Traffic trouble stirs light debateThe idea of a traffic light in South Superior is nothing new. The site of North 58th Street and Tower Avenue has been batted around for years.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
The idea of a traffic light in South Superior is nothing new.
The site of North 58th Street and Tower Avenue has been batted around for years.
Council President Dan Olson, however, hopes to succeed where a long line of South End councilors failed.
“I want to take the safety aspect of it and push that forward, just like I did with the hockey helmets,” said Olson, who was instrumental in developing a policy that requires helmets on city ice rinks. “There’s some times that I feel we wait too long for an accident to happen rather than prevent an accident from happening.”
He wants to strike while the iron’s hot and reintroduced the issue to the council Tuesday night. People in South Superior are buzzing over a recent “We the People” letter written by crossing guard Tom Cannon about a UPS truck parked illegally along the intersection of North 60th Street and Tower Avenue making the corner unsafe for children crossing. Days later, on Nov. 8, two cars met in a T-bone collision on the corner of North 58th Street and Tower Avenue.
There is a conduit at the North 58th Street intersection that would allow a traffic signal hookup. However, a traffic study completed five years ago found the intersection did not meet criteria for a traffic signal used by Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
“We want to make sure it meets criteria,” said Mike Ostrenga, DOT operations supervisor for the Northwest Region. If the signal is put in, and it isn’t warranted, it will cause new problems – an increase in cars rear-ending each other or running red lights, he said.
There are eight different warrants – or criteria – to meet. They include pedestrian and vehicle traffic levels. Pedestrian volume has not been high enough, Ostrenga said. During the last study, there was enough vehicle traffic on Tower, but not 58th.
The intersection was the site of 27 accidents in the past 17 years, according to Traffic Sgt. Mark McGillis of the Superior Police Department. Considering the number of vehicles that travel that route, he said, the number of accidents isn’t alarming.
Olson, however, is concentrating his efforts on the human traffic. Two blind people use the intersection to cross Tower Avenue. Within one block of the site live an autistic child and a person confined to a motorized. Bumping the radius up to two blocks encompasses two churches and a licensed day care.
In the summer, Webster Park is the city playground. To get to it, children and families cross Tower Avenue at North 58th Street.
A signal there “makes nothing but sense,” Olson said.
“We’ve been trying and trying to get a stoplight here,” said Nellie Bird, owner of Les Bird’s Bar. “No matter who we talk to, we can’t get it.”
Drivers would also welcome a traffic signal. Currently, it is difficult to get onto Tower Avenue from side streets.
“If you go to an area with stop and go lights, you know you’re going to get out,” Cannon said.
There’s another intersection under scrutiny in Superior.
The city has plans to improve the path to Bryant School next year with Safe Routes To School funding. Children currently walk across Tower Avenue at North 60th Street.
“The crossing is the most dangerous in the city of Superior for children crossing the street,” Cannon wrote in his letter.
Possible improvements for the site include in-pavement lights for a lighted crosswalk, according to Jeff Goetzman, Superior’s assistant public works director. The idea of an overhead High Intensity Activated Crosswalk (HAWK) system is also being discussed, he said.
“It is unfortunate that the safe route/logical route for kids walking to school is along 60th and not on 58th Street where motoring public is looking for control of vehicle movements,” Goetzman said.
In fact, a school crossing is one of the DOT criteria that, if met, could justify a traffic signal.
Ostrenga said engineering can improve safety, but so can education and enforcement.
This fall, a new in-street pedestrian sign at North 60th Street popped up. The removable stanchion sign is similar to ones along Belknap Street and north Tower Avenue.
“We’ve found these seem to work best,” Ostrenga said. In addition, bright yellow pedestrian signs have been added at North 59th, 60th, 62nd and 63rd streets.
Police presence can be a big deterrent. Superior Police Officer Bonnie Johnson has made a point of stopping by the Tower Avenue crossing when she can.
“You never know when she’s going to show up,” Cannon said. Last Friday, she was there after school let out. Within minutes she’d issued two tickets.
“That really helps an awful lot,” Cannon said.
The speed trailer can slow traffic down too, according to Capt. Matt Markon of the Superior Police Department. But the $15,000 device is mobile and is needed in many different parts of the city.
Ostrenga emphasized education as well. Pedestrians should always cross at crosswalks. Motorists should follow the speed limit and drive defensively. Having crossing guards, he said, definitely helps.
Cannon has only seen one pedestrian accident at his corner in the past nine years. A youth biking across Tower Avenue struck a walking student, knocking out some of the child’s teeth.
“It’s the only time I’ve ever had anybody get hurt,” he said.
Olson wants to keep it that way. He plans to bring the stoplight issue before the public works, finance and public safety committees.
The city is considering a new traffic study and turning count at the intersection of North 58th Street and Tower Avenue this spring, Goetzman said. The DOT is willing to work with the city if count numbers are close to the criteria, Ostrenga said.
Until then, education, enforcement and the current signs must suffice.
“Just slow down,” Cannon advised. “And when you see cars stopped use a little bit of caution.”