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Mayor of South Bend, Ind., Supports Smart Streets in Wake of Tragic Traffic Death

The Smart Streets project is a program to convert one-way streets to two-way traffic, an effort to make them more pedestrian-friendly.

(TNS) — SOUTH BEND — City officials had planned since May 2016 to install traffic signals at the downtown intersection where an 11-year-old boy was struck and killed Monday, and activation was expected next week, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said Tuesday.

Following a consultant's 2015 study finding that vehicular and pedestrian traffic at the corner of South and Michigan streets didn't warrant a traffic light, the city placed a bag over the light Feb. 1, 2016, as it did at a handful of downtown intersections.

The moves were part of the Smart Streets project to convert one-way streets to two-way traffic, an effort to make them more pedestrian-friendly.

After the city posted signs saying that traffic control measures at the corners were under study for removal, it decided to install new lights there for all four directions of traffic because of community feedback, Buttigieg said.

"We simply don't know whether it would have made any difference yesterday morning as two children darted across the street, at an angle, and one of them, outside the crosswalk, was struck and killed," the mayor said.

Deputy public works director Jitin Kain said the city could not say how many people provided the feedback. There were a "few people" who called and others expressed views during a neighborhood meeting, Kain said.

Shortly after 7 a.m. Monday, as they did each school day, 11-year-old Tristian Moore and his 8-year-old brother walked from their home in a nearby neighborhood west toward the Transpo station to catch a bus to Success Academy, the charter school they attend.

As they were crossing Michigan Street, just south of South Street, Tristian was struck. He was pronounced dead a short time later at Memorial Hospital.

Police said there were no signs that the southbound driver, who carried one passenger and was driving a SUV, had been speeding or using drugs or alcohol, but toxicology reports were still pending. Police have not yet released the driver’s name.

The city's Board of Public Works on Aug. 23 approved an order to change its contract with Rieth-Riley Construction to return a signal to the intersection, according to board documents.

At a press conference in Buttigieg’s office Tuesday, his public works director, Eric Horvath, was asked why it’s taken so long to install the new signals at the intersection.

“We have 59 intersections that the contractor is updating, including putting up mast arms, rewiring, signal heads, putting in pedestrian crossings, so in process they’re moving as quickly as they can,” Horvath said. “They still have a number of them that still need to be upgraded but they’re working as diligently as possible.”

Following the study by American Structurepoint Inc., the city bagged and evaluated lights at four other intersections: Calvert and Michigan, and Calvert and Main.

Those signals were put back in last fall because schools were located nearby. Broadway’s signal was removed permanently. One near the fire station on South Michigan Street was reactivated.

Buttigieg was asked whether he thinks the boy’s death was attributable to any mistakes made by his staff.

“Any time anything bad happens in the city, finger-pointing happens,” he said. “I get it. I’m in charge. But I also think what you had here was professional engineers acting on recommendations based on expertise, and based on everything we knew, making the best decision that we could. We always look back with hindsight, but as of now I’ve seen no indication that tells us for certain that anything related to traffic engineering could have or would have changed what happened. We just don’t know.”

He also said he still believes in his Smart Streets initiative.

“What we know is when you calm down traffic, you have an economically healthier downtown and a safer environment over all,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of traffic accidents. It doesn’t mean that it’s the end of traffic fatalities, and yesterday morning, two little boys ran across the street and one of them didn’t make it.”

©2017 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.