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Emergency response times prompt look at of College Ways one-way designation

When it comes to responding to emergencies, every second counts. But, to what lengths should local governments go to make it easier (and faster) for police cruisers, fire trucks and ambulances to get through their towns?

That’s the tough question that Forest Grove city councilors will face as they ponder whether to change the traffic flow on College Way.

The north-south downtown street is just two blocks long, connecting University and Pacific avenues, but it has a big impact on emergency vehicles heading north from the city’s fire and police stations on nearby Ash Street.

That’s because several years ago the road, which previously had one lane going north and another going south, was made into a south-only street, with angled parking on the east side, adjacent to campus.

As a result, vehicles wanting to travel north from Pacific Avenue now must head two blocks east, to Cedar Street, or one block west, to Main Street.

For most motorists, that’s not a problem. In fact, downtown merchants like the arrangement, as north-bound traffic is funneled past their shops. And, for the university, the current sounth-only configuration on College Way provides a natural flow around campus while allowing for much-needed parking.

But for a fire truck or ambulance looking to head north, the need to take Main or Cedar streets can add an extra 10 to 25 seconds to a trip.

Councilor Tom Johnston, a former firefighter and police officer, said that while a few seconds may not seem like much time to most people, for those who are watching a home burn or a family member suffer a heart attack, it can have a life-changing impact.

“Until you’re in trauma you have no idea how long 24 seconds is,” he said.

So, at Johnston’s request, the council last week agreed to take another look at the one-way arrangement, balancing the need for speed with other factors, including pedestrian safety, the university’s wishes and the cost of reorienting traffic on a two-block street.

There’s no word yet on when the city council might schedule the topic on its agenda.

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