BUCKHANNON, W.Va. — City officials don’t buy into the idea that a town is defined by the number of traffic lights it has.
That’s why Buckhannon City Council voted 4-1 Thursday to remove the last major holdover from a time when Main Street was dotted with traffic lights. During a 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall, the Council approved a resolution to remove the flashing traffic signals at Main and Kanawha streets. Councilwoman Robyn Riggs-Simons was the sole dissenting voter. Councilwoman Pam Cuppari was absent.
Once the light is removed, the only remaining traffic light will be at Main Street and Route 20. Council members said that light cannot be removed due the heavy flow of traffic along Route 20.
The city used to have traffic lights along Main Street at Kanawha Street, Spring Street and Florida Street. The lights controlled traffic in the normal fashion.
However, past officials voted have those intersections be controlled by stop signs, with the traffic lights remaining but switching to flashing red. This was part of a survey with the West Virginia Division of Highways on traffic flow in the city, City Administrator Michael Doss said.
There was lingering concern the flashing red lights were confusing, and stop signs alone would be clearer, council members said. The council at the time voted to remove the flashing traffic lights at Florida Street and Spring Street.
The idea was it was better to have four-way stops at each of those intersections, which would require all motorists to stop every time, Councilman Ron Pugh said.
“One measure of safety is now all big trucks have to stop at every block,” he said. “When the intersections were controlled by the traffic lights, you would have vehicles speeding up to catch a yellow light.”
And if all the lights were green, traffic had a clear shot all the way down Main Street, Councilman David Thomas said.
Pugh and Thomas both said they believe stop signs are generally safer for pedestrians. But nothing can eliminate driver error altogether.
“The problem is we have people who don’t pay attention to anything, whether it’s a light or a sign,” Thomas said.
Councilwoman Mary Albaugh agreed.
“Until the last year and a half, I wasn’t one to walk downtown. I do like the stop signs,” she said. “What I don’t like are people who are inconsiderate, unsafe drivers. People need to pay attention to common courtesy and driving etiquette.”
Thomas felt an increased police presence in the downtown area might help to deter drivers who are dismissive of traffic control devices in general.
Mayor Rick Edwards would like to see the stop signs augmented by LED pedestrian crossing signs. His plan is to include funding for signs at Main Street intersections in the next budget.
“Pedestrian safety is always a major concern, and we want to remain very cognizant of that,” he said. “That’s why I would like to look at these lighted crossing signs in our next budget session.”
Simons said she preferred the additional warning of the flashing red lights to augment the stop signs, which was why she voted against the measure. However, she felt that Edwards’ idea of the lighted crosswalk signs was a good compromise.
One local resident, Sherry Strickland, supported Simons’ point of view. She believed the loss of the traffic lights caused traffic to move along Main Street too quickly, which prevented people from taking in the downtown atmosphere. She also felt the lights were safer for pedestrians.
“I personally wouldn’t mind stopping at a light and looking in the shop windows,” she said.
Council members, however, felt the removal of the traffic lights has had the opposite effect.
“We’re working hard to preserve our historic downtown,” Albaugh said. “I’ve seen more people walking downtown, and I like it.”