Unhappy residents need action, not city threats

The News TribuneJune 13, 2013 

When some Tacomans painted impromptu crosswalks on St. Helens Avenue, they weren’t just trying to make their neighborhood a little safer. Whether it was their intent or not, they were also sending a message to the city.

That message is that they perceive their city government to be unresponsive to their needs. And that should be at least as much concern to officials as the “rogue” crosswalks that have cropped up.

The city has reacted to the makeshift markings by threatening prosecution — hardly a way to gain trust and convince residents that it has any interest in their concerns. And unless the city plans to station watchdogs along the street all night long, it’s unlikely to catch the perpetrators.

The neighborhood has legitimate concerns. Traffic has increased on St. Helens due to closure of nearby Stadium Way for upgrades. Residents say that has resulted in vehicles speeding through and plenty of near-misses with pedestrians and cyclists.

A meeting with city officials left folks feeling that nothing would be done about their concerns. So some took unilateral action to paint their own crosswalks and bike lanes.

The crosswalk vigilantes’ action is wrong, and they should cut it out. But it’s understandable. And it’s not without precedent. In other parts of the city, residents frustrated with potholes that just seem to be widening and multiplying have taken to doing their own patch jobs. It’s likely there are other examples of citizens stepping in to perform tasks that the city either won’t do or cannot afford to do given budget constraints.

The city is telling residents to go through the official process for getting new crosswalks — and essentially get on a long list of other similar requests. That’s fine, but what about the immediate problem facing the neighborhood due to the Stadium Way road project?

To be fair, public works officials have said they will study traffic at the intersection and that they have asked police to enforce violations. If the neighborhood perceives that those actions are indeed being taken — and that dangerous drivers are being ticketed — it’s likely the crosswalk crusaders will end their late-night escapades. But unenforceable threats alone are almost sure to backfire.

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