Pedestrian accident sparks downtown safety changes

Photo by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Mary Ann Bettag of Jasper uses a crosswalk on the Courthouse Square in Jasper on Monday.


JASPER — On a chilly morning in early March, Amy Kippenbrock looked both ways and stepped into a crosswalk on Jasper’s downtown Square. A few paces later — bam. A Dodge Avenger slammed into her, throwing her body to the ground and sending her mind into a state of shock.

She left the accident feeling sore and later developed a deep, black bruise on the bottom of her right foot. But she escaped major injury.

Now, Kippenbrock — who is the Dubois County Clerk — has made it her mission to advocate for improved downtown safety.

“My 8-year-old looked at me with tears in his eyes and he’s like, ‘You could have died,’” Kippenbrock recalled Tuesday. “And that, for me, is when it was like, ‘Oh my gosh. It could have been serious.’”

After reviewing video footage of the accident, a courthouse security guard told Kippenbrock that if the driver that hit her hadn’t applied his brakes just before impact, she would’ve been completely run over and possibly killed.

She credited the driver, though, for springing from his vehicle and to her aid after knocking her down. Still, the memory of the incident affects her more than a month later.

“Even still to this day, I’m hesitant to be a pedestrian,” Kippenbrock said. “I’m hesitant to walk out. I’m not daring as I maybe was before, if there was such a thing. And not just here. Anywhere. When I’m at Walmart and I’m walking out, I get the feeling of, stay away from the moving cars.”

She is grateful she wasn’t seriously harmed but wants to ensure that good comes from the accident. Since she reached out to them, city entities have already enacted changes to improve visibility around the Square’s crosswalks.

Tall shrubs that once stood near the pedestrian crossings have been yanked from the ground, and more shrubs will be tended to in the future through a collaboration between the City of Jasper and the Greater Jasper Downtown Business Association.

Next, Kippenbrock said the city will repaint all parking spot lines, crosswalk markings and merge arrows on the Square, some of which have faded or disappeared after roadwork.

“I think that’s a great start,” she said. “I hope that they continue on the path.”

Down the line, Kippenbrock hopes to see raised crosswalks added to the Square to control motorist speeds — the speed limit on the square is 10 mph. — and she’d also like the city to establish an ordinance explaining how traffic moves on the Square. She’d like an answer to the still-divisive question: Who has to yield to whom when vehicles enter it?

She’s had many conversations with city and county officials, downtown merchants and the general public regarding the traffic pattern in the last month.

“There’s no written ordinance that says who has the right of way,” she said.

According to City Engineer Chad Hurm, there isn’t a universal answer as to who has the right of way when merging onto the Square. Incoming traffic and those already on the Square are supposed to alternate, he explained.

“But that doesn’t always happen,” he said Tuesday. “It is not a yield, so one car versus another does not necessarily yield to the other. It’s supposed to be a merge. You need a little courtesy when you drive around the Square.”

He further clarified that the junction is not a roundabout. Popular in Central Indiana, those circular structures require incoming traffic to yield to vehicles already inside their lanes.     

Hurm said that downtown safety has been on the city’s radar for several years. It was a priority when the city pursued the since-tabled Courthouse Square renovation project, which would have made the Square more pedestrian-friendly, among other improvements.

Since that project was mothballed, the city has repaired downtown sidewalks, but Hurm said long-term fixes for the other Square-related problems are still needed. The city is investigating how they can be addressed, he said.

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