Diana Kane takes pains to make sure her 170-year-old house at the corner of Prospect Street and Riddle Avenue in Ravenna retains its historic appearance.
But a large box on her tree lawn, necessitated by the city's new traffic signals, is obstructing the view.
"It didn't really hit me until I was going from north to south," she said. "It just obliterates the view of the house. If they knew these were going to be so big and ugly, why didn't they put them across the street?"
The metal box on a concrete base, similar in size and shape to a monument, stands tall on the Riddle Avenue tree lawn beside Kane's house. Similar boxes are stationed throughout the city. The signals are expected to start going live in about two months.
City officials say the boxes hold the battery backup, ensuring that traffic signals won't go out in the event of a power outage.
City Engineer Bob Finney said he believes the engineers who designed the signal at Prospect and Riddle put the box on Kane's side because that was the original location of the electronics, and said the power pole there provides a measure of protection.
At the intersection of Freedom and Main, the city purchased right of way to move the signal behind the sidewalk. Doing so in every case would add to the expense of the project.
"In the neighborhoods, safety is a concern, but safety is a concern with any power pole or traffic signal," he said.
Kane's home is directly across the street from an insurance agency located in a renovated home. On the north side of the intersection is First United Methodist Church of RAvenna and directly north of Kane's home, there is a parking lot for the church. There were previously trees and shrubs along the edge of the parking lot, and Finney said he believed those were there when the project was first designed.
Kane doesn't dispute the need for new signals, realizing a grant and an energy-saving project through Honeywell made them possible. And she understands that the signal needs to stay operating in the event of an emergency.
But she says the battery boxes are more than an eyesore. She worries that they could also become a traffic hazard.
"There are horrible accidents at that corner," she said. "I've seen cars end up every direction on this corner. If someone hits that box, they're going to be killed."
Kane, a former member of the Ravenna Heritage Association, which wrote histories of various houses in Ravenna, has a plaque from the organization bearing her home's 1842 construction date. She said the front portion of her house, which boasts the wrap-around porch, is 100 years older than the back of the house. It is known as the house of the Cook and Pickens families, who owned it for many years. Kane has lived there since 1966.
It is just outside the city's downtown historic district, where building improvements are regulated by the Design Review Commission. Kane is a member of that panel.
She said when construction started in the fall, she didn't realize the box would be put there. Then contractors started digging a large hole, and arrived home from a visit out of town to find the box on her tree lawn.
"That thing is huge," she told the contractors. "What's in it?"
Contractors opened the box for her to show her the large batteries inside.
Finney said in addition to the batteries, the box also contains the complex maze of electronics that control the signal. The signals have cameras that determine whether a car is at the intersection and whether the signal needs to change.
"Hindsight is 20/20," he said, noting that Ravenna City Council approved the signal design.
He pointed out that the Ohio Revised Code requires that all signals conform to the state manual. That manual, he said, dictates 12 inch lenses and specifies the height and position of the signals. Another signal prohibits the sale of signals that don't conform to the code.
Councilman Frank Seman said the battery back-up is very important because it ensures that police officers can respond to emergencies in the event of a crisis, rather than directing traffic because a signal has lost power. He said he was "shocked" at the size of the battery boxes, saying, "It's just an imposing thing."
"They're constructing the lights to meet the new standards that we're going to have to meet anyway, and with the Honeywell project, it was the opportune time to do it," he said. "I would have liked to see the historic district looked at beforehand. Once they're up and we get used to them, they'll be all right. But Ravenna is not huge on that kind of change."
Signals on the city's west side are slated to be put up in 2016, sooner if funding becomes available.
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