New 7th Street signage aims to protect equestrians

Tragic horse accident leads to installation of six new signs

BY TRACY DEMETROPOLIS

PHOENIX – Motorists making their way down northbound and southbound 7th Street near Maddock Road in Desert Hills will soon notice more street signs alerting them to an important fact – equestrians are often present.

Speeding, absent-minded/distracted driving and a lack of regard for horseback riders are just some of the concerns area equestrians expressed after a January 15 accident involving a horse that was struck and killed by a car near the intersection. The horse, a mare named Aspen, had broken free from her owner who was on foot leading the horse to the nearby state land, according to witnesses and a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) spokesperson. Aspen died at the scene, and the driver of the vehicle that hit her was treated for minor injuries.

The tragic accident prompted many area equestrians to take to social media and express their concerns about speeding and a perceived lack of concern for horses and riders on the part of motorists. (The posted speed limit on 7th Street near Maddock Road is 40 mph, but area residents say speeding has become the norm.)

Traci Ruth, Division Manager of Strategic Communications and Outreach for the Maricopa County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) said the department would be installing six new signs along 7th Street on Wednesday, March 4.

“These signs will help to alert drivers in the area of the possibility of people riding
horses,” Ruth said. “The signs at Maddock Road will designate a horse-crossing location and
direct riders to cross their horses there.”

Ruth said the following signs will be installed:

•          Horse and Rider sign – Northbound on 7th Street, just north of Cloud Road

•          Horse and Rider sign – Southbound on 7th Street, just south of Joy Ranch Road

•          Horse and Rider sign, Ahead sign – Northbound and Southbound prior to the intersection at 7th Street and Maddock Road (The Ahead sign indicates that motorists should watch for horses and riders ahead)

•          Horse and Rider sign, Diagonal Arrow sign – Northbound and Southbound on 7th Street at the Maddock Road intersection.

While the new signs will not directly address the speeding issue – MCSO is in charge of speed-limit enforcement – the signs are intended to make drivers more aware of equestrians.

“While evaluating the area on 7th Street, MCDOT reached out to State Lands, who owns the adjacent land. MCDOT was informed that the State land fence opening at 7th Street and Maddock Road was a designated entrance/exit point for permitted horse riders,” Ruth said. “MCDOT determined that the horse and rider signs at this location would provide awareness to drivers that horses and their riders could be crossing at that location to access the trails.”

Soon after the January 15 accident, Cortney Morris, the owner of CnC Performance Horses on Maddock Road, said she was furious about the speeding and lack of respect given to riders in the area. Aspen was being boarded at Morris’ stable when the accident occurred.

“I’m so happy they listened to our heartbreaking incident and didn’t let it go by the wayside,” Morris told The Foothills Focus on March 2. “We still ride out on the state land, and drivers are still so unaware of the horses. They blow through there at over 65 mph with no regard
for us and our horses,” she said, adding that she hopes the new signs will create a safer
situation for riders.

Aspen’s owner, Anthem resident Kristy Frankel, told The Foothills Focus in January that she hoped some good could come out of the devastating accident. She said Aspen was loved by so many, including her two daughters, who considered Aspen their best friend.

“If some good can come from this, I hope drivers are more aware of the horse community and watch more than just the asphalt in front of their noses,” Frankel said shortly after the accident. “If they do that, then I think the healing can begin.”

According to a MCDOT statement, the department believes safety is the number-one priority and encourages the public to contact MCDOT if they have a concern. For more information or to report a concern, go to http://apps.mcdot.maricopa.gov/contact or call (602) 506-3342.

MCSO is responsible for enforcing speed limits on 7th Street and surrounding streets. Questions regarding speed enforcement, including the use of radar and cameras to enforce speed limits, should be directed to MCSO at (602) 876-1000.

STATE LAWS REGARDING VEHICLES AND ANIMALS

ARS 28-858 states that motorists: “Shall exercise reasonable precaution to prevent frightening and to safeguard the animals and to ensure the safety of persons riding or driving the animals. If the animals appear frightened, the person in control of the vehicle shall reduce its speed and if requested by signal or otherwise shall not proceed further toward the animals unless necessary to avoid accident or injury until the animals appear to be under control.”

ARS 28-625 states:  “A person riding an animal or driving an animal-drawn vehicle on a roadway
has all of the rights…”