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Hillsboro City Council votes to move forward with ODOT pedestrian safety project

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Pictured, from left, are Hillsboro City Council members Adam Wilkin and Mary Stanforth; Hillsboro Police Chief Eric Daniels; and council members Jason Brown, Dan Baucher, Don Storer, Jo Sanborn and Tom Eichinger. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Caitlin Forsha, The Highland County Press

A pedestrian safety project in uptown Hillsboro that has been discussed for nearly two years is moving forward after Hillsboro City Council agreed to approve an Ohio Department of Transportation resolution for the proposal during their Thursday, April 11 meeting.

The resolution passed by a 4-2 vote, as there was discussion among council members and/or the community during all three of the legislation’s readings.

As previously reported (see:…), the first reading of the resolution was presented during council’s Thursday, March 14 meeting. The resolution was introduced as an emergency, but a motion to suspend the three-reading rule failed to meet the required three-fourths majority after city law director Randalyn Worley strongly encouraged individuals with an interest in an uptown business to abstain from voting.

According to the legislation, this is a “project agreement” from ODOT for the “pedestrian safety improvement project in the City of Hillsboro on [U.S.] Routes 50 and 62.” 

The city was awarded $336,000 through ODOT in May 2022 for the project, which includes “federal and local” funding, according to the Department of Transportation.

According to a press release from the Ohio Department of Transportation, “The crosswalks at the Main Street and High Street intersection will be replaced with new high-visibility crosswalks including new pavement markings, center median refuge islands and solar-powered pedestrian-activated beacons.

“The project will remove 15 parking spaces. East Main Street will lose four parking spots, South High Street will lose five parking spots and West Main Street will lose six parking spots.”    

During council’s August 2023 meeting, they heard backlash from property owners concerned about the projected loss of parking spots in the uptown district, as that meeting was held during ODOT’s public comment period for the project. 

That backlash continued at a special meeting held March 21 for the second reading of the legislation, while Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha read a three-page document that outlined background on the project and addressed citizens’ concerns on parking. For more, see the story at:….

Prior to voting on the resolution April 11, council again heard from representatives of several uptown businesses, who this time suggested removing the mid-range crosswalks altogether. 

Rachelle Trefz asked “if there has been any research done as to how much the midway crosswalks are used.” 

“We're going to take away 15 parking spots, that are used day in and day out, for these crosswalks that have very little use,” she said. “I am just here to ask you that maybe we consider taking out the midway crosswalks.”

She also referred to a similar ODOT project in Wilmington, which was referenced by another individual at council’s second reading of the legislation, as being a failure.

Nicole Chambers also said that “nobody uses” the mid-range crosswalks and that “putting in a bigger middle crosswalk doesn’t make any sense to me.” She read suggested pedestrian safety measures from the ODOT website.

“In the two lanes in the midway where you're putting in the island, it says beacons and to yield to pedestrian signs are not appropriate,” Chambers said. “A pedestrian refuge island is not on the list of countermeasures that should be considered or should always occur. 

“It said that islands should be six feet wide, and when speeds are over 50 miles per hour, they should be eight foot wide. So why are we putting a 10 foot by 40 to 50 foot island right there? I just don't understand that. It seems like overkill. It's going to kill our businesses.”

Travis Tong asked if “any measures can be taken” to stop government employees from parking on South High Street. 

“There is action being looked at in one of our committees for setting time limits on parking and enforcing it,” council president Tom Eichinger said. “It's not out of committee yet, but it is being looked at.” 

Trefz said that “the issue before” was that “state vehicles are exempt from getting tickets, so that’s something else that needs to be considered” if parking is going to be enforced.

The final speaker was Steve Wilkin, as Eichinger stopped public comments after Wilkin spoke for approximately 10 minutes. Wilkin argued that the city doesn’t “really have a root cause of the pedestrian issue” to take “corrective action” and asked if the city “collected data” on traffic issues and “analyzed and published” it before making a decision.

“Council did not conduct the study,” Eichinger said. “That was done by ODOT and the city, so I can't answer that question.

“I'm sure the city reviewed every information that the state brought forward.”

Wilkin asked, twice, if the city “analyzed” the study. Safety and service director Brianne Abbott gave Wilkin a copy of a fact sheet published by ODOT. 

Wilkin then asked to look at hypotheticals related to the study, such as if “the majority of the issues are due to” factors such as “right-hand turns on a red light.”

