Westgate residents throw up red light at possible signal removal

One traffic light.

Residents living near Westgate Park are mystified over the city's plan to remove the traffic signal at Sullivant and Westgate avenues.

Long-time West Siders can't remember a time the light wasn't there.

With a crosswalk and Walk/Don't Walk sign, the light has provided safe passage for kids and adults walking to the park, Westgate Community Center, Westgate Alternative Elementary School, Saint Mary Magdalene Elementary School, Saint Mary Magdalene Catholic Church and Bishop Ready High School.

In late November, a sign appeared over the intersection: “Traffic Signal To Be Removed — City of Columbus.”

“It kind of shocked me,” said Julius Palazzo, who grew up in the neighborhood and has taught social studies at Saint Mary Magdalene for 41 years.

“No one in the community thinks the signal removal is a good idea,” said Suzanne Martello, a lawyer and mother of four, three of whom graduated from Bishop Ready; the fourth is a seventh-grader at Magdalene.

“Removal of this signal and crosswalk leaves no safe way to cross Sullivant Avenue for the entire length of Westgate Park,” she said. “Its removal increases the potential for injury to our children and most vulnerable citizens.”

The Greater Hilltop Area Commission, Friends of the Hilltop and other neighborhood organizations have petitioned City Hall.

So far, the answer has been: Vehicle and pedestrian counts, collected April 2, 2014, were way below volumes needed to justify a traffic signal under federal and state standards.

The standards are contained in the Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

Neighborhood residents think they know better.

Gina Donelly, whose car was totaled in an accident at the intersection on Feb. 1, says that stretch of Sullivant Avenue becomes a freeway of speeders without the traffic light.

For the entire length of Westgate Park, Demorest Road and Westgate Avenue provide the only continuous, north-south links between West Broad Street and Sullivant Avenue, Palazzo explained.

For that reason, regardless of what any one-day or two-day traffic studies might show, hurried drivers trying to shorten their commutes use Demorest and Westgate to get to Sullivant.

“Once the weather warms up, you'll see Ready's track team and tennis team trying to cross Sullivant Avenue to get to the park for their practices and meets,” Palazzo said.

“Without the light at Westgate, there is no place to cross safely between Demorest and Binns [Boulevard]. That's a long haul, and cars build up a lot of steam.”

Celene Seamen, Bishop Ready's principal, agrees. “I drive through this intersection every day, and am aware of the inherent dangers of removing this signal. I add my voice to those who would encourage the city to maintain a traffic signal here.”

The city's Division of Traffic Management website proclaims: “Columbus has made it a priority to increase the walkability of its neighborhoods. Mayor Andrew J. Ginther envisions a city with an enjoyable, safe walking environment in every neighborhood.”

The city maintains nearly 1,000 traffic lights. Westgate would like to keep this one.

Update: The traffic light at Sullivant and Westgate avenues has been restored as of Wednesday, March 8. In a statement provided to Alive, Mayor Andrew Ginther said, "We have reanalyzed the data and, based on young and elderly pedestrians using the walkway, I am pleased that we were able to turn the traffic signal back on."

Curtin, a former Dispatch reporter and editor, recently finished a four-year tenure in the Ohio House of Representatives.