Darkness in the heart of winter
December 2, 2014
The next few weeks are the darkest of the year and if not for the thousands of homes and businesses adorned with holiday lights, the highways and byways throughout Summit County would be pitch black. Of course, there is a certain beauty associated with a still, silent night with just a slim crescent moon hanging overhead. But for seasonal employees hustling home after long shifts at work or visitors struggling to decipher unfamiliar streets, the darkness can be a significant safety issue.
There has already been one fatality this year — a woman trying to cross the increasingly busy State Road 224 near Sun Peak at dusk. It was reminiscent of a tragic accident in December 2011, when a seasonal employee from Paraguay was fatally injured trying to cross the same highway.
Finding the right balance between light and dark in a community that prides itself on preserving its natural mountain ambiance is challenging. Both Park City and Summit County have enacted strong lighting ordinances in an attempt to reduce light pollution. But they also have a responsibility to address safety issues, especially as the ski season swings into action and new employees, who have been encouraged to use public transportation, attempt to shuttle from the bus stop to work and back again.
As traffic has increased around town, the interchanges at many major intersections have become more complex. The staggered left hand turn lights at the intersection of Landmark Drive and S. R. 224, for instance, are difficult enough for drivers to understand, let alone pedestrians, and the new roundabouts at Kimball Junction are also challenging for those on foot.
There are other dark spots, too, where pedestrians are at risk at night: Deer Valley Drive, long blocks of Park Avenue, Bonanza Drive near its intersection with the Belt Route and various stretches of both Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard.
There are several potential solutions the least attractive being the installation of conventional glaring street lights. The most immediate and cost-effective prevention effort would be an all-out campaign advising drivers and pedestrians to be hyperaware of each other until well past the shortest day of the year. Employers could also help by incorporating reflective materials in their uniforms or providing LED arm or headbands for night-shift workers.
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Other remedies could include asking UDOT to add more pedestrian-operated traffic lights, installing downward directed lights along pathways for guests and continuing to develop pedestrian-only bridges and tunnels to avoid the conflict altogether.
In the face of increasing traffic congestion, local leaders have been encouraging residents and visitors to use alternative transportation. But as long as their safety is in jeopardy, it is unlikely they will want to brave the dark on foot.
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