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Othello seeks reactions to street proposal

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | April 28, 2021 1:00 AM

OTHELLO — Officials are seeking residents’ opinions on possible changes to street design standards for new residential development, as city council members approved public works design standards April 12, but didn’t include the street standards.

City engineer Shawn O’Brien said city officials mostly are reviewing the width of new streets. Currently, all new residential streets must be 40 feet wide from curb to curb, but O’Brien said he is proposing reducing the minimum width for new residential streets following a request from a developer to build streets that were 34 feet wide.

“The original proposal was 34 (feet), and after looking at the safety aspect and the insurance costs, I’m proposing 30 feet wide (minimum width),” he said. “Looking for input from people who agree, disagree, have different suggestions.”

O’Brien and city officials took the developer’s original request, to build 34-foot-wide streets, to the Othello Planning Commission, which turned it down. Planning commission members told him the wider streets have been standard in Othello, he said, and they saw no reason to change.

O’Brien said as part of his research he started looking into the impact of street width on traffic patterns, including accident rates.

“There are multiple studies, and they’re consistent, that the wider your streets are, the faster cars will go,” he said. “It’s just human nature. With wider streets and faster speeds, you will have more accidents and have more severe accidents.”

He researched accident rates in a four-year period, he said, including a review of Washington Department of Transportation statistics. There were 404 car accidents in Othello from 2016 to 2019, the last year for which data was available. In those accidents, 99 people were injured.

“If you start looking at Othello compared to other cities our size, we have more accidents and more injuries than other cities,” he said.

He cited Selah, which has a population of about 8,300, as an example. Selah had 210 car accidents in the same time period, and 40 injuries. His research also indicated Othello had more accidents from 2016 to 2019 than other cities its size in areas where the speed limit is 25 mph.

“For all cities (statewide), about 25% of the accidents in your town should be in the 25 mph areas, and for east side cities it should be about 26%. In Othello, we have 68% of our wrecks (in the 25 mph zones). So not only do we have a lot more accidents, they’re concentrated in our residential areas instead of on the main streets.”

The city’s current street regulations allow parking on both sides of the street.

“We’re still proposing parking on both sides (of the street),” he said.

That would mean drivers going in opposite directions would have less room to pass, but O’Brien said it would mean drivers would naturally have to slow down. In addition, city standards require garages and driveways in new developments, which reduces the need to park cars on the street, he said.

Those wishing to express their opinions, can call O’Brien at Othello City Hall, 509-488-5686.