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Fatal Accidents Prompt Corvallis Residents To Fight For Lower Speed Limit On Highway 99

Photo by Robert Greco

If you’ve been to south town Corvallis anytime in the last week, you may have noticed some new signs — “Slow Down!” — on the side of the road near the overpass and First Alternative Co-op.

Those signs were put up by protesters attempting to get drivers to slow down near the crosswalks located there and further down Highway 99. If you happen to be going through near rush hour, you may have even caught protesters crossing and holding up traffic in an additional attempt to get drivers to slow down.

These protests all started on Jan. 10, after, according to police, on Jan. 8 Rhiana Daniel, an 11-year-old girl, was stuck by a driver in a Nissan Leaf, Peter Eschwey, 45, at the crosswalk near the 1000 block of South Third Street. She passed away the next day, marking the third fatality near the block in just 18 months.

A memorial was set up on the mid island within the crosswalk. Large amounts of colorful flowers, dampened by the cold and rain can be seen. A soaked pink teddy bear rests on one of the sign poles, the sign still missing its flashing lights. A few blown-out candles and crosses lean against the barren winter foliage planted on the island.

Protesters are outraged at the city of Corvallis and with the Oregon Department of Transportation, which have been slow to work together to make improvements to the crosswalks or even to repair them. Just last August in yet another vehicle collision near the block, two of the crossing lights located in the middle of the crossing were damaged.

“I’m really tired of hearing them say it’s complicated,” said Wendy Byrne, a member of the protests.

ODOT officially has authority over the block, due to it also serving as state Highway 99, and communication with them and the city has been slow, according to protesters.

It’s not just about fixing and improving the crosswalks, however, it’s also a culture problem, says Jay Thatcher, an organizer of the protests. “People are always speeding through there, and our main goal is to get them to slow down.”

According to Thatcher, when the stretch of Highway 99 was built it was built with industry in mind, thus given a higher speed limit and more lanes. However, over time the area became annexed by residential development and now supports more foot, bicycle, and motor traffic than what it was potentially designed for.

“The most lasting change that can happen is for the city to take it over, take over the management as a speed district on the state highway, as they have for downtown,” Thatcher said during a meeting with protesters discussing outcomes and goals for the protests.

The reaction to the protests among motorists has been mixed. Some have given a small honk or thumbs up in a show of support while others honk loudly and give the middle finger to protesters. A few motorists have even gotten within inches of protesters crossing the street, and have been immediately pulled over by increased police presence in the area.

Protesters wish for more enforcement in general, however, Byrne explained. “I’d like to see more police presence more often, not just as a reaction to a third death in an area.”

In addition to increased police presence near the block, the city has put up lighted signs in south Corvallis warning motorists of upcoming crosswalks, and installed speed trackers to let motorists know how fast they are going. However, repairs of the lights in the middle of the crosswalk where Daniel was hit are not expected to be done by the end of the month.

For now protests have slowed down, but the signs and a memorial can still be seen.

A city council meeting is scheduled on Jan. 21 with the South Third Street pedestrian crossing being a subject on the agenda.

Story by Robert Greco

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