The Media School

New ‘no turn on red’ ordinance aims to protect cyclists and pedestrians in downtown Bloomington

April 21st, 2021 by
Photograph by Kyra Miller

The intersection of Third St. and Indiana Ave. was the sight of an accident that killed an IU student in October 2020. Accidents like this are what inspired the new traffic ordinance.

Jim Shackelford has lived and worked in Bloomington for the past 13 years. He walks, bikes, drives and uses public transportation in town. When the Bloomington City Council announced a new ordinance that would prevent right turns on red lights, Shackelford thought it was a small change that could prevent a lot of accidents. 

“There’s a good chance of better safety and just minor inconvenience,” he said. “It’s not that big of a thing.”

In October 2020, IU student Dan Plebanek was struck and killed by a turning vehicle while crossing the intersection at Third Street and Indiana Avenue. This was not the first time an accident like this occurred, so on April 7, the city council approved the ordinance that will add 78 ‘no turn on red’ signs to intersections that currently allow right turns on red.  

In preparation for the ordinance, the Bloomington Traffic Commission did a background traffic report on the downtown and IU areas. According to the report, between 2015 and 2020, Bloomington reported five crashes involving cars turning right on red, including the crash that killed Plebenek. 

The report also showed during that same time 44 accidents occurred involving vehicles and pedestrians and 22 accidents involving vehicles and bicycles. 

Shackelford admits city policy is not his area of expertise, but he said the new law will help to reduce accidents and deaths resulting from traffic incidents. 

“Look at it this way, is it necessary to reduce deaths by one per year?” he asked. “And I think it is, and I think we could.”  

Photograph by Kyra Miller

Jim Shackelford has lived in Bloomington for 13 years. He believes the extra safety brought by the ordinance is worth the slight inconvenience to drivers.

Shackelford knows that turning right on red is a huge convenience for drivers, but remembers turning right on red was not allowed when he first started driving. He believes drivers can do a lot to make traffic safer, just by adjusting their attitudes while driving. 

“I think the main thing that determines life and death out there is the driving culture,” he said. “Our local driving culture isn’t all that good.”

Councilwoman Kate Rosenbarger proposed the ordinance and it was co-sponsored by Councilmen Stephen Volan and Ron Smith. The ordinance emphasizes steps outlined in the Bloomington Comprehensive Plan to make the city safer and more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, Smith said.

“I can’t see any negatives to it,” he said. “If you’re in a hurry maybe you should take a deep breath and wait for that light to turn green. We want people to be safe in this city.” 

Smith, Rosenbarger and Volan worked with city departments to determine the feasibility and cost of the legislation. Both the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Commission and the Traffic Commission voted for the ordinance.

“Look at it this way, is it necessary to reduce deaths by one per year? I think it is, and I think we could.” – Jim Shackelford, Bloomington resident

Smith said he heard a lot of public comments on this topic and felt the need to join Rosenbarger on the bill when she asked, to make downtown safer for pedestrians and to stop accidents between cars and cyclists or pedestrians. 

“I’m really happy about it,” Smith said. “I ride a bike and I know that there’s been close calls with me in the past, walking and biking. If we can make it safer, why not?”  

This ordinance is a small change that doesn’t cost a lot of money, but can keep a lot of people safe, Rosenbarger said. 

The expected cost for the project is around $8,000, Rosenbarger said. Each sign is expected to cost about $100 to produce and install, according to the city council packet. 

While the sample size is small, Smith said he has gotten a few comments from the public about the ordinance. Some are happy that pedestrians and cyclists will be safer, but others are angry about the inconvenience for drivers. 

Both Smith and Rosenbarger said it would take some time for residents to get used to the new signage. 

“As drivers we should always be paying attention to signs, you should look around and if there’s new signs you should read them,” Rosenbarger said.