Private, personal memorials with flowers and stuffed animals to remember people killed in crashes would no longer be allowed along county roads under a policy being crafted by Lancaster County officials.
In their place, people would be able to purchase a sign, approved by the county, commemorating a loved one’s death.
Three varieties of blue, rectangular roadside signs would be available under the current proposal, modeled after rules in Colorado counties, said County Engineer Pam Dingman during a recent county board meeting.
* One would be used to remember people killed in a vehicular crash. It would say, "Please drive safely."
* Another, for someone killed by a drunk driver, would say, “Don’t drink and drive.”
* And one, remembering someone killed while on a bicycle, would read, “Share the road with a bicycle.”
The signs would include the name of the person who died, would probably cost the person's survivors about $100, and would be posted for three years, with a potential three-year extension.
The signs would eventually be given to the survivors.
It's a respectful, safe way to pay tribute to those who died on county roads, Dingman said during a commission discussion of the proposed policy this week.
Commissioner Deb Schorr said she heard from several constituents who asked about removing private memorials in the county right-of-way because they had become dated or were in poor condition.
Schorr discovered the county had no policy on private memorials when she talked with the county attorney and county engineer.
The memorials can create safety hazards. County roads are not meant to have people stopping and dropping things off, Dingman said.
She and her staff have concerns about additional injuries and accidents created by the memorials themselves, either from people stopping on the road or drivers being distracted, or the hazard to vehicles from materials left in the right-of-way.
Some people stick rebar in the ground to mount crosses or other items. That falls under the definition of a roadside obstacle, Dingman said.
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She recently told friends of one bicyclist that they could not erect a "ghost bike" memorial on a heavily-traveled county road.
Still, county officials want people to be able to pay tribute to someone who was killed in a crash.
There are probably about a dozen existing private memorials on county roads, Dingman estimated.
Allowing only signs would allow people to memorialize their loved ones and help to educate the public on safety issues, said Commissioner Todd Wiltgen.
The situation is different in cities, which have curbs and side streets, and people have a better, safer way to access a memorial, Dingman said.
The city of Lincoln allows private memorials within the public right-of-way as close as possible to the location of a fatal crash, said Public Works and Utilities Director Miki Esposito.
The spots are chosen with city code in mind. It prohibits placement of objects in the right-of-way that may create a hazard, Esposito said.
But the city is considering a more formal written policy that would be consistent with best practices and standards across the country and in light of the county’s proposed policy, she said in an email.
The issue of memorials is a balancing act between safety and respecting the wishes of grieving family members and friends.
Commissioner Jennifer Brinkman had this dilemma in mind when she asked how the engineer would handle existing memorials after the county established a policy allowing only the signs.
“The staff will have to tell people, ’We are going to pick up the flowers and teddy bears you have left for loved ones.’ Obviously, it is very sensitive.”
Dingman said her staff would probably remove all of the private memorials.
Roadside memorial signs are prevalent in several states, including Colorado, Kansas and Missouri, said Dingman.
Colorado has had a statute relating to roadside memorials since the early 1990s.