Stop signs OK’d by Bloomington city council over dissent from two members

Stop signs requiring traffic on Maxwell Lane to halt at Sheridan Drive have been approved by Bloomington’s city council on a 6–2 vote with one abstention.

The additional stop signs make the intersection at Maxwell Lane and Sheridan Drive an all-way stop. Currently it’s a two-way stop, which requires traffic on Sheridan to stop at Maxwell.

The two councilmembers who voted against the stop signs were Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger. They both cited the recommendation from the city’s engineering department when the proposal was in front of the city’s traffic commission, which was against making the intersection an all-way stop.

From the city engineering report: “[T]his intersection does not meet the MUTCD [Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices] guidelines for all-way stop control, and staff has concerns with the potential of establishing a pattern of installing all-way stop control at locations that do not meet the guidelines.”

Those who voted for the stop sign pointed to a different part of the engineer’s recommendation, which stated, “Staff acknowledges the unique traffic pattern at this intersection and does not have significant concerns if an all-way stop is installed.”

Abstaining from the vote was Steve Volan, who said, “I don’t disagree with the neighbors. I also don’t agree with them. I can’t vote for this. But I don’t want to vote against it…”

The impetus to add the all-way stop came from neighbors who find that they have to “scurry” across Maxwell, because traffic coming from the uphill side of the road, that is from the west, is not visible until it’s close to the intersection.

As nearby resident Stephanie Hatton put it, when she addressed Bloomington’s traffic commission in late July, “We feel that the only way to make this intersection truly safe for all is to legally require vehicles to cease—not just slow down or be calmed.”

Hatton added, “An all-way stop ensures pedestrians of all ages and abilities have the time and right-of-way to cross safely.”

The MUTCD gives criteria defining when all-way stops are warranted.

Among the criteria are the number of crashes recorded at the intersection. If five or more crashes have taken place in a 12-month period, that could be corrected by a multi-way stop installation, then a stop sign is warranted. But no crashes had been recorded for that intersection for the last five years.

The intersection also does not meet the MUTCD criteria for minimum traffic volumes.

Hatton’s presentation to the council on Wednesday was an updated version of the one she had delivered to the traffic commission in July, with photographs and diagrams of the intersections annotated with distances and road grades she had measured by hand.

To make a plea for not adhering to a rigid application of MUTCD criteria, Hatton drew on her background in the field of English medieval manuscript illumination. The field demands adherence to certain methodologies and rubrics, like iconography and previous doctrine, she said. But she added, “I also learned to search for the humanity behind an artwork to consider the lived experience that informed an otherwise anonymous work of devotion.”

Almost all of the public comment was unambiguously in favor of installing the stop sign.

One partial departure from that pattern came from Lisa Thomassen who said, “I am impressed that the neighbors who live here are willing to sign on for the incredible amount of noise from our cars that don’t have required inspection that are going to be stopping and starting and the toxic dust for brakes and exhaust as engines are revving all things that come with a busy four-way intersection.”

Hunter Rackley, who described himself as a data analyst, criticized the resident-led traffic calming process, which Hatton had started but abandoned, in the face of clear opposition from her neighbors. They did not want to see vertical deflection devices installed on the street, Hatton reported.

About that resident-led traffic calming process, Rackley said that it “seemed to lack appropriate collaboration between community members and city departments.”

Rackley continued, “It seems to have prevented consideration of a more holistic approach.” He added, “Here we are tonight, spending lots of time talking about what are other potential solutions.” The other solutions under discussion  were being weighed without the benefit of full research, he said.

City engineer Andrew Cibor talked about taking a holistic approach in helping pedestrians feel comfortable crossing Maxwell Lane along a longer stretch than just the one intersection. Traffic calming devices—that is, speed humps and bump outs—are the typical tools used for addressing corridor-wide issues, Cibor said.

Offering full-throated opposition to the installation of a stop sign was Greg Alexander, who led off by saying he was glad that the council was looking at intersections. He continued, “I’ve got some intersections for you: Madison and 17th; College and Dodds; Walnut and Kirkwood; Rogers and Hays.”

