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Police department tracks city’s most accident-prone intersections

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Driving in Columbus can get more than wild in the west. It can get dangerous.

Half of the top 10 crash sites are along Jonathan Moore Pike or on the west side of downtown Columbus, according to a Columbus Police Department traffic study.

Together, the west-side intersections on the top 10 list accounted for 177 out of 366 collisions (48.3 percent) between 2011 and 2013.

Higher speeds on Jonathan Moore Pike are the largest contributing factor there, said Columbus Police Capt. Mike Richardson, who supervises officers investigating traffic accidents. Jonathan Moore Pike is also known as State Road 46W.

“They aren’t necessarily violating the speed limit, but 50 miles an hour is a lot faster than the standard 30 miles per hour in the city,” Police Chief Jason Maddix said. “It just takes more time to stop along Jonathan Moore Pike.”

Those who drive Jonathan Moore Pike daily have seen increased traffic and some confused motorists on the road.

“This area has grown tremendously, and I’ve seen many accidents caused by drivers who can’t get out (onto Jonathan Moore Pike),” said Angie Overton, property manager of Riverstone Apartments.

She has driven to work on the road daily for the past six years. “I get a lot of (apartment) residents complaining about access,” she said.

Drivers heading east into Columbus on Jonathan Moore Pike are at highway speed approaching the Interstate 65 interchange, and then see more traffic as they get closer to downtown Columbus.

Backups along Jonathan Moore Pike often result from the large number of Cummins employees living on the west side, who leave for work and return home at the same time each weekday, Overton said.

Adding to the backups are out-of-town drivers unfamiliar with Jonathan Moore Pike who get off I-65 for gas or a meal, or those on their way to Brown County or Bloomington, she said.

Distracted drivers

Rather than speed, the larger number of downtown accidents is largely the result of distracted drivers, Patrolwoman Courtney Plummer said.

Plummer used state crash reports on accidents resulting in more than $1,000 in damage to compile the three-year accident report covering 2011 to 2013.

“Downtown has become the hot spot in Columbus, and there are so many out and about in that area,” Plummer said. “Drivers are often distracted by the sites, watching pedestrians, or trying to find a parking space.”

Statistically, the junction of 25th Street and National Road, where 49 traffic crashes were reported over the three-year period, has been the city’s most dangerous intersection, according to the report.

In 2011, that intersection ranked third in the city with 16 crashes. Following the completion of a $23.3 million road project late that year that included several areas of National Road, it dropped to sixth place with 11 accidents in 2013.

The number of crashes at 25th and National rose to 19 last year, ranking it at the top of the 2013 accident list.

Richardson said the angled position of that intersection might make it more accident-prone. Maddix thinks a bigger problem is wrong assumptions.

Motorists turning left who frequently stop in the middle of the intersection assume oncoming traffic will stop when the light turns yellow, he said.

“When oncoming traffic instead tries to make it through the yellow light, accidents occur,” Maddix said. “This seems to be a common problem for 25th and National.”

Accident injuries

There were 341 people hurt in automobile crashes last year — a significant 28.5 percent drop from just two years earlier, according to the report.

Maddix said that is a direct result of officers making 10,176 more traffic stops last year than in 2012.

“Essentially, we became more visible, and when drivers see another vehicle pulled over by an officer, they slow down,” Maddix said. “Slower speeds increases reaction time, and that reduces accidents.”

The top three infractions officers are looking for are drivers running red lights, high speed and tailgating, the chief said.

While speeding is the main traffic complaint police say they receive from Columbus residents, it was ranked as the eighth primary cause for accidents.

According to the report, the top causes were:

Failure to yield (29.2 percent).

Following too closely (22.5 percent).

Driver distraction (8.3 percent).

Disregarding a traffic signal (6.6 percent).

Unsafe backing (4.8 percent).

“Failure to yield is a broad category which normally involves a driver pulling out in front of another vehicle,” Richardson said. “For example, turning right on a red light and causing a crash or proceeding into an intersection — even if the driver stopped or thought he or she had yielded.”

Other factors ranked ahead of speed are running off the road, improper turns and unexpected objects in the roadway.

While speed was the primary factor in only 2.1 percent of the 2,842 crashes, it was still a contributing factor in several collisions, Richardson said.

The three-year crash study will result in officers spending more time around the high-crash intersections, Maddix said.

“When officers aren’t doing calls or traffic arrests, we will ask them to be visible and increase their enforcement efforts at the top crash intersections,” Maddix said. “The study also helps bring the public’s attention to these intersections in hopes that drivers may be more aware when they are approaching these intersections and drive a little more cautiously.”

Police also will use the study to work with the Columbus city engineer’s office to determine whether changes, such as additional signage or infrastructure improvements, should be proposed, the chief said.

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