City council to support Marfa Public Library in safer streets initiative

MARFA — At Thursday night’s regular meeting, Marfa City Council members passed a resolution permitting city employees to negotiate with the Texas Department of Transportation on the matter of some safety improvements outside the Marfa Public Library, which library representatives say are sorely needed.

Bob Schwab, who sits on the library’s board of advisors, addressed council on the safety concerns currently plaguing the streets just outside the Oak Street building. For one, speeds on Oak Street are “excessive,” he said — the speed limit starts at 50 miles per hour further east down the state-run highway of FM 1112, then abruptly reduces to 30 miles per hour at Alamito Creek. The speed limit then remains at 30 miles per hour until hitting Highland Street, which Schwab noted was higher than other local streets in Marfa.

The library board of advisors is proposing adding one stop sign at Dean Street — which will be met by drivers going eastbound on Oak Street — and three crosswalks outside the library for increased safety. One crosswalk would cross Dean Street at Oak Street, another would cross Oak Street at Dean Street, and a third would go directly across from the library entrance, crossing Oak Street.

The library is also asking that the speed limit on Oak Street west of Nevill Street be reduced from 30 to 20 miles per hour. Given how many pedestrians cross the street on a regular basis, said Schwab, such changes are necessary.

“The painted crosswalks give a clear signal to drivers that this is a pedestrian area,” said Schwab. “This is Marfa’s most pedestrian-heavy intersection and area. We have one of our only two clinics, the pharmacy, the post office, of course the library, three of Marfa’s parks, private residences, two nonprofits in three buildings, all of which hold public events and bring a lot of pedestrian traffic.”

The board was asking for a “vigorous representation” of these recommendations before TxDOT, said Schwab. The original resolution put before the council asked that members approve the proposed changes. Ultimately, the language was amended to give the go-ahead to negotiate with TxDOT on the specifics. While there was some disagreement between Schwab and Mayor Pro Tem Irma Salgado on what TxDOT was likely to approve, Schwab urged council members to at least bring their requests to the state agency and go from there. 

“I think TxDOT wants to hear what this community wants,” he said. “We shouldn’t try to second guess what they will or will not approve.”

Marfa Police Chief Steve Marquez, meanwhile, confirmed that drivers tend to speed into town off the state highway — failing to slow down to 30 miles per hour at the speed limit change — and that the issue did raise safety concerns for parents whose kids cross Oak Street.

“There’s a lot of individuals that don’t respect the speed limit coming into the city limits and they’re coming in at 50, 40, 45,” he said. 

Schwab said he would also be happy to get petition signatures from neighboring businesses in support of the proposed changes — so far, no one polled had been in disagreement, he said. With the resolution passed, he thanked the council members. “You may have saved a life,” he said.