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Stop signs on west side? Unlikely

Official advises against them

Published: Saturday, April 27, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Michael Krabbenhoeft/mkrabbenhoeft@saukvalley.com)
An accident happened at the intersection of 10th Street and Avenue I in Sterling on Sunday. This intersection, along with many other intersections west of Locust Street, don’t have stop signs or yield signs.

STERLING – Plenty of four-way intersections on the city’s west side have no stop or yield signs. And that upsets Robert Van Dyke.

The 32-year-old handyman says he was almost T-boned at an intersection on West Seventh Street on Monday morning. It had no stop or yield signs for traffic in any direction – what authorities call an uncontrolled intersection.

The day before, the car of a friend, Stephanie Brown, 29, was hit at Avenue I and West 10th Street, which is also uncontrolled. She was with her 15-month-old niece; neither was hurt in the accident, Brown said.

The other driver, a 17-year-old boy, was cited for failure to yield at an open intersection.

Van Dyke said he asked the city to put up stop signs at the intersections on the west side, but he was told that the city has done studies that show stop signs aren’t needed there.

“What are they waiting for? Someone to get killed?” said Van Dyke, who lives in Oregon but often works in Sterling. “I don’t see why they would come up with excuses. It’s common sense, and they’re arguing with me.”

West Seventh and 10th streets are the east-west streets with the most four-way intersections without stop or yield signs. On 10th Street, four such intersections in a row are uncontrolled, where drivers must yield the right of way.

On the east side of Locust Street, four-way intersections without signs are rarities.

Official: Signs aren’t warranted

Sgt. Bob Allen, who has been tracking accident statistics for more than 20 years for the Sterling Police Department, said he has logged more accidents at controlled intersections than uncontrolled ones.

One reason, Allen said, is that controlled intersections tend to have more traffic. Another reason, though, is that motorists become more desensitized to signs in areas with lots of them, he said.

On the west side, he said, people are more cautious because signs aren’t everywhere.

He said he looks at an intersection in depth after an accident with injuries to determine whether the intersection has any problems.

Allen, who makes recommendations to the city on signs, said that in his professional opinion, the city needs no signs at the uncontrolled intersections on streets such as West Seventh and West 10th. His recommendations go to the council, which decides on signs.

“There’s just not the volume of traffic,” he said. “Fortunately, there are no crashes that warrant” signs for intersections.

Allen said he never recommends yield signs because stop signs are more effective for intersections that need controls.

“Yield signs don’t solve the problem,” he said. “Most yield signs on the west end of Sterling have been there for 30 to 40 years. We haven’t put up yield signs in the 22 years I’ve been with the department.”

‘The windshield busted all on me’

The lack of signs has long been an issue on the west side.

In a 2005 interview, resident Roxanne Pettorini, then 25, told Sauk Valley Media about an accident at 12th Street and Avenue I, which had no signs at the time.

She was at the midpoint of the intersection headed east on 12th Street when she saw another car coming at her southbound on Avenue I. She tried to avoid the crash, but couldn’t.

The next thing she remembered was seeing an ambulance and talking to police officers who asked her whether she was all right.

“It was scary,” she said. “It was really scary.”

She described her car as “pretty mangled.”

“The windshield busted all on me,” Pettorini said. “They were surprised that I came out of it with no broken arms or anything.”

In 2005, she said the intersection should have stop signs. A neighbor asked for them, and a study was done. That resulted in a two-way stop at 12th and Avenue I.

‘Why are certain intersections left out?’

Mayor Skip Lee said he has a more liberal approach to stop signs at intersections.

“If we stop one accident, then the signs are paid for,” he said.

He said he understands Allen’s approach because people can become desensitized to signs when they are in abundance.

“This has been a discussion as long as I’ve been on the council,” he said. “There are two schools of thought: There are those of us who feel we should have more signs, and there are those of us who say the data don’t support it.”

Lee said he would like to see a more consistent philosophy on which streets get signs.

“You have to identify which are the main streets, rather than reacting to a wreck here and a wreck there,” he said. “Why are certain intersections left out?”

Alderman Joe Martin, whose Ward 4 includes the uncontrolled intersections, said the traffic count is lower on the west side because blocks typically have fewer houses. In some east side neighborhoods, he said, the count is a lot higher because of the density of homes.

Martin, who lives close to the uncontrolled intersection of West 10th Street and Avenue E, said he hears tires squeal three or four times during the summer months each year when his windows are open.

In the 26 years there, he said, he has seen two accidents.

“We don’t see a whole lot of traffic, unless it’s certain parts of the day,” Martin said. “In some of the neighborhoods on the east side, they have a constant flow.”

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