A Tale of Two Solutions: Part Two

Please read A Tale of Two Solutions: Part One first.

Today is easy. No maps. No photos. But a bit of background…

My daughter and I bike home from here elementary school. She’s in a trailer actually. I do all the hard work and she sits back and takes photos.

The most difficult part of our journey is crossing Sikes. I’m sure you’ve driven Sikes. A street where drivers assume the Speed Factor is 2. That is, the Actual Speed Limit = Twice Posted Limit. Of course, during the school arrival and departure hours the drivers alter their view. At that point, the Speed Factor Factor is 3.

We cross at Hartsell and Sikes. Sikes is four lanes with a median and you can cross it only on the East side of Hartsell.

When school started there was a crossing guard. A very helpful man who took his life into his hands every time he stepped onto Sikes with his stop sign.

You see, drivers heading Southbound on Sikes don’t want to stop at the light at Hartsell. They’ve just gotten back up speed from that curve around the Lakeland Center parking lot. They’re ready to go! Not stop because some tiny little light says so. And who is even looking at the corner to see a man with a huge red stop sign, a crazy guy with a bike and pulling a kid in a trailer?

Not the, and I am being literal here, dozens of people who ran the light and the sign. Especially not the three who plowed into silly drivers who had the audacity to actually obey the red light and stop before the crosswalk.

And that was just the first couple of months of school.

But we three braved on. We learned to wait a bit before stepping out into the road. We had to make sure all the drivers decided to stop for at least four cars back in each lane before we trusted going across. Of course, waiting meant we were rushing across all four lanes hoping to make the other sidewalk before the light on Sikes turned green. Even so, we had to dodge the cars turning left onto Sikes from Hartsell. They figured they had a green light, and they didn’t need to wait for any crazy fool with a bike pulling a trailer. A trailer with a small child.

It became a habit. We’d chat as we waiting for a red light. We’d watch the cars screech into the crosswalk. We’d eye the drivers in front to make sure they saw us, and then I’d pedal like I was in Breaking Away: Lakeland.

The Sherrif’s Department broke up our little family. One day the guard informed me they were pulling him off the corner. It seems we were the only ones using his services.

Now, I can understand efficient use of resources. I’m a firm believer in getting a good return on investment. One guard for one child? That didn’t sound efficient. Even when the child was mine. And, after all, it wasn’t like she was crossing alone. I was always there.

(An aside in our story: I’ve since found we weren’t the only ones crossing. A few others are sporadic.)

I called the chief of the crossing guards. I explained our dilemma. We had to cross, it is a busy street, accidents had happened in front of us. Is there anything they could do about the light. I figured an extra 30 seconds would give me time to make sure everyone stopped before I sprinted across. The extra time would make sure no one had to zoom around us as they turned left.

Sadly, she felt she couldn’t help, but offered to call the city. She said they could add a few seconds to the time the light stayed red. After a few days of improving my burst speed times I called back. Failing to be able to reach her I called the city of Lakeland myself.

And this is where the story takes a turn.

I spoke to Public Works. Remember them? The assistant promised I’d get a call the next morning at 7 am. And I did. I explained my problem to Don Nix, the Manager of Traffic Operations. He said he’d look into it.

I know enough about traffic flow to understand he couldn’t simply hook up the traffic signal to immediately respond to the crosswalk button. No one wants a pedestrian having that kind of effect on traffic. The streets would be anarchy, Seriously, traffic would be a mess.

I was looking for help in a slightly different way. You see, once traffic stopped it wasn’t the drivers on Sikes causing problems. It was the drivers turning onto Sikes from Hartsell. Some felt a need to turn in front of us as we were in the middle of Sikes. They just didn’t understand why I was on Sikes when their light was green. They forgot a pedestrian in a crosswalk has the right of way.

(Now, I’ll mention they weren’t the only ones breaking the law. A lot of drivers thought it was OK to turn right on red…no matter that the sign said No Right on Red during school travel hours.)

If you’ve read this long, you understand my problem. Get daughter, self, bike, and trailer legally across busy street without inconveniencing drivers. In less than 20 seconds usually.

The fine folks at Traffic Operations understood. They traveled out to the corner and checked the lights. They watched traffic. They studied how the signal computer worked. They found flaws in programming and fixed them. They made it possible for my daughter and I to get safely across Sikes with a bare minimum of drivers honking.

Yes, there is still honking. Some people don’t understand that pedestrians can have the green in the crosswalk even when traffic has a red. They’re two separate signals. Next time you’re at a crossing on a busy street, notice how the crossing signal works. It goes white for a few seconds then starts a countdown. You have X number of seconds to get out of that crosswalk before traffic starts to flow.

I really appreciate the work performed by Traffic Operations. They took a look at a problem and fixed it quickly, efficiently, and with as little trouble as possible for drivers and pedestrians.

If every city department responds to Lakeland citizens as well as those two divisions of Public Works did, we’re living in an unusual city. Though I hope never to have any “problems” again, I have full trust whichever department I call will be just as helpful.