Traffic faces scrutiny after tragedy

Stephen Foster Neighborhood.

Lisa Fisher/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 11:20 p.m.

Signs are posted around the Gainesville neighborhood's perimeter - some reading "no thru street" and others picturing a truck with a red slash through it.

But Chris Lake - a resident in the Stephen Foster neighborhood, where a semi hit and killed a child over the weekend - said the signs don't stop motorists who constantly use the narrow, tree-lined streets to cross from NW 13th Street to NW 6th Street.

It's worse during heavy traffic hours when drivers, usually in cars, try to shave off minutes by using the neighborhood as a cut-through to avoid crowded main roads, he said.

Traffic safety measures in the neighborhood, such as speed bumps or barricades limiting access to certain streets, also don't seem to do the trick.

"I see a lot of speeding, especially around 5 p.m.," said Lake, 38, who has a 3-year-old.

Near where Lake was bicycling Tuesday afternoon stood a memorial to 6-year-old Jani'yah Irving. On Saturday afternoon, Jani'yah had been out bicycling on the street where she lived. She rode through a stop sign at NW 32nd Avenue and 12th Terrace and apparently drove underneath the back end of a passing semi, according to police. The truck's rear wheels ran over the girl, who had been outside with her 7-year-old brother. The truck driver stopped when he heard something hit the truck, followed by screams.

Gainesville Police Sgt. Joe Raulerson, who is in charge of the agency's traffic unit, said investigators are looking at a variety of factors in the accident from why the truck, which was headed to make a delivery to a bedding store on NW 13th Street, was in the neighborhood, to details about the child and her family's activities that day.

Gainesville police so far have not filed any charges or issued any traffic citations in the case, which remained under investigation Tuesday.

The truck, driven by Marcus Olden Jr., 59, of Jacksonville, is owned by Summit Logistics Services out of Knoxville, Tenn., police reported. A message left for the company was not returned Tuesday.

Both Raulerson and Phil Mann, city traffic operations manager, said they have not received complaints about trucks cutting through the neighborhood. But Stephen Foster neighborhood residents have complained about missing traffic signs or overgrown foliage obscuring signs. Mann said it was verified Saturday, after the accident, that signs were up barring trucks from the neighborhood's streets.

Violating a no-thru traffic zone is against a state statute that requires drivers to "obey the instructions of any official traffic control device." It is considered a noncriminal traffic infraction and is punishable as a moving violation, which results in points being assessed to a person's driving history, said Lt. Jeff Frost with the Florida Department of Transportation's Motor Carrier Compliance Office. A violation of the statute involving serious bodily injury or a death can carry additional sanctions, Raulerson said.

The city has truck routes, showing roads that should be used by "local" trucks making deliveries within the city, and other routes such as Interstate 75, Williston Road and 39th Avenue for trucks passing through the area. Even routes for local trucks along 34th Street, 13th Street or University Avenue don't include smaller streets.

Truck drivers are supposed to stay on these routes unless they have specific destinations in a neighborhood, not use these other roads as a cut through, Mann said. These smaller roads can accommodate a school bus or garbage truck but aren't made to handle routine large truck traffic.

In the Stephen Foster neighborhood, some roads are narrow, barely allowing two vehicles to pass side by side as they skirt the front of homes.

Mann noted that at the business the truck was headed to, there are two signs, one at the edge of NW 13th Street saying this is a no-thru street and another at the back of the business where deliveries are made. It shows trucks are not allowed past the rear of the business parking lot.

"It's hard to enforce anywhere," Raulerson said about monitoring roads that prohibit drivers and trucks from cutting through. He noted that part of the issue is police staffing.

"You basically have to follow the truck," he said.

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