After decades of dead-end negotiations, the first steps have been taken to improve pedestrian safety in front of the Bartholomew County Jail.
“We’ve worked on this literally for 20 years,” county Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.
The county will pay to install Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps on both sides of Second Street, in front of the jail’s main entrance — linking the jail to a visitor parking lot across the street, to allow people to cross the state highway more safely.
Second Street — which is also State Road 46 — is the Indiana Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction, but the signage from the state that will put up is on county property, resulting in the two governmental agencies working together.
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The ramps are part of a $37,700 contract with Case Construction Inc. approved Dec. 12 by the county board of commissioners. The contract also includes curb ramps along Jackson Street, between Second and Third streets, which is also part of an agreement between the Indiana Department of Transportation and the county commissioners.
In exchange, state transportation officials will stripe the pedestrian crossing in front of the jail entrance and put up signage, Department of Transportation spokesman Harry Maginity said.
Although Maginity said his department will consider other means of making the crossing safer, such as flashing lights, it’s too early to speculate on what extra steps will be taken.
“Right now, we’re just painting in broad strokes,” he said.
Both the state and the county are expected to work simultaneously on the project in the spring, Maginity said.
Although the ramps will be installed in the downtown area, both Second and Third streets are under the state’s jurisdiction because they are also designated Indiana highways — State Road 46.
“We can’t improve the crosswalk until we have curb ramps because it would defy the city’s ADA policy,” INDOT technical services director Rebecca Gross told the commissioners in February.
It has also been the state’s position that pedestrians shouldn’t be jaywalking from the county parking lot to the jail’s main entrance, county commissioner Carl Lienhoop said.
“INDOT engineers prefer crossings at either Franklin Street or Lafayette Ave.,” Lienhoop said. “But finally recognizing that people are creatures of habit, they are now willing to do this crossing in mid-block.”
Those who continue to use the mid-block crossing include many of the 97 employees who work at the jail who leave their personal vehicles in the county parking lot, Kleinhenz said.
In addition, there are just-released jail inmates who cross in mid-block after being instructed to immediately go to the court services building at Third and Franklin streets before going home.
Then, there are people such as Sevy Badgley, who has frequently ministered to jail inmates over the past nine years on behalf of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church.
Badgley said she has witnessed a number of near-misses in recent years. So has her husband, Pat Badgley, who recalls seeing a driver navigate around the jail’s flagpole to avoid hitting a pedestrian, swerving at the last minute.
Last June, vehicles in the two lanes closest to the jail stopped to let Sevy Badgley and others leaving the jail cross Second Street to the parking lot, Badgley said.
However, a third driver in the far left lane didn’t notice the stopped vehicles and zoomed on through, she said.
“Had we not been cautious, we might have assumed that third vehicle would stop,” Sevy Badgley said.
Least likely to look both ways are young children who are frequently brought to the jail during visitation hours, often at night, she said.
“When there’s a mother who can barely cope with two or three little ones, you can really have a problem,” Sevy Badgley said. “Crossing that street is both tricky and scary.”
Three of the most recent accidents on Second Street in front of the jail involved a car or truck stopping for pedestrians that was then rear-ended by another vehicle.
In February, INDOT officials said they believe flashers at the crossing would give eastbound drivers more advance warning.
But what’s needed more than anything is more light on Second Street, said Sevy Badgley.
“It does seem unusually dark right there,” Lienhoop said. “It’s a dangerous situation.”
Mid-block crosswalks can create unsafe or unpredictable situations for pedestrians and vehicles, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.
For that reason, mid-block crosswalks are usually recommended only for high-volume pedestrian areas such as those close to large schools, parks, museums, waterfronts and large employers, the association stated on its website.