February 15, 1996
City council members are toying with the idea of converting traffic lights on the west side of the square to blink red for motorists coming from all four directions. Thus they will match the traffic lights on the east side of the square which have been blinking red for several weeks. We are told that the problem with the east side lights is a faulty timing mechanism. So, rather than fix the lights on the east side, our city fathers may choose to disable the west side lights in the name of uniformity. The council plans to study the situation and confer with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation before deciding what to do.
Traffic lights on the square have been controversial since they were installed around 40 years ago. Before that, stop signs were used to halt all traffic entering the square, but there was nothing to control the flow of vehicles as they moved around the square. If you wanted to turn right or left, you waited for a break in through traffic and took your chances. Pedestrians literally placed their lives on the line when they crossed the street, hoping cars, trucks and other vehicles would yield to them.
Traffic lights may not be the ideal solution, but to me they make more sense than anything else we've tried. Stop signs and blinking red lights are not a deterrent to many motorists. Their motto is "no cop, no stop," meaning they will not obey the signal if a police officer is not in sight. We've all seen examples of scofflaw drivers who barely slow down as they pass through stop signs or yield signs in the residential area. They are probably the same ones who make U-turns in the middle of the block around the square despite signs which say the practice is forbidden.
Pedestrians may be the real victims if uncontrolled vehicle traffic is legalized downtown. You have to be pretty brave to try crossing the street when you don't know what that oncoming vehicle is going to do. If the traffic lights are working, everybody knows who is supposed to move and who is supposed to wait his/her turn. Shoppers and others on foot downtown will be crossing streets at their peril if vehicles are not controlled.
So, I hope the council's proposed study of the situation will take into account the plight of harried pedestrians and the uncertainty of many drivers when they approach an intersection where traffic is controlled only by a blinking red light.
If we're going to use that system, let's take down the no U-turn signs around the square and remove the "yield" signs in the residential area. Since many now ignore those regulations, let's remove the ban and see how chaotic it can be. No system will work unless all of us obey the law. Any other thoughts on the subject?