YOU ARE NO DOUBT ALL TOO familiar with the tragedy which occurred last weekend when an Escanaba couple lost their lives in a traffic accident as they were on their way to see their son play basketball in Sault Ste. Marie.
I don’t need to go into unnecessary detail about the incident, which is almost too painful to comprehend. Three children, two still in school, have lost their parents… both of them, in the blink of an eye. Even as I write this, more than a week later, my emotions get the better of me.
While it’s still fresh in our minds, it’s almost impossible to think anything positive could come from such a devastating turn of events. Every night across the U.P. family and friends are driving somewhere to watch a ballgame, with the hope, and expectation, they’ll get there and back, safely. Can we learn something from this incident to help prevent it from happening again?
As we know… accidents happen. But the thought here is that most can be avoided. And that starts with safe highways.
One Facebook comment regarding the Weaver accident suggested that the stretch of highway where the accident occurred is known to be dangerous. If that’s true, it’s likely even more dangerous under poor weather conditions, which we seem to have quite frequently around here.
Is there a highway in Marquette, “known to be dangerous?”
Raise your hand if you agree… it’s M-553, from the Pioneer Street intersection, past Superior Elementary, past the Noquemanon Trailhead, past Rippling River Campground, and past Marquette Mountain, all the way to the city limits at the bottom of the big hill.
The speed limit for that stretch of highway is 55 mph. Way too fast for what is now an urban thoroughfare, busy with all kinds of motorized and non-motorized traffic. The word on this street is that it’s dangerous for all involved, and there’s no reason to wait any longer to identify the problem… speed, and fix it.
Having looked into this in the past, I understand that getting speed limits changed on state highways is a difficult, almost impossible task. The Department of Transportation uses a formula called the 85th Percentile Rule. It basically means that speed limits are set based on how fast 85% of the traffic travels under normal circumstances. It might work in most cases, but the 55 mph limit on M-553 is the exception to the rule.
The National Association of City Transportation Officials explains its faults better than I can. “Percentile-based speed limit setting methods fail at keeping people safe because they set a permanently moving target based on current human behavior, not safety.
“Percentile-based models are designed to respond to extremes. When enough people drive faster than the set percentile, the model rewards them by instructing traffic engineers to increase the posted speed.
“Researchers originally recommended using the 85th percentile approach to determine posted speeds, assuming that drivers always travel at reasonable speeds. But a growing body of research shows that drivers base their decisions at least partially on the posted speed limit. When they see higher posted limits, and see the resulting increased speed of their peers, they drive faster too, which results in an increased speed of the street overall.”
And then there’s common sense. Any reasonable person driving that stretch would surely agree… 55 mph is flat-out wrong. On top of that, the straightaway in front of the ski hill is a passing zone!
Lori Hauswirth, of the Noquemanon Trail Network says her organization is equally concerned. “We hear from the trail community frequently over speed concerns as well as cars using the shoulder/bike lane to pass turning vehicles.”
Mark Curran of Rippling River shares the sentiment. “The use of the M-553 corridor as a ‘recreation area’ has changed over the last few years. I would love to see the speed limit lowered in that area.”
With Marquette Mountain’s primary parking lot being across the street from the hill, just getting the gang and their gear to the lift line can be treacherous.
The Marquette Traffic & Parking Committee is also looking into this issue. Since they’re an official city board, they might be the best vehicle to carry the cause to the finish line. When we know more about how our community can help affect this change, we’ll let you know. What the heck! This is within the city limits. Don’t we have any say in what goes on in our own community? If not, that’s the tail wagging the dog, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to work.
One more thing about the Weaver tragedy. If there was ever a thought that our culture has become uncaring, it’s been dispelled by the staggering amount of support shown for the Weaver children by the Upper Peninsula community. My last count showed more than a hundred separate fundraisers organized to raise money for the ongoing care of kids who have been left parentless.
Orange-Outs, fifty-fifty drawings, business receipts, and cash donations, all in the name of people stepping up to fill a need, show that maybe we’re not the disinterested populace as we’re often portrayed. The heart is a powerful muscle, and when called upon, it can do some incredible work.
This Weekend in Negaunee
Negaunee is doing a lot of things right these days, including celebrating the snow, with their annual Heikki Lunta Winter Festival. The fun starts today at 5 and continues all day tomorrow, ending up with fireworks at 9. Check the schedule here: www.cityofnegaunee.com/downtown-development-authority/pages/heikki-lunta-winter-festival
Speaking of Negaunee… native Dan Korhonen has produced a documentary film about his hometown called “The Iron Town,” and it’s showing tomorrow (Saturday) at 1 at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum. Korhonen, producer of the film, along with director John Scheibe, relies on his strong Negaunee roots to tell the story of where the city has been, and where it’s going.
Korhonen’s next project will be a film about the restoration of the Vista called “Saving our Theatre.” Dan is one of a growing body of Iron Towners helping make a difference in Negaunee.
The showing of “The Iron Town” is free, but the museum always welcomes donations.