My turn: Valley intersection doesn't need 4-way stop

Posted: Monday, June 18, 2007

The decision to add a four-way stop at Gail and Tongass, though well-meaning, is uninformed and, worse, appears to be unilateral.

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Between the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices," there are only four justifications to warrant a four-way stop:

1. Sight distance problems. Tongass is a long tangent and relatively flat on both sides of the Gail intersection, so sight distance is not a problem.

2. Where traffic signals are warranted and urgently needed, the four-way stop can be used in the interim. I really don't think anyone at the city is thinking of installing a signal light here anytime soon.

3. Where the volumes of traffic are approximately equal. As the traffic on Gail is only about ½0 or less of Tongass' this can't be the reason either.

4. Five or more accidents in a 12-month period. As far as I know, there has never been an accident at this intersection in the eight years I have lived in the neighborhood, so this can't be it either.

On Tuesday morning, I talked with a Public Works Employee stationed at the intersection, and he admitted that Public Works installed these signs, and claimed the reason was because of accidents south of the intersection, in the "S" curves between Nancy and Gail. This raises a couple of questions:

1. Under what authority does Public Works have to unilaterally make regulatory revisions to city streets? This is at least an engineering decision and quite possibly requires the approval of the city attorney's office.

2. Even if stopping the traffic southbound on Tongass would alleviate accidents on the "S" curve, why stop traffic northbound?

After this conversation, I drove southbound on Tongass and came to the conclusion that the public would not be served well with an unwarranted, fuel-wasting stop sign. The following recommendations come from my observations coupled with 26 years of transportation experience:

1. Cut down the tree (or move the sign), that is obscuring the 15 mph and sharp right arrow warning signs.

2. Add more "chevron" signs. These should be double faced so traffic in both directions are warned, to the left side (facing south) of the first curve and the right side of the second curve.

3. At the end of Nancy Street, install a two-way arrow accompanied by two yellow end signs, the one with three rows of three reflectors (nine total).

Unfortunately, I believe the real reasons for this four-way stop are either an attempt to use unwarranted stop signs to enforce the unreasonable speed limit. Or, they are a knee-jerk reaction to a few residents complaining about people speeding up and down Tongass.

To the former, The 20 mph speed limit has violated one of the most basic rules of roadway design, i.e. the driver's comfort-expectation rule. With two 12-foot traffic lanes, two 6-foot shoulders (bike lanes) with curb gutter and sidewalk on both sides, Tongass is signed at 20 mph the same as all of its intersecting streets. But the geometric differences between Tongass and the intersecting streets are as different as night and day.

The intersecting streets in contrast are two 12-foot lanes, with "tank trap" ditches on both sides, where the two 12-foot lanes are shared with bicycles and pedestrians. To further illustrate this point, Tongass shares the same geometric features as Stephen Richards Memorial Drive, which is signed at 30 mph. The only difference between Stephen Richards and Tongass is the former is fronted by mobile homes and the latter is fronted by homes on fixed foundations.

And to the latter, unless you can prove that you signed the mortgage papers under duress, it is really no one's fault but your own. How much compassion should the city have for someone who buys a house next to the dump and then complains about the smell? Should everyone else be saddled with the cost of relocating the dump to satisfy one person's bad choice?

• Michael Lavering is a Department of Transportation and Public Facilities employee and a Juneau homeowner.



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