Police: New stop sign will take getting used to
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · August 30, 2013

“Some people have flat blown it,” West Branch Police Chief Mike Horihan said of the new, permanent stop sign at Main and Oliphant streets.

“Mostly, they’re not used to it being there,” he added.

The stop sign, installed on Aug. 9 to replace flip-up sign only used before and after school, gave residents 12 days to get used to it before school started on Aug. 21.

For the most part, it worked, police said.

Ofc. Alex Koch sat in the police pickup truck in a driveway at the intersection for 45 minutes on Aug. 21, watching to see how motorists took to the new sign. He also counted seven children and three adults crossing the intersection.

Sitting there for 20 minutes on Aug. 22, Koch said he counted six children crossing, then was called away.

Two of the three stop signs at Main and Oliphant are right at the crossing, but the third, for eastbound traffic, sets back several feet because of a driveway on the south side of Main.

This reporter stopped on the morning of Aug. 21 to snap a photo of a pupil crossing the road. Less than a minute after the girl crossed, a older man driving eastbound in a late-model car slammed on his brakes, skidding past the stop line but screeching to a halt just short of the crosswalk.

That incident was the only one Koch recalls during the morning of the first day of school.

“Most have been pretty obedient and aware,” Koch said.

Before school started, officers witnessed a few “rolling stops,” and neighbors and residents have reported others not stopping at all, Horihan said.

“We won’t know the full impact of the stop sign until it’s been up for awhile,” he said.

West Branch police will watch the intersection for a couple of weeks, the chief said.

“If we see a violation, we’ll certainly stop them,” he said. “But we’re not going to get heavy-handed until it has been up for a couple of weeks.”

Horihan said the behavior at Main and Oliphant is not unlike that of Main and Parkside, the four-way stop sign by Jack & Jill grocery store and the post office.

The West Branch City Council debated changing the flip signs to permanent signs for months before a new member of the council, Mary Beth Stevenson, broke the 2-2 tie’s stalemate.

Horihan advocated for the permanent stop sign because he believes consistency is better than a stop sign up only for a couple of hours a day.

The police chief points out that, from the east side of town at Cedar-Johnson Road, there is a nine-tenths-of-a-mile stretch of no stop signs and yet a handful of sidewalks that reach Main Street but do not continue on the other side.

While some council members disagree, Horihan said he thinks the new stop sign can slow down traffic in the downtown, especially when Interstate 80 traffic is diverted due to, say, an accident.

“I respect the decisions of the council,” Horihan said. “But in my opinion, I would rather err on the side of safety. … I would rather they slow for a stop than having them speed through Main Street.”

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