Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD — The city of Fairfield plans to turn off a traffic light near downtown next week, and leave it off for at least two months.
The intersection of West Broadway Avenue and North Second Street has a traffic light that is getting old, and instead of spending $300,000 to replace it, the city wants to experiment with having no traffic light at all. The light will be turned off on Tuesday, Aug. 16 and remain off through Oct. 18.
During this two-month period, north-south traffic on Second Street will not be required to stop. A stop sign will be installed for traffic coming from West Broadway. In an effort to avoid confusion, the city will place black bags over the traffic lights, and the pedestrian crossing lights will be turned off as well.
Fairfield City Engineer and Public Works Director Melanie Carlson said the traffic lights date from the 1960s. The city owns the lights, but the Iowa Department of Transportation owns the road since it is part of Highway 1. Though the city has control over the lights, it has to follow the DOT’s rules.
The city has received three grants during the past 20 years to study traffic at the city’s major intersections. Carlson said that each of those studies concluded that Fairfield does not need a traffic light at Broadway and Second due to low traffic volume. The DOT’s traffic studies looked at peak hourly traffic, traffic from all directions, the amount of truck traffic, the amount of turning traffic and more factors.
“They had seven scoring criteria, and that intersection doesn’t score high enough in any of those factors,” Carlson said. “To put it in perspective, Second and Burlington meets a little more than half of the criteria.”
Carlson said that converting the intersection into a four-way stop was not warranted, either, because the traffic on Second is more than twice the volume of the traffic on Broadway. When four-way stops are installed at intersections where one street is so much busier than another, motorists are more likely to “roll” through the stop sign on the busy street.
Carlson said she thinks this change would benefit not just the traffic on the busy Second Street but even the traffic from Broadway.
“The spacing in the north-south traffic is such that a person trying to turn north [onto Second] can get out faster without a traffic light,” she said. “Anyone who has been on Briggs [Avenue] by the civic center can attest to that. Most of the time, it’s easy to get into and out of that.”
To improve sight distance for traffic on Broadway, the city will temporarily remove three parking spaces on the southwest corner of the intersection, two on Second and one on Broadway.
The city plans to record both “numerical” and “anecdotal” feedback during this two-month experiment. Carlson said she plans to spend time at the intersection counting vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and to arrange for a speed trailer to record motorists’ speed, too. The city will have a link to a Google survey for residents to offer their opinion on the change.
“One of our main concerns with removing the traffic lights will be creating a speed corridor,” Carlson said. “Unfortunately, traffic signals don’t always slow people down, and there’s some information that it causes them to speed up to beat yellow lights.”
When asked if the change would make it harder for pedestrians to cross, Carlson said the spacing between vehicles should be large enough to allow pedestrians to cross safely. She did say that one of the traffic studies that looked at pedestrian traffic at various intersections near the downtown found that this intersection was the busiest. Carlson attributes that to its proximity to many downtown businesses and especially the post office. The post office will have a box where residents can leave comments about the change.
Carlson said the city is trying to make streets safe for pedestrians as much as possible, and that’s why she took the initiative to install a pedestrian crossing sign in the middle of the block on Burlington Avenue on the south side of the square. The sign reminds motorists that state law requires them to stop for pedestrians in the intersection. Carlson said the city could install a similar sign at Second and Broadway.
Call Andy Hallman at 641-575-0135 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org