ELKHART — Following years of safety complaints from residents, the City of Elkhart has placed flashing stop signs on Modrell Boulevard and Woodlawn Avenue where those roads meet Johnson Street.
The parallel streets, and the Modrell-Johnson intersection in particular, have had residents concerned about a high number of crashes in recent years, prompting some to ask if it would take a death for the city to do something about the issue.
City staff on Monday installed the flashing stop signs at the Modrell-Johnson and Woodlawn-Johnson intersections and placed a sign telling drivers their speed on Johnson Street. Another flashing stop sign will go up at Sunset Avenue and Johnson Street.
Michael Baker, who lives at the Modrell intersection, said he asked the city for a flashing stop sign a year ago. He was pleased when he discovered the change.
“I’m grateful that they did what they did for us, but I think it’s terrible that it took this long. Three years in the making to get anything done, I think, is a little bit ridiculous,” he said, referring to a January 2017 incident when a crash caused 1.6 million gallons of water to pour into his yard and damage his home after a vehicle hit a fire hydrant at the intersection.
City right-of-way engineer Jeff Schaffer said the reason changes had not been made until now is that it takes time to study traffic patterns and decide on the right solution.
The action on Monday does not mean the issue is settled. The flashing stop signs and the speed sensor are not permanent fixtures but rather part of a study to see if they will make an impact. Schaffer said the stop signs will be up for six to nine months and then go down unless it is clear that they have an effect. The speed sign will be there for a shorter amount of time.
Schaffer said there is no significant cost in keeping the flashing stop signs permanently, but he still advises taking them down if they don’t have a proven effect.
“One of the reasons they work well is that they are unexpected,” he said. “We never want those to become customary. We want them to say to drivers, ‘This is something unique.’”
If conditions significantly improve while the flashing stop signs are up, there would be no reason to not make them permanent, he said. Each flashing sign costs roughly $1,800. Speed signs cost about $5,000 each.
Baker said he hopes the city will take additional steps to improve traffic safety in the neighborhood.
A recent analysis by the city said there were nine crashes near the Modrell-Johnson intersection between June 22, 2018, and Nov. 2, 2019, but Baker disputes that, saying that he and his wife have counted more than nine and that the city may have missed those that were on the county side of Johnson Street.
Schaffer said it is possible that the Bakers are correct, but that “to the best of my knowledge, the city Police Department provided us with all of the reports with accidents that had either a personal injury or substantial property damage” near the intersection.
And the city is taking additional steps to improve traffic safety, according to Schaffer.
He said the most important step is to complete more research on Johnson Street accident rates in comparison to similar corridors in the area.
The city also plans to make more Woodlawn neighborhood intersections four-way stops; install chicanes and traffic circles to calm traffic; improve signage; and install truck detection devices on Woodlawn Avenue, where about 200 trucks go through each day despite trucks not being allowed on the street. Some of these actions may need approval from the City Council due to costs.
The main point of it all is to make drivers go down to Bristol Street rather than cut through the Woodlawn neighborhood from Cassopolis Street to Johnson Street and further, Schaffer said.
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