By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
Officials from the Oregon Department of Transportation want to install a traffic signal on East Campbell Street, Baker City's busiest thoroughfare.
But they need to know where to put it.
The City Council will supply the answer.
When councilors convene Tuesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 1655 First St., Campbell Street will occupy a prominent place on their agenda.
The traffic signal question is one city officials have pondered for more than a decade.
Although Campbell Street between Main Street and the freeway has long been the city's most congested, traffic has increased the past three years with the construction of Baker Towne Square.
There's enough traffic, in fact, to warrant a signal at either the Oak or the Cedar street intersection, ODOT's Teresa Penninger wrote in a letter to City Manager Jerry Gillham.
Regardless of which intersection the council chooses, ODOT probably won't install a traffic signal before 2006.
ODOT recommends Oak Street, which is just west of both Baker Towne Square and the Safeway-Rite Aid complex.
During a December meeting with the council, Penninger said ODOT engineers suggest Oak Street because it's about midway between Main Street and the freeway.
Installing a signal there would separate traffic into reasonably sized chunks, she said, and create frequent gaps in the traffic flow so drivers on side streets so drivers could turn onto Campbell without enduring nap-length waits.
But some city councilors recommend the Cedar Street intersection, one block west of Oak Street.
Several people who live on or near Oak Street told the council in December that they also prefer Cedar over Oak.
Placing the traffic signal at Oak would cause congestion on the street north of Campbell, a mainly residential area with several driveways.
Cedar Street, on the other hand, passes a primarily commercial area in the first block north of Campbell.
Councilor Randy Daugherty said in December that he thinks Cedar Street is the best spot for a signal.
He predicted that if ODOT installs a traffic light at Oak Street, then many residents who live south of Campbell Street would drive on Oak to get to Campbell, so they could take advantage of the signal.
That's a bad situation, Daugherty said, because Oak Street runs next to Brooklyn Elementary School.
Although ODOT has jurisdiction over Campbell Street because it's part of a state highway, Penninger said the agency probably will defer to the council on the location of the traffic signal.
andquot;It is ODOT's goal to support the city in what they desire, but yet provide for the best and long-term use of the highway facility,andquot; she wrote in the letter to Gillham.
Lane striping for cars, bicycles
The council has much less say over another contentious Campbell Street issue: the number of lanes for both vehicles and bicycles.
Penninger said ODOT likes the current configuration, with one vehicle lane and one bicycle lane in each direction, and a left-turn-only lane in the center of the street.
The city switched to the three-lane system in 1997.
Before, Campbell Street had four lanes two in each direction, but with no center turn lane.
Penninger credits the three-lane configuration with reducing traffic accidents and injuries on Campbell Street.
From January 1993 through June 1997, when the striping scheme was changed, ODOT recorded 82 crashes and 63 injuries on East Campbell.
From July 1, 1997, to December 2002, there were 57 crashes resulting in 26 injuries, according to Penninger's letter.
The three-lane set up is safer because it gives drivers a protected lane from which to make left turns, she wrote.
With the old four-lane striping, drivers who turned left would, Penninger wrote, andquot;be in an unprotected environment which increases the potential for crashes to occur.andquot;
In December, Councilor Chuck Phegley challenged the validity of ODOT's crash statistics.
Phegley pointed out that not long after the city changed from four lanes to three, the state changed the rules governing when drivers must report accidents.
In the past, they had to report wrecks that caused $500 or more in damage. But the threshold now is $1,000.
The bottom line, Phegley said, is that it's likely that many accidents that have occurred since 1997 were not reported because damage didn't exceed $1,000.
Penninger said the only situation in which ODOT would return to the four-lane configuration is if it retained the center turn lane. And to do that the state would have to prohibit curbside parking along Campbell Street, something neither state officials nor city councilors want to do.
Penninger wrote that ODOT also wants to leave the bike lanes in place.
Council members have suggested ODOT eliminate the lanes on Campbell and instead designate a bike route on a side street such as Madison, one block south of Campbell.
But in her letter, Penninger wrote that as long as Campbell Street retains its three-lane configuration, there's no need to get rid of the bike lanes. Eliminating them would not create enough space to add extra lanes or parking areas.
andquot;The City would have to make a case that there's a reason why bicycle lanes should not be on Campbell Street,andquot; she wrote.