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Family focuses on fight for traffic light

By Staff | Apr 2, 2011

One man is not giving up the fight for a traffic light at an intersection in Cape Coral that his family believes is dangerously in need of one.
Spencer Crutchley lost his brother-in-law, Scott Wheeler, 24, on Jan. 12 when Wheeler sustained fatal injures in a traffic crash at Pine Island Road and Skyline Boulevard. A westbound vehicle attempted to turn south onto Skyline when it and Wheeler’s motorcycle, which was traveling eastbound, collided.
Wheeler was ejected from the motorcycle and he died on scene.
Since the accident, Crutchley and his family have been fighting for a traffic light at the intersection in the hope of preventing another family from going through the type of tragedy that his family has had to face.
“I don’t want anybody else to get hurt,” he said Friday.
Crutchley had planned to spend a few hours that morning at the intersection with signs supporting the signal, but the signs were not ready in time.
“I just felt like I needed to bring the awareness back up,” he said.
On Feb. 15, Crutchley and others filled the median with crosses and several signs designed to look like traffic signals to raise awareness of the issue. He said there were no accidents the remainder of February, but then two within three weeks in March.
Crutchley noted that his family is not the only supporters of a signal.
Following the January accident, Crutchley created a Facebook page to fight for a traffic light at the intersection and more than 900 people have signed his online petition in support of installing one.
“It’s not only the family that sees that this is a dangerous intersection,” he said. “It’s a concern for a lot of people.”
Crutchley said he plans to approach lawmakers about the issue if that is what it takes and will go as far as trying to get it on the ballot so the public can decide if the intersection needs a signal.
“All I can do is let them know how concerned everybody is,” he said.

Signal not warranted
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, the intersection does not meet the criteria for a traffic light. FDOT conducted four studies at the site between 2001 and January 2010 to see if a light was justified.
“We were not able to approve a traffic signal,” Debbie Tower, spokeswoman for the FDOT’s district operations for the southwest area, said Friday.
The minimum requirements include the number of left turns from the side streets, meaning Skyline and Southwest 10th Place, onto Pine Island, as well as through movements from one side street straight across to the other.
FDOT found that over nine years, left turns and through movements from the side streets did not increase. During an eight-hour period, it found that there were 27 to 62 vehicles per hour on average that chose one of those two routes. The required minimum volume is 140 per hour for eight hours.
“You’re never going to get 141 vehicles turning left at Southwest 10th Place,” Crutchley said.
The department also looked at the amount of time motorists had to wait to turn left or go straight from a side street and the crash history at the site.
“We had been seeing over the years a number of crashes involving left turns and through movements from the side streets,” Tower said.

Alternative solution
To try to curb the crash problem, FDOT installed dividers in November.
“The interim directional median opening prevents side street traffic from turning left or going through the median,” she said. “The reason we did that is because the intersection does not meet the criteria for a traffic signal.”
According to Crutchley, the dividers are more of a distraction than a help.
State transportation officials, however, do not see it that way.
Since November, FDOT has recorded three crashes at the intersection. One was the fatality involving Wheeler, and the other two were fender benders in which two vehicles were bumper to bumper on Skyline waiting to turn right.
“So far it has reduced crashes,” Tower said. “Because we had eliminated the opportunity for those traffic movements (to the left and straight through).”
FDOT plans to replace the interim dividers toward the end of the year with a permanent concrete one that will channel traffic in the same manner. A U-turn also will be opened between Skyline and Nicholas Parkway for those headed northbound on Skyline who want to travel westbound on Pine Island.
Pine Island and Cultural Park Boulevard has a similar setup.
Tower explained that the U-turn will save motorists from having to go all the way to Nicholas to turn around to go west.
“A year after it’s installed, we will come back and review how traffic is operating at this intersection, including the opening to the east,” she said.

Down the road
Since the criteria for the traffic signal — counting left turns and through movements from the side streets — will no longer be possible because of the concrete divider, FDOT will review traffic patterns and changes to them, as well as traffic crashes and the reasons behind them.
“We might see different conditions,” Tower said. “Then we certainly would look at the intersection to see if a change there would be appropriate.”
New development can often change traffic patterns and volume.
“We’re looking for something to be different,” she said. “If we saw something that really suggested things had changed dramatically, we’ll make the change.”
Crutchley argued that the plans for the intersection are lengthy.
“It’s like one thing after another,” he said.
They are also costly. According to Crutchley, information provided by FDOT estimates that the cost of the project is approximately $295,066 total, and construction on the permanent divider is expected to be done in June 2012.
The combined cost of the traffic signal at Pine Island and Andalusia Boulevard and the directional opening at Cultural was $235,688, he said.

Not just
signals, dividers
Tower noted that traffic signals only assign right-of-way.
“Traffic signals are not safety devices,” she said. “They (law enforcement) investigate these crashes at traffic signals all the time.”
According to FDOT, law enforcement identified aggressive driving, such as excessive speed, failure to yield right-of-way and failure to use due caution, as the main factors in the crashes that have occurred at Pine Island and Skyline.
In the January fatality, the driver of the other vehicle was cited for violating Wheeler’s right-of-way, but investigators found that Wheeler’s “excessive speed” contributed to the crash, according to a traffic homicide report released this week by the Cape Coral Police Department.
A police officer who happened to be in the area and witnessed the crash reportedly estimated Wheeler’s minimum speed to be 70 mph, “but possibly could be going 75-80 mph,” prior to the accident. He told investigators that the motorcycle was “moving so fast that he could not believe his eyes.”
The speed limit on that section of Pine Island is 50 mph.
The driver of the vehicle told investigators that he saw an SUV traveling east on Pine Island and a motorcycle next to it. To him, it appeared that the vehicles were going the same speed and not speeding, so he proceeded into the intersection and was hit on the passenger’s side by the motorcycle.
Wheeler was the city’s first traffic fatality this year. A corrections officer, he had been with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office since 2008. At the time of the accident, Wheeler left behind a pregnant finance and two young children.
The driver of the other vehicle was not injured in the crash.