Young girl fights to keep traffic signalsGrace Weiler, 6, often crosses South Fifth Street near downtown Grand Forks, walking hand in hand with her grandmother, Pam Schumaker.
By: By Chuck Haga , Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
Grace Weiler, 6, often crosses South Fifth Street near downtown Grand Forks, walking hand in hand with her grandmother, Pam Schumaker.
On a recent walk, Grace spotted a sign affixed to a street light where First Avenue South becomes Bruce Avenue. It was just before the crosswalk, where she waits for the traffic signal to cycle to green, allowing her and her grandmother to cross the street safely.
The sign said, “Traffic signal under study for removal.”
That made Grace unhappy. So when she got home, she started working up a petition. Her mother, Karew Schumaker, said the girl pretty much wrote it herself, and she didn’t pull any punches.
“If you remove the traffic lights a lot of people will die,” Grace wrote. “Eighty-year-old people would like to live until they are ready to die.”
Looks out for others
Grace went on to explain in her petition that she and her grandmother and “a lot of people” walk downtown on Saturdays. They visit the Farmers Market at Town Square, watch fireworks from the riverbank, buy milk at the Valley Dairy, eat pizza at Rhombus Guys or admire the shelves of chocolates at Widman’s Candy Shop.
No, Grace is not shilling for the Chamber or any downtown merchants association. She is just 6, but she learned about pedestrian traffic safety — and something of civic engagement, apparently — in kindergarten and from her parents.
“She cares a lot about other people,” Karew Schumaker said, “so I really wasn’t surprised when she was so passionate about keeping this light here.”
And it isn’t just the safety of 80-year-olds that concerns her.
“A woman carrying a baby, like my Aunt Kaley, could die, too,” Grace said.
She is, according to her mother, a fairly typical 6-year-old, busy at play this summer, bound for first grade at Winship Elementary School this fall and capable of great shyness one moment and then a speech that would make Hubert Humphrey proud.
“You get her started and she won’t stop,” her mom said.
And she was clearly determined to save lives.
“Traffic lights help people live until they are ready to die,” she wrote. “Traffic lights tell cars to go, stop, slow down. Traffic lights tell people it is safe to walk. Please sign the petition if you want to live and have safe lights.”
Twenty people signed, including her parents and the adults at her day care center, and the petition was delivered to the city’s engineering department.
But Grace was about to learn another lesson: Citizen crusades, however noble, don’t always succeed.
The traffic study has been done for months, said Jane Williams, city traffic engineer. The City Council has acted, approving the engineering department’s recommendations, and this set of traffic signals is likely to be removed by fall.
Grace got the news Monday.
“Not good,” she said, being in one of her more circumspect moods.
The Fifth Street signals were part of a broader project examining traffic signals throughout downtown, Williams said. Research showed that this particular intersection doesn’t meet any of the volume or other standards for requiring signals.
She saluted the spirit of the 6-year-old petitioner, but she said it is “actually a very low-volume street” and pedestrians should have no trouble navigating the intersection.
“You can actually create problems by putting in signals where they don’t belong,” Williams said. “You can create rear-end accidents.” Maintaining traffic signals is expensive, she added, and the city needs to put its resources where they’re most needed.
Grace is digesting all that. She’s disappointed. But she’ll be back to play at Town Square, back downtown for pizza or candy, walking with her grandmother, her mother or her aunt with the new baby cousin.
And if the traffic signals are gone?
“Look left,” she said brightly. “Look left, look right, then look left again.”
Chuck Haga is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.