“The legislation that is being looked at has nothing to do with where the lights are, so don’t use that example,” Eichinger said. “The legislation only has to do with the mid-block crosswalks. There are no lights there, so don’t use that as your example. That would not have been looked at as far as what might be needed at the crosswalks.” 

“I was taking that as a hypothetical,” Wilkin said.

“Yeah, but it doesn’t apply,” Eichinger said.

Wilkin said he’s “trying to figure out where these pedestrian issues occur.”

“Are they just randomly occurring throughout the uptown district?” he asked.   

“In spite of what Rachelle spoke to about only seeing one person using the mid-block crosswalks, there are a number of people – maybe not in front of her building, but in other parts of downtown – that do use all the different crosswalks,” Eichinger said. “All of the crosswalks, you know, are used on a regular basis, but this particular project was focused only on the mid-block crosswalks.”

Wilkin said, “Then I assume that particular crosswalks have had pedestrian issues.”

“There have been several, yes,” Eichinger said.

Wilkin wanted more specifics, and Abbott said, “The data is in the sheet that I gave you.” Wilkin then asked her if she’s “familiar with the study.”

“It says there's been two occurrences of pedestrian injuries in the past five years, and numerous other reports of near misses and safety concerns,” Abbott said.

Wilkin asked if the study determined the cause of the injuries. 

“Not in this report,” Abbott said.

After Wilkin asked the same question about three times, he concluded, “You really don’t know what the specific problem you’re trying to solve is.”

“Yes, I know the specific problem, but I don’t know the specific incidents that you’re referring to,” Abbott said.

For a fourth time, Wilkin asked about the “circumstances” surrounding pedestrian accidents and whether the pedestrians or drivers were at fault.

“Mr. Wilkin, we're not going to stand here or sit here and try to solve a problem as a group,” Eichinger said. “There's legislation here. We’ve heard all of your input, and some action will be taken as the next step, and we'll move forward. 

“The city used an agency that was specifically set up to handle traffic issues, and they worked with them. The result is a proposal that we're looking at, and we are looking to move forward with it. Council will make some decision at some point, and that's where we're going to go. We’re not going to sit here and spend all of council time talking about what ifs and ‘how could it be this way?’ Or ‘how could it be that way?’ If you would like to be involved in that kind of thing, I would suggest that you be hired by the city or run for office.”

Wilkin then moved on to other questions regarding the pedestrian islands and whether the city’s intention is “to create a bottleneck to slow down traffic” with the islands.

“I don't believe that there is any intention to bottleneck anything,” Eichinger said. “It's a matter of trying to protect the pedestrians who will be using those crosswalks.”

“OK,” Wilkin said. “It seems like I'm not getting a real clear understanding. I guess there’s two instances over five years, and they're going to spend a third of a million dollars to solve that.”

Wilkin then began speaking about traffic issues outside of the uptown district, before Eichinger cut him off.

“That has nothing to do with this legislation,” Eichinger said. “I appreciate what you're saying, and I see the same kinds of things all over town in various places, but this legislation has nothing to do with that.”

Wilkin responded that there is “a lot of speeding through town” and again began speaking about various traffic issues that need to be addressed.

“All these things are being looked at as well,” Eichinger said. “I'm sure our police department is aware of the situation. Thank you for your comments.”

Later in the meeting, before calling for a motion, Eichinger asked council if they had “any more comments” prior to voting.

Council member Adam Wilkin said he wanted to again reiterate that “the loss of these parking spots has nothing to do with the crosswalks going in.

“They’re going to go away regardless,” Adam Wilkin said. “Whether we vote for the crosswalks or we don’t, the parking spots are still going to go, so we need to make sure everybody understands that the two aren’t tied together.”

Public works superintendent Shawn Adkins confirmed, “That’s correct.”

As Abbott said at the March 14 council meeting: “There will be loss of parking spots regardless of the project. Our current parking situation is out of compliance with state law as far as setback requirements, so now that the city is aware that we are out of compliance, it will happen regardless if this project happens or not.”

Council member Mary Stanforth asked Adkins to explain again the loss of parking spots with the crosswalk project versus without it.

“You’re actually going to lose either four or five more than you do with the islands [than without it],” Adkins said. “With the project, we're doing away with one of the mid-range crosswalks, so we get the parking back in those areas.”