Alexander clarified his list of intersections: “That’s fatal crashes on city-managed streets in 2021.”

The word “safe” had received a lot of air time before Alexander spoke. About the spots with fatal crashes, Alexander said, “Safety is what those people didn’t have when their body was mangled by glass and steel. Those four people didn’t receive proactive safety when they were using public infrastructure at those four intersections.”

Alexander added, “Another thing those locations have in common: None of them are in Elm Heights.”

Alexander told the council, “We need our engineers to take this pattern of death seriously. We need them to feel like they have a public mandate to take bold and effective actions.”

Instead of supporting the city’s engineering department, Alexander told councilmembers, they were “letting one neighborhood micromanage them.” Alexander wrapped up by saying, “Thanks to this council’s work, now they know—valuable insight—Elm Heights is more important than the rest of the city. Is that knowledge really going to help them stop the carnage?”

Alexander called it a “remedial lesson in politics.”

Giving the night’s deliberations an extra dash of political flavor was the public commentary in support of the stop sign from former Bloomington mayor Tomi Allison, former city councilmember Jeff Richardson, and Kerry Thomson, who is a declared candidate for Bloomington mayor in 2023. Thomson lives at the northeast corner of Maxwell and Sheridan.

Alexander got an assurance from councilmember Jim Sims that Sims had heard his commentary. Sims said, “Let’s hope everyone else heard that and can use that process to begin some of these things in their neighborhoods where there’s concerns that we could advocate and maybe support.”

About the council’s response to the Elm Heights neighborhood compared to other parts of the city, councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith said, “Not every neighborhood has a Ms. Hatton and they shouldn’t have to have one.” Piedmont-Smith continued, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but that’s not the best way to govern and to allocate local dollars.”

In her remarks before voting for the stop sign, Isabel Piedmont-Smith said she fears that putting a stop sign at the location could make it more dangerous, because pedestrians think cars will stop when they won’t actually stop.

Sue Sgambelluri said there’s no way to guarantee that a crash won’t happen at an intersection, but it’s possible to ask: What will likely make it safer? There’s a difference between councilmembers and city staff, Sgambelluri said: “Unlike city staff, we do answer to our constituents—we do have an obligation to listen.”

Sgambelluri continued by saying that councilmembers don’t have an obligation to do every single thing they’re asked to do. But she takes it seriously when someone comes to her with a well-informed, well-thought-out case for a particular course of action.

The intersection is located in Dave Rollo’s current district. He sponsored the ordinance, along with Susan Sandberg and Ron Smith. Rollo said it was a cost-effective approach to what he called a “hazardous” intersection.

14 thoughts on “Stop signs OK’d by Bloomington city council over dissent from two members

  1. The most interesting thing about the discussion leading up to the vote was that Kerry Thompson reported twice calling an ambulance to respond to collisions at the intersection. The city engineering department relies only on crash reports generated by Bloomington Police Department. It seems no report was filed in these incidents. It wasn’t really clear to me, but it seemed these were bicycle-auto collisions or pedestrian-auto collisions?

    Having been a pedestrian involved in a pedestrian-auto collision I regret not filing a report. I was not badly hurt, the intersection was well designed and the motorist had stopped at a stop sign appropriately but failed to check the crosswalk because she was turning onto a one way street. No need to check for autos from that direction and pedestrians don’t count, apparently.

    But if we are going to encourage alternative forms of transportation – and when feasible walking is the best – I and others like me need to create reports of incidents so that informed decisions can be made. The engineering department needs to investigate other sources of data about hazards to public safety. And the city should stop spending money on over engineered bike routes like the Hawthorn-Weatherstone Greenway and more on sidewalks.

  2. Sounds like a thoughtful discussion all round. The only thing that I wish had been brought up was the inability of a bit of red paint on a post to make drivers stop. Somebody ought to go down there after the sign is up to count how many drivers actually stop at it.

  3. Greg is correct. The council allowed a well to do neighborhood with prominent citizens ( even the reporter mentioned their status) to micromanage what should have been their decision.

