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How A Phoenix Woman’s Death Led To Wrong-Way Pilot Program

A wrong-way crash that killed a community organizer is leading to changes on some Phoenix streets. A pilot program will be implemented along two busy streets downtown.

While addressing the city’s Transportation, Infrastructure and Innovation Subcommittee this month, Channel Powe struggled to control tears.

“December’s wrong way driving fatality hit the community hard,” she said.

Powe’s friend, 30-year old Tameka Spence, was killed after her car collided with a light rail train. Spence was going the wrong way on Washington Street. Between 2014 and 2019, Phoenix reported 15 wrong-way crashes downtown. 

Powe contacted city council offices and Vice Mayor Betty Guardado asked the Streets Department to present options for increased safety. 

During the subcommittee meeting, department director Kini Knudson said, “What we have out there today does meet national standards for signage and striping, but it doesn’t mean we can’t do better.”

The department presented a pilot program for Washington and Jefferson Streets between 7th avenue and 7th street. The subcommittee approved the plan which includes about 45 new “Wrong Way” signs and approximately 130 new pavement arrow markings.

Powe thanked city staff and council members and said, “As we continue to grow with all this new growth and development our city needs to be adequately aware and promote education and awareness to tourists and to residents that could be confused.”

Subcommittee Chair Thelda Williams who represents northwest Phoenix said she sometimes gets confused driving downtown.

“I don’t drive around downtown beyond just a route particularly, but with all the new construction, the light rail going in downtown, when I got off my beaten track I couldn’t figure out how to get back here for a little while,” she said.

The signs and markings will cost about $32,000 and should be completed in four to six months. Employees with the Streets Department will evaluate the project and collision data over a three-year period to determine whether wrong-way crashes have decreased.

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.