Crosswalk Editorial: Proactive Governance, Please

A Call for Proactive Government
As most of our readers know, 11-year-old Rhiana Daniel was killed by a motorist last month on a crosswalk well-known to be deadly – near the South Corvallis Co-op at Chapman and Highway 99. It is our view that Rhiana and her family were failed by a government that has lost sight of its social contract to move with appropriate speed.

While new flashing lights have been installed, signage has been added, and obscuring foliage has been cleared, these took not one, not two, but three untimely deaths that could have been prevented. Officials have cited process and stewardship of taxpayer dollars for these delayed improvements.

If ever there were a point for bureaucracy to take the risk of making an emergent judgment call to do something – anything – then sometime prior to Daniel being struck would have been it. The first death on this stretch of road came a full 18 months prior.

Now add the fact that South Corvallis residents have been vociferously seeking safeguards for decades prior to the first death.

Even now, ODOT has not implemented the best possible solution.

The new flashing lights at Chapman and 99 are called RRFB lights, and according to the Transportation Safety Board, they reduce pedestrian crashes by 47 percent. But, according to the Federal Highway Administration, red lights, or HAWK lights, would reduce incidence by 69 percent.

According to ODOT, the crosswalk at Chapman doesn’t meet the federal criteria for a red light. One would hope our state and local officials have lobbied the feds on the matter by now. Our reporter, Lydia Parker, asked Sen. Sara Gelser if she was aware of any such effort. The senator hasn’t responded.

There has been, however, what we would characterize as toxic positivity.

Days after Daniel’s death, the City of Corvallis wrote on Facebook, “We’ve been inspired by the outpouring of support and awareness by the Corvallis community about pedestrian safety on Highway 99W in South Corvallis after the tragic death of Rhiana Daniel last week.”

The post went on to talk about the road improvements made immediately after Daniel’s death, concluding, “We want the Corvallis community to know that the City and ODOT are committed to working together to improve safety in this area. Thank you for working with us on this effort.”

Sen. Gelser said in her own post that, before she learned of Rhianna’s death, ODOT contacted her to say they would have the new RRFB’s installed by the end of this month. Gelser went on to express her shared community commiseration, and said she would be following up with ODOT on the progress of getting the RRFBs installed.

Gelser wrote, “I also wanted to acknowledge ODOT for proactively reaching out with information about this problem.”

We would have preferred ODOT being proactive before an 11-year-old was killed, and our hope is that Gelser will ask them some tough questions.

In truth, we think it’s likely all these officials are heartbroken by what happened. Yet, they are driven to defensive decision making and narrative given the current social proclivity for outrage as a pastime. Public officials are people, and people seem to forget that.

We believe our public officials should begin a new narrative – even if only among themselves for a time. There is a need for flexibility and subjectivity in governance, as well as the empowerment of skilled bureaucrats to make judgment calls at times. This narrative would necessarily feature a discussion of limits, of checks and balances, and even some tolerance for decisions that cannot always be perfect.

To be sure, we the public would also have to adjust to a government that sometimes values efficiency over perfection in an emergency situation. Surely, if there had been some apparatus for ODOT or the City of Corvallis to have temporarily acted with more speed after the first death on this block, then Rhiana Daniel might still be alive.

If you believe a red light would be a more effective safeguard, you can contact the U.S. Congressman for Corvallis, Peter DeFazio, who coincidentally chairs the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. Rep. DeFazio’s office: 2134 Rayburn Office Building, Washington, DC 20515. Phone: 202-225-6416. You can also contact the representative through his web site and on social media.