    The city hires and pays for professional staff to provide the needed expertise. Rather than take the recommendation from a citizen, the council should have asked for a more comprehensive study to determine what other controls could be used.

    1. It disturbs me that this commenter believes a recommendation by a mere citizen is inherently not worthy of consideration by the City Council.

      1. i frequently take advantage of public comment at council meetings. i don’t “get my way” very often, but i assure you they all listen. Councilmember Jim Sims, voting against my recommendation, specifically told me “I hear you.” all of our city boards and commissions work like this…it is hard to have a big impact but everyone has opportunities to be heard and considered. and that is a great thing and is as it should be!

        the thing is, some people have the ability to skip the regular public process and go straight to the front of the line. some citizens have the ability to give a 28 minute presentation to the city council about an ordinance they’ve written — i’ve never seen anything like that before! if the city could extend that to everyone, it would be a miracle of epic proportions. but instead it’s extended only to a few people.

        you can do your own research to figure out which people have this courtesy extended to them and which do not.

  4. Eventually, when we are all driving cars and buses with electric motors, the noise, air pollution, and oil droppings from west-bound traffic stopping and then starting going uphill and turning to the right at that intersection will become less of a nuisance.

    In the meantime, the other stop sign (not the one that stops the uphill traffic) will give pedestrians more security in crossing Maxwell.

    I guess a three-way stop would be … what? … innovative?

  5. in my opinion the quote of the night came from the city’s traffic engineer, Andrew Cibor, answering a question from Councilmember Matt Flaherty about a more comprehensive approach to fixing that intersection:

    It starts to get to the question of prioritization of larger capital investments and prioritization. So while I think this is an intersection where those type of improvements would be great, they would be beneficial. That’s what I think from an ideal perspective we would want here. The trick is, we have so many other locations in this city that also have challenging locations for pedestrians to cross, or lack of pedestrian facilities at all and on some more major roads in other neighborhoods or places across the town.

    if you’ve seen my advocacy, you know. that’s my bread and butter. there are challenging locations for pedestrians to cross, and lack of pedestrian facilities at all, even on major roads. and the budget for fixing these past mistakes is almost nothing. that’s the enormous problem that city engineering and public works departments face when given this mandate to provide safe transportation for people. that problem overwhelms them and that’s why neighborhoods complaining about a single intersection don’t get a lot of resources.

    the problem is at least a hundred times larger than the resources available. prioritization becomes the name of the game. everything that elm heights gets comes at the cost of depriving resources from more deserving neighborhoods with much more severe problems.

    if we aren’t going to fix that underlying resource problem then at the end of the night all we’re doing is enforcing a double standard. if your street is a veritable who’s-who of Bloomington Democrat politicians, then you not only get to jump to the front of the line but you get to engineer your own traffic control. otherwise, you can go pound sand. the resources simply aren’t there to give this courtesy to every neighborhood.

      1. thanks for the question – sorry i didn’t notice it earlier!

        yeah 17th and madison has a signal. my point was just that it is much more dangerous than sheridan & maxwell, and it’s not getting that kind of attention from the council. and the attention it’s getting from engineers is actually making it worse next year. the contrast is kind of apples to oranges for sure..i struggle to hit the right notes in a 2 minute speech so it is really valuable to me to know when something doesn’t make sense like that. thanks!!

    1. Greg is absolutely right, and that should have been a good enough reason to vote “no” on this project.

  6. Some ten years ago, a pedestrian was struck at that intersection, by a bicycle no less. The injured party was one of my best friends. She experienced a traumatic brain injury and is still dealing with the repercussions of that accident. It is indeed and dangerous intersection!

  7. We used to have cars power sliding through the double turn at 3rd and Jackson going west in front of the Paris Dunning house. Stop sign did not meet criteria but it has worked to solve that problem for 25 years now. Some people occasionally roll through the sign but it worked just like the neighbors ( experts in their own territory) knew it would. Sometimes you need to trust common sense. That is easier when you are not related to a planning staff member or if you’re not worried about upcoming elections.

    1. Mr. Sturbaum! Did you know you represented my neighborhood on the north side of the train tracks for over a decade?

Leave a Reply