Babcock Place Case Study
Babcock Place is a six story apartment building housing senior citizens who pay subsidized rent. It faces a four lane street in what largely is a residential area. The president of the tenants' association sent a handwritten letter to the city council requesting a crosswalk at the corner so residents could cross the street safely to get to a Dairy Queen and a church. The request was sent to the city's Traffic Safety Commission. The Commission is composed of five citizens appointed by the mayor with the city council's approval. According to procedure, the city's traffic engineer conducted traffic counts to determine if a crosswalk was warranted according to nationally accepted traffic safety standards. These standards are designed to balance the desire for traffic control with the need to move traffic efficiently and safely. The standards can be adjusted for the elderly or other exceptional cases. The engineer reported to the Commission that no crosswalk was warranted; the Commission followed the engineer's recommendation that the request be denied and forwarded its recommendation to the city council.

The residents were upset at the recommendation and voiced their displeasure to the city council citing numerous incidents where they could not cross the street safely. They even suggested sarcastically that if the city council would buy the paint, they would supply the labor! When the item came to the city council, the adjacent neighborhood association voiced its support for the crosswalk, noting that many of their members crossed the four lane road to get to a supermarket adjacent to Babcock Place.

The city council deferred the item asking staff to explore alternatives to the crosswalk. In the meantime, I visited Babcock Place, and based on my conversations with the residents learned that the "story" was not so much getting to the Dairy Queen or church as it was a matter of mobility and dignity. For the residents, the inability to cross the street limited their independence, and as one grows older independence and dignity are tied to mobility. In essence, they seemed to be saying, "Isn't it government's role to help older citizens maintain dignity in their lives, and isn't a crosswalk a cheap way to accomplish that goal even if it causes some inconvenience to traffic flow?"

While this seems to be a trivial issue in the life of any city, it is not an uncommon one, and it generates a lot of emotion.

John Nalbandian
University of Kansas
Spring 1997
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