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Pedestrian Advocates Say 'No Turn On Red' Ordinance A Step In The Right Direction

Walk signal

(Joey Mendolia, WTIU/WFIU News)

In April the Bloomington City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that prohibits right turns on red at most downtown intersections. Arguably no one in town was more excited about the news than Greg Alexander.  

Alexander’s a mainstay at city government meetings. He doesn’t own a car and has had his fair share of close calls with vehicles, so he’s spent the last decade-plus advocating pedestrian safety.  

He said city officials haven’t done much, though.  

“For about 15 or 20 years now, the city has had these plans again and again and again,” Alexander said. “And some of them, the plan was weak – it didn't have any teeth in it. And some of them, the plan just didn't happen.” 

Although it might seem small, the move to prioritize pedestrian safety over vehicle capacity is exciting for advocates like Alexander, who’s been hit by cars three times – once by a driver turning right on red. Plus, he's got kids now and wants them to be safe.

“It's such a valuable step to acknowledge we don't just need to build the sidewalk, we need to slow down the cars,” Alexander said.  

The ordinance will put almost 80 new “No Turn On Red” signs around downtown and at busy intersections near the Indiana University campus. 

Greg Alexander
Greg Alexander crosses 6th Street in Bloomington. (Joey Mendolia, WTIU/WFIU News)

The ordinance came about when Kate Rosenbarger and some other city councilmembers were discussing ways to make downtown safer for those walking and biking.  

“It is just kind of to make it more consistent in the downtown area,” Rosenbarger said. “So, it's like, ‘No. You just wait at a red light until you get to go.’” 

Since 2015, right turns on red have led to five pedestrians being struck by vehicles in Bloomington’s downtown/university overlay. One person was killed, and that was last year. 

READ MORE: IU Law Student Struck And Killed By Car In Downtown Bloomington 

Ayana Dandridge enjoys exploring what downtown has to offer with her family. As a single mom with three kids 5 and younger, things can get hectic. Especially considering she was born deaf. The signs will make her more comfortable downtown.  

“Kids don't really pay attention to crosswalking, looking both ways – they usually forget about that,” she said. “Kids get away from you. They try to run across the street before you do. So the signs would really help.”  

Rosenbarger said the ordinance’s purpose is twofold: it’ll make things safer for pedestrians, and it also might encourage people to choose options other than driving.  

“If we can make better options for folks, then they're more likely to say, ‘Hey, this is a great day to be walking and I feel safe doing it.’” 

The report from the city Traffic Commission pitches the signs as a way to advance Bloomington’s Comprehensive and Transportation plans: it’ll improve pedestrian access and prioritizes safety and accessibility over capacity.  

No Turn On Red map
Most of the new signs will go up in the city's "downtown/university overlay," where foot traffic is most common. The full map can be found here(City of Bloomington)

So, is the city just trying to make it harder to drive downtown? 

“I guess I pretty openly say I want to make it inconvenient to drive,” Rosenbarger said. “I don't want to say ever that you can't drive. I want folks to be able to pick a different option and I want them to feel safe and happy doing it. I don't think we're at a point where people are choosing walking and biking as much as we need. So, it is about pushing for better options for people walking and biking.” 

She understands not everyone can walk or bike to where they need to go, but wants to work toward a better balance between cars and pedestrians.

City estimates put the cost of the plan at about $8,000. Rosenbarger said after spending so much time and money focusing on drivers, it’s important to continue improving infrastructure for pedestrians that also makes the city greener. 

“In the past couple years, we opted to spend $50 million on two brand-new parking garages,” she said. “I would not mind seeing $50 million spent on infrastructure for making it a lot safer for people biking and people walking and really increasing connectivity throughout the city.” 

The ordinance has met some pushback from drivers, but staff reports say the impact will likely be minor and most felt during off hours, when traffic isn’t bad to begin with.  

As for when the signs will start going up, the city didn’t plan for the project in its 2021 budget. So it likely won’t be until next year.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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