Council member Dan Baucher asked, “How many parking spots would we save if we removed all of the midway crosswalks?”

Adkins said that “with the city code, there is a 35-foot triangle for visibility, so at each alley you’re going to lose four parking stalls.” 

In response to a question of what part of the Ohio Revised Code the city is citing regarding to parking spots, Abbott read from 4511.68(A)(7): “No person shall stand or park a trackless trolley or vehicle, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or to comply with sections 4511.01 to 4511.78, 4511.99, and 4513.01 to 4513.37 of the Revised Code, or while obeying the directions of a police officer or a traffic control device, in any of the following places … within 30 feet of, and upon the approach to, any flashing beacon, stop sign or traffic control device.”

She also clarified that “per the definition,” a crosswalk is “a traffic control device.”

Michael Flowers, who said at the second reading that the city is exempt from the laws that they are citing, asked if they had “taken into consideration that it’s a historic downtown and doesn’t have to meet all the ADA guidelines.” Council member Jo Sanborn said she reached out to an individual at ODOT, who advised that “the roadway and that parking spaces don't have anything to do with the historic district.”

It was again asked by a citizen if the city could just eliminate the mid-range crosswalks altogether, “so we would still have parking and people could still go to the corner and walk around” to cross the street. 

‘Well, according to the members of the shops down here, they’re saying that their customers aren't willing to do that walk,” Eichinger said. “At the last meeting, it was said.”

Several business representatives voiced their disagreement, saying “they never said that.” During the second reading, council was told by a business owner, “If someone can't get a spot within about four to six spaces of our business, it's a matter of them just going on and ordering online.” Harsha also said March 21, in response to the proposal to eliminate mid-range crosswalks, that “crosswalks are a feature in downtowns to give shoppers/pedestrians an area to cut across to shorten length of time walking. If we eliminate crosswalks, it will be detrimental to the retail stores. The accessibility is still needed – they just need upgraded to provide pedestrians a safer way to cross.”

Eichinger then called for a motion, which was made by Wilkin and seconded, after a six-second pause, by council member Don Storer. The motion passed by a 4-2 vote, with Sanborn — who abstained, at Worley’s recommendation, from a vote to suspend the three-reading rule at the legislation’s first reading — and Baucher voting no.

“I just want to say that it's my belief that pedestrians’ safety is paramount to any parking or traffic they have problems with,” Adam Wilkin said. “I drive through this town all the time, so I know what everybody’s thinking, but to me, it's the walkers that matter the most.”

As Eichinger announced the legislation’s approval, he had to speak over the sound of one citizen loudly voicing his disapproval, as the group left the meeting after hearing the vote.

Check back to for more from Thursday’s council meeting.

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Jim Thompson (not verified)

15 April 2024

Just because the state throws you money, doesn't mean you have to spend it. I have written about this before. If every town the size of Hillsboro across the country started refusing these handouts, our overall governmental finances would be in much better shape. This may look like state money, but I'll bet dollars to donuts some of it has a federal origin.

Mary Hamilton (not verified)

16 April 2024

I am in favor of removing the crosswalks since the city has NO plans for additional parking. This action will be a hardship for several businesses on South High. Amazing that 100 block of North high is not losing parking. The city created the problem by allowing drive thru in alleys! That is where all the incidents have happened. So sad you don’t listen to taxpayers and just do what you want.

Laura Orebaugh (not verified)

18 April 2024

As someone that has generational ties to my hometown's uptown historic business district, I have been deeply saddened by this disastrous move; originally precipated by our Safety and Service Director's application for an unnecessary grant to "fix" our crosswalks. A fresh coat of paint would have "fixed" our crosswalks. As a longtime resident and walker; I can assure you that the crosswalks are not the problem; concerning pedestrian safety. After over three decades of joyfully walking in our downtown; I stopped - several years ago; when the timing of the lights were changed - to encourage speeding through our downtown. It is the speed of the traffic that makes pedestrian safety an issue. Why punish our uptown business district with the city's mistake? The people that have businesses in our downtown now - have fought the good fight. They have survived through all kinds of challenges. They are still standing through COVID, falling down buildings around them; and last but not least; the parking situation. I fear that this lastest calamity of losing so many parking spaces is going to be the death of not just our businesses - but of our downtown. Has anyone thought about closing down the part of the alley's that spill out onto the first block of South High? Just close down the drive throughs on either side - and those portions of the alleys. Just an idea....

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