Editorial: Arguments for stop signs
Op-Ed · December 14, 2012

We would like to see the flip-up stop signs at Main Street and Oliphant become permanent.

The West Branch City Council is having trouble collectively deciding this as the issue was brought to the table, passed on first reading, killed on second reading, revived and killed again.

Part of that is by council member Dan O’Neil missing meetings, so his “yes” vote only counts when he is present. Part of that is because Mark Worrell changed his mind — twice. The most recent vote was a tie, 2-2, because of both of the aforementioned.

Here, though, is why we would encourage making the stop signs, which now only go up briefly before and after school, permanent:

• Worrell originally brought the issue to the board to slow down speeders, though he did not see the solution tied to stop signs at that intersection. Perhaps stop signs might help slow down motorists who brought a bit too much momentum from the west. However, we think the narrowing road and denser housing that begins near Scott Drive already encourages most motorists to slow down. If the city wants to slow down speeders, that needs to be addressed before they reach Pedersen Valley. Still, we think stop signs on Main at Oliphant can only help, if even a little bit.

• Child safety came up next in council discussions, and we think this deserves some weight. We are glad to know that both West Branch Community Schools and the City of West Branch took time to look into how many children use the intersection for school. The city found seven to nine children using the crossing; the school counted five to 15 children. We think the number of children crossing the street there is only part of this equation — the city and school also need to know how many cars those children encounter.

• Compare that intersection to Orange and Oliphant, at the north side of the school, which earlier this year became a four-way stop. While Main and Oliphant see fewer children, it is likely more congested because neighborhood traffic mixes with commuter and commercial traffic. We would also find it easy to believe that school staff and parents would, in general, drive with more care in a school zone than drivers coming and going from a non-school locations. That means Oliphant/Orange is likely safer to cross than Oliphant/Main because of the collective mindset of the drivers.

• Traffic safety also merits some concern. Because the flip-up stop signs have been in place for more than 30 years, many local drivers have gotten into the habit of tapping their brakes when approaching Oliphant because they know it is a busy intersection. Making the signs permanent would remove any uncertainty — you must stop every time. That is preferable to council member Colton Miller’s idea to remove the stop signs entirely. We would rather people stop or slow down when they did not need to than to have them continue when they should stop. That would make Oliphant/Main safer for both cars and pedestrians.

• Bus driver safety is also a concern. For a few minutes twice a day bus drivers stop either on Oliphant or Main to get out and change the signs. This can cause confusion when one sign is down — sometimes motorists pass the stopped bus, nearly striking cars going the opposite direction or the bus driver changing the signs. It is worse in the rain or in winter months. The small hill there only contributes to the problem.

Any of the above reasons, by themselves, may not merit permanent stop signs at Main and Oliphant. But taken collectively, there seems to be more of an argument for permanent stop signs than against.

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