Medians help mediate traffic on North Navarro Street

April 27, 2010 at 11 p.m.
Updated April 26, 2010 at 11:27 p.m.

In 2006, about 200 wrecks, some deadly, occurred along the 1.5 mile stretch of North Navarro from Loop 463 to the city limits.

Now four years later, after the state installed a 1.5-mile median, accidents in that area are down 30 percent.

"The medians are an effective traffic control measure," said Lynn Short, Victoria public works director.

All but three of the North Navarro Street intersections that appeared on a list that ranks the most wreck-prone intersections since 2007 were either north or south of the medians, according to police wreck data.

The median runs from the 7000 block of North Navarro Street to the 9200 block, near its intersection with Broadmoor Street.

Prior to the Texas Department of Transportation's installation of the $1.29 million median in 2006, about 200 wrecks occurred along that stretch roadway every year, according to information provided by the city of Victoria. Of those wrecks, more than 40 drivers were killed or seriously injured.

Texas Department of Transportation engineer Randy Bena said there were more than 50 conflict points - about 45 driveways and five street intersections - along the state-maintained roadway, further creating a need for the medians.

"Anytime you eliminate those conflicts where traffic has to go across lanes at an uncontrolled crossing, then you've made the facility safer," Bena said.

Fast forward four years. Victoria Fire Department records show that since the medians were built, there has been a 30 percent drop in the number of overall crashes on Navarro Street.

The only North Navarro Street intersections that continue to rank in the Top 10 most wreck-prone intersections include Navarro Street at Glascow, Red River and Rio Grande streets and Navarro Street at Airline Road, La Salle Crossing and Loop 463.

Loop 463, Glascow and LaSalle Crossing are in the median controlled area.

Asked why the medians are successful, Bena said, "Medians give more control. They take a lot of the decision making away from the driver."

Bena said the placement of the medians also impacted the type of wrecks that occur here. With the medians, more rear-end, fender-bender type wrecks occur. Without the medians, more head-on wrecks occurred.

Although the number of wrecks on median-infused Navarro Street may be down, many other intersections around town continue to be collision hot spots.

Some of the other intersections include Ben Jordan Street at Houston Highway, Neil Fox Drive at Sam Houston Drive, John Stockbauer Drive at Houston Highway, Ben Wilson Street at Airline Road and Ben Jordan Street at Crestwood Drive.

"The more you have going on at a given location, the more possibilities and decisions you have to make as a driver," Bena said.

Although the intersection of Sam Houston Drive and Lilac Lane did not make the Top 10 list, Victoria resident Ellen Sauseda warned of its dangers.

"When cars are trying to exit from Lilac onto Sam Houston, they don't have a good line of vision of the cars coming from either side," Sauseda said. "There's been so many accidents there, I can't even count them. We hear them all the time."

Victoria resident Jim Smith said he avoids driving through that intersection.

" I don't use that intersection at all unless I have to," said Smith.

Correcting problem areas

Victoria Public Works Director Lynn Short said local officials take the lead in formulating plans of action for wreck-plagued intersections.

"Whenever the police department makes us aware of a problem area, we will hire an engineering firm to determine what the problem is," Short said.

Short said the placement of stoplights are decided by the outcome of a warrant study, which is conducted by engineering firms.

Many times, improvements to roadways are done in conjunction with large thoroughfare projects that are part of city council-approved capitol improvement projects, Short said.

The city plans to realign some of the intersections along Sam Houston Drive to increase safety and reduce wrecks, he said.

"Right now, some of the (intersections) don't come in at a 90 degree angle. They come in skewed, and they can be safer at 90 degrees," Short said.

Victoria residents such as 65-year-old Pat Tally had positive things to say about some of the traffic control measures around Victoria.

"It was hard to get used to the yellow turn lanes in the middle of the street, but I think that in a way they make people drive more carefully," Tally said. "You have to really focus on who might be entering the yellow lane and proceed with caution. When those lanes aren't there or where you have medians and turn lanes, people just barrel through without much thought."

Short said it does not always take a city council vote to make roadway improvements such as removing signs, shrubbery or trees that may be obstructing line of sights.

"We get calls all the time from citizens. When we get those calls we'll go out immediately and investigate the problem," he said. "If there's anything obvious we can do to fix the problem, then we will," he said.

Many factors in wrecks

Officer Travis Hanson, who works with the Victoria Police Department's traffic safety team, said accidents can be attributed to a number of factors other than road engineering issues.

"Engineering-wise there are no dangerous intersections," said Hanson about Victoria's intersections.

At an accident scene, Hanson said his job entails talking to witnesses and drivers to determine the cause.

"We listen to everyone, look at cars and points of impact," he said.

Hanson said the two most common causes of accidents in Victoria are failure to control speed and following too closely.

However, he said driving while distracted ranks is another major contributor to accidents around town.

"Anything you do in a vehicle other than driving is a distraction," said Hanson. "There's no way to stop all distractions, but if you can limit the number of distractions, this would help in preventing some of these accidents."

Although it is hard to prove, Hanson said, officers suspect cell phone usage is one of the biggest driver distractions that leads to accidents.

"We show up after the fact. Most people are not going to say they were talking on their cell phone, but we do have a few honest ones."

Because they cannot always prove cellular phone usage was to blame for an accident, Hanson said officers are forced to fall back on other contributing factors.

A "me -first" theory also contributes to accidents around the city, said Hanson.

"Drivers are concerned about their life. They've got to be somewhere and they are not concerned with the people around them. It's not just kids. Adults do this too," he said.

In addition, Hanson said a heightened sense of urgency also plays a part in accidents.

"Everything is now. You can't wait to get home and send that text. Instead you try to send the text while driving, he said. "You don't need to be there 10 minutes from now, you need to be there right now."

Drivers had mixed feelings about the overall safety of driving in Victoria.

"I think Victoria, overall, has good drivers and courteous drivers. I have noticed that people wait for drivers who are momentarily confused or who are slow to get moving at a light. The relaxed driving atmosphere here is something I really enjoy after years in a big city," said Tally.

But Smith disagrees.

"Victoria is probably worse than Houston as far as I'm concerned. People just totally disregard lights sometimes," Smith said.

He continued, "I don't like to drive in Victoria, but I have to."

Hanson credited the relatively low accident death toll to the police department and media's push of the Click it or Ticket campaign, which encourages drivers and passengers to wear their seat belts or face receiving a ticket.

"More often than not, accident victims are wearing their seatbelts," said Hanson.

Additionally, he urged driver's to avoid speeding.

"If you have to leave earlier to get somewhere, then wake up at a reasonable time to get there safely."

No matter what precautions drivers take, however, an accident can still happen.

"They call it an accident because it wasn't intentional."



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