Officials hoping to improve safety at scene of fatal crash

The signs are so glaringly bright—a blazing yellow-orange glowing in the sunlight—that it is almost impossible for passing motorists to miss them. The message, however, is startlingly simple.

The city of Tempe recently spent about $270 to remind drivers along Rural Road near the Carver Road intersection with the brightest possible signs that “Red Means Stop.” 

It might seem a silly little municipal project if the reasons behind it were not so serious and sad.

On April 22, a 34-year-old local woman died when her vehicle was broadsided on the driver’s side by a preschool van on Rural Road. The crash was a simple case of red-light running by the van driver, according to Tempe Police.

“Red Means Stop.” Julie Wilfert, who lives within a half mile of the Rural-Carver intersection, said at the time of the crash that there are too many crashes caused by drivers on Rural Road “blowing through red lights” at Carver Road.

Wilfert drove through the debris of the April crash while taking her children to nearby C.I. Waggoner Elementary School. She spent the rest of that day, and many days afterward, lobbying Tempe officials to do something—anything—to make the intersection safer.

City officials first did some landscaping, cutting back branches that might block motorists’ view as they approach Rural Road on Carver.

Then the city sign department made up the special signs, using the most eye-catching color they could find to get across the simplest message.

“We hope they do catch drivers’ eyes,” Shelly Seyler, a senior traffic engineer, said.

The biggest changes are due later this summer, Seyler said.

The city plans to install additional stoplights at the curbs of both northbound and southbound Rural Road at Carver, she said. The “near-side” signals are similar to those used at major intersections to add visibility to red lights.

One more change—a left-turn arrow for southbound Rural Road traffic—also will be installed this summer, Seyler said. 

The arrow will allow southbound motorists to turn left onto Carver Road while northbound Rural Road traffic is stopped, she explained. 

But it will require at least three cars stacked up in the left-turn lane on Rural Road to activate the arrow, she said. Otherwise, motorists turning left will have to wait until oncoming traffic is clear, she said.

No similar arrow is planned for northbound Rural Road, however, Seyler said. The city’s traffic study did not show enough volume on northbound Rural Road to justify a protected left-turn lane at Carver, she said.

All improvements should be finished before school starts again in August, she said.

The “Red Means Stop” signs are not permanent, Seyler said. After four to six months, the signs will be replaced with new signs—equally eye-catching—with pithy messages designed to remind drivers to slow down and be careful.

Seyler said she did not know yet exactly what the new message would be, but said they will have a similar message to other traffic messages such as, “Slow Down, Save a Life” and “Buckle Up Next Million Miles” that try to gently warn drivers of traffic dangers.

The only other place in Tempe where such signs are used is along Apache Boulevard near Arizona State University, she said.

Wilfert, meanwhile, is pleased with the city’s reaction to her concerns about the Rural/Carver intersection.

“We were very pleased with the efforts made by the traffic department,” she said in an email to Wrangler News. 

“They were prompt in addressing the problems, they are making changes quickly, and they were very much as concerned, as we were.”

“The city held a forum in May at Waggoner to address parents concerns,” Wilfert said. 

“At the forum we learned a lot about what makes an intersection safe. We learned that some things we had thought would help can actually make an intersection more dangerous. 

“My point is that the changes they are making are the right changes due to their knowledge and experience.”