This story landed over Christmas, so might have gone overlooked. The AP reports good news for horse-and-buggy drivers and their neighbors in northeast Ohio:

MIDDLEFIELD, Ohio (AP) — Work to widen roads and make other safety improvements is planned in an area of Ohio’s Amish country plagued by crashes resulting in injuries, according to federal and state officials.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Ohio Department of Transportation said they are teaming up on the $14 million project in northeastern Ohio’s Geauga County.

The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency said the plan involves widening roads, posting signs, educating travelers and taking many other steps to make the Middlefield area safer for pedestrians, buggy riders and motorists.

A $9.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation was awarded to coordinating agency to help fund the safety improvements, and federal officials said they will partner with the state to fund the remainder.

Geauga County is home to the fourth-largest Amish settlement, and Middlefield is at its heart. Like Pennsylvania, a state with a similar-sized Amish population, there have been dozens of crashes and numerous deaths in Ohio in recent years:

Many travelers are injured in crashes involving buggies each year in Ohio. Overall, Ohio State Patrol records show 860 crashes involving buggies from 2012-2017 in Ohio that killed 18 people and injured more than 720.

The Plain Dealer reported that one study found that there were 83 crashes with buggies from 2010 through 2014 in the Middlefield area alone. Three of those crashes were fatal, according to the study.

Ohio has over 75,000 Amish people. The state also has a small Old Order Mennonite population as well as Old Order German Baptist Brethren, both of whom use horse-drawn transportation.

Innovative safety enhancements

Construction is planned for 2020-2023. Interestingly, among the intended additions are “buggy detectors” along with improvements to warning systems in current school zones.

As far as “warning systems” it’s a bit unclear what they are referring to, and this might just refer to flashing lights in school zones.

However, I found a cached version of a 2016 ODOT document entitled “AMISH SAFETY STRATEGIC PLAN GEAUGA COUNTY” containing some interesting decriptions of a buggy detection system:

Amish buggy warning detection system (Cost Estimate: $20,000/location)

> Description: Most warning signs are static signs, and over time motorists become indifferent to these signs. This condition can be mitigated with an enhanced warning sign that is active when a conflict exists, (i.e., a detection system that can identify a slow-moving vehicle such as an Amish buggy), and activate the flashing sign to warn motorists of an Amish buggy presence. Higher luminance and better contrast attract motorists’ attention, leading to cautious driving when compared to a conventional static sign. Detection systems such as advanced radar are suggested. These detection systems are recommended for crest vertical curves, so that an Amish buggy on the downhill side is detected and a warning sign is activated on the uphill side, so drivers approaching the crest are informed of a slow-moving Amish buggy on the downhill side. This will allow drivers to slow down as they pass the crest. This treatment can also be applied to locations with winding curves.

• The Amish survey results show that going over hills or around curves with limited sight distance is the second biggest safety concern for horse drawn buggy travel. The actuated warning system will allow motorists to slow down proactively for a downstream slow-moving vehicle, especially at night.

It’s noted that this application is experimental, or at least was at the time of the report (2 and 1/2 years ago), but that there is some sort of precedent in the Aloha State:

• Note that this application would be experimental. No “off-the-shelf” systems are currently available. A preliminary equipment recommendation would include advanced radar detectors to detect slow moving vehicles, paired with a controller to activate the flashing warning sign and extend the flashing to a time period where the buggy is no longer in the zone with poor sight distance.

The State of Hawaii uses a similar concept to detect bicyclists within tunnels when they are on the roadway and not visible to vehicles entering the tunnel. This application is not complex and it is expected that engineers could complete the design. It is also possible that the detector and the warning beacon could be combined on the same support by using a delay in the algorithm to control the length of time the beacon is on.

Here’s another description of a flashing beacon system, including one variant which is triggered by the buggy:

Conflict Warning System with Flashing beacons: Standard and actuated beacons (Cost estimate: $25,000/location)
> Description: Install flashing beacons with intersection warning signs on major street approaches in advance of a two-way STOP sign controlled intersection. The two types of beacons include continually flashing beacons or vehicle-actuated beacons with a set criterion.
• For example, when a buggy completes a turning maneuver onto a major street or has been waiting at a stop sign for a long time to turn, then the flasher is activated on the major street approaches to warn motorists to slow down and to expect a slow-moving vehicle ahead.

Sounds like something that might be helpful if motorists understand how to act when the beacons are actuated. The document lists eight locations for the warning systems, ordered by priority.

What about “buggy detectors?” This might be referring to the above…or could be about remedying how existing  traffic light systems fail to detect and trip the light for buggies:

Horse-drawn buggy detection at traffic signals (Cost estimate: $10,000/approach)
> Description: Typical detection at traffic signals includes in-roadway loops that detect a vehicle by weight/metal and communicate to the traffic controller to serve that movement. A horse-drawn buggy has no metal and is much lighter than a motor vehicle and is often not detected. This results in longer wait times and non-compliance of the signal. The survey feedback identified the inability of existing detectors (even powerhead loop detectors) to detect a horse drawn buggy as one of the primary concerns. Radar detection (in lieu of loop or video detection) at the stop bar is recommended for buggy detection.

Also sounds like a nice idea.

Assuming these descriptions in the document are accurate, it sounds like the improvements have been well-thought-through (there are many others listed, including lower-tech enhancements like additional signage, wider shoulders, and buggy pull-off lanes).

I’m not sure how much of what is contained in that 2016 document is included in the final plan (though it wouldn’t be surprising if a lot of it was). Either way, going by the general description in the AP article, this investment should lead to accidents avoided and lives saved, and may even use some innovative means to do so.

Photo credits: ShipshewanaIndiana

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