a traditional highway”. Now, we must ask ourselves whether these lights meet this important community value? Recently some Sedona residents said publicly that they thought the lights were attractive. Ask again: are these lights appropriate for a small town feel?
The other issue Sedona.biz hears is about is the continued existence of overhead utility poles and wires directly behind the new light poles. Some wonder why the utilities didn’t get undergrounded when the light poles were erected? The decision on that was made 18 years ago. Arizona Public Service offered to split the cost with the city for undergrounding the utilities. The city council at that time rejected the offer. That’s why we have the skyline clutter of today’s view shed.
Let’s consider the alternative pedestrian safety measures that were tossed out in the lights vs. no lights debate:
Medians would have produced a safety zone to replace the ongoing suicide lane. 89A exceeds the national standard for the number of cars per day for a safe two-way turn lane. It’s time to replace it with medians. It’s time to stop the left turns out of driveways that have caused serious accidents in the past year including motorcycle fatalities.
Some options considered and discarded:
Lighted crosswalks that would allow for safe crossing of the roadway at selected locations.
On demand crosswalks that would automatically activate when a pedestrian is crossing and include warning lights for motorists.
Pedestrian barriers along the edges of the roadway. These would have been compatible with the small town character as described in the community plan. Check out the fences and benches in Kanab, Utah, to see how effective and in character Sedona could be.
In 2009 the speed limit was lowered from 40 mph to 35 mph as a result of pressure from Keep Sedona Beautiful. Stepped up traffic enforcement, also a recommendation of KSB’s, also contributed to a reduction in accidents and improved pedestrian safety.
All over the country communities are removing continuous highway lighting. Sedona just went in the opposite direction. As global warming is increasing, ADOT’s CO2 contribution to Sedona should be questioned. It’s also proven and backed up by statistics that highway lighting is not safer in rural areas like Sedona.
Dark Skies reduction also factored into the anti lights movement. Studies have shown that Sedona residents value their dark skies. After the lights were scheduled to be installed, a committee was formed to request dark sky designation from the International Dark Sky Association. Learning that the application would probably be turned down, the committee did not proceed with submitting the application.
It’s been a year since the lights on SR 89a issue was decided as a by-product of the referendum election result to not take over local control of 89A in West Sedona. The community has moved onto other pressing issues.
And yet, for many who treasure dark skies and care about safety, the nagging question remains: are we safer now that continuous roadway lighting has been installed? Time will tell if we made the right decision.
In the meantime, enjoy the calm that has settled in Sedona.
Inquiries to ADOT’s representative about who pays for Sedona’s lighting bills went unreturned . Also asked and not answered is what hours do the lights operate?