Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Greg Peck: Uncontrolled intersections stir debate

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Greg Peck
Wednesday, February 3, 2016

My Monday blog focused on Janesville's uncontrolled intersections, such as the one at Fremont Street and Eastwood Avenue. Craig High School students and parents use Fremont as a faster alternative than Randall Avenue. This topic stirred much debate, and not just from those commenting at gazettextra.com.

Dan Cunningham of Forward Janesville responded on Facebook: “I couldn't agree more. I've never seen a community that has so many completely uncontrolled intersections. I have near misses every single week.”

A former Gazette colleague also commented on Facebook: “I live in Hawthorne Circle. No one ever yields to the right; they all zoom through. Many near misses here also!”

I even got an email from Jeff Cohn of BadIntersections.com saying my blog was linked to and pinpointed on its map, though I responded that Janesville has far more dangerous intersections, most of them congested and with traffic lights.

Barry Badertscher sits on the City of Janesville Transportation Committee and sent me an email saying uncontrolled intersections are the biggest question it faces.

Badertscher attached an agenda from the last meeting with information he suggested would help explain why some intersections don't have signs.

The documents acknowledge that some intersections lacking stop or yield signs may appear dangerous.

However, “studies have shown that an uncontrolled intersection with low traffic volumes and speeds will experience the same or lower accident rates than controlled intersections. Once stop or yield signs are installed, speeds on the 'through' street will likely increase because the driver assumes traffic from the other direction will comply with the traffic control. Whereas, if neither of the approaches to a residential intersection is controlled, both directions of travel tend to slow down.

“Drivers begin to question traffic-control devices that appear not to be needed. Therefore, neighborhood streets with low traffic volumes tend to operate best under the state right-of-way law where one vehicle is required to yield but both vehicles have an obligation to enter the intersection with caution.”

Another part of the document states residents sometimes request a stop sign to solve a speeding problem. However, stop signs installed in the wrong places usually create more problems than they solve because they result in many intentional violations, encourage faster mid-block speeds, divert traffic to other roads and increase fuel use and air pollution. Also, it says, some drivers and especially bicyclists disregard stop signs they see as unnecessary, raising risks for accidents.

“For these reasons, the Federal Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices states 'Yield or stop signs should not be used for speed control.'”

I responded to Badtertscher stating that, generally speaking, I can see the logic in these views. But at the Fremont-Eastwood intersection, a squad car parked during peak Craig hours would reduce dangers and could even help solve the city's budget problems.

Badertscher said he would pass my sentiments along. He also pointed out that he sees similar problems from his Cherokee Road home and added, “I'm shocked we haven't had more issues.”

On Wednesday, Public Works Director Paul Woodard sent me an email emphasizing much of what those documents contained.

Woodard noted that if both vehicles reach an uncontrolled intersection at the same time, the vehicle on the right has the right of way by law.

Many motorists don't seem to know that.

Added Woodard: “If residents have concerns with particular intersections, we are willing to review them to see if they meet criteria for some sort of control at the intersection.”

Contact Karissa Chapman in the Public Works engineering division at chapmank@ci.janesville.wi.us or 608-755-3163. City staff will evaluate your request and forward a recommendation to the transportation committee, which meets quarterly. You'll be notified of the next meeting and get a copy of the staff review.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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