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Concerns prompt close look at intersections PDF Print E-mail
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Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 26 July 2017 19:19

Port committee considers changes at Grand-Webster crossing and busy streets near middle, elementary schools

    Two intersections near Port Washington schools could see major changes in the coming months as city officials look to increase safety.
    The Traffic Safety Committee last week recommended that the city install four-way stop signs at the intersection of Holden Street and Norport Drive next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
    But members did not make a recommendation on improvements to the intersection of Grand Avenue and Webster Street, near Port Washington High School and the Niederkorn Library.
    The Grand Avenue intersection has long been a concern for officials since there have been numerous accidents and near misses, some involving pedestrians.
    A five-day study of the intersection done by Police Officer Gary Belzer in late May — before school was out for the year — concluded pedestrian safety is a concern, Police Chief Kevin Hingiss, a member of the committee, said.
    In Belzer’s report, he noted that he observed numerous violations — failure to yield at the intersection being the primary one, followed by distracted drivers and then speeding.
    Likewise, Belzer said he observed several near misses as vehicles turned south from Grand Avenue onto South Webster Street. Most of these were caused by distracted drivers or the amount of activity at the intersection.
    Part of the problem, committee members noted, is that the intersection is offset because North and South Webster Street do not line up.
    There are crosswalks across Grand Avenue on the west side of the intersection with North Webster Street and a half-block away at the intersection with South Webster Street.
    Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, a committee member, said one simple measure that could help the situation would be repainting the crosswalks, since they are “nearly invisible” now.
    Eventually, he said, the city could consider creating more prominent crosswalks similar to those in downtown that could better warn motorists of pedestrians.
    “I think when people are most at risk is when people don’t see it as a pedestrian crossing,” Vanden Noven said.
    But Hingiss noted that part of the problem is that frequently when a driver stops for a pedestrian, motorists behind the vehicle try crossing on the right and nearly strike the person crossing,
    The city’s Active Community Environments Team has asked the city to consider placing bump-outs in the area to help avoid that problem, Vanden Noven said, but no funds have been budgeted for that work.
    The state would also have to sign off on bump-outs, he said.
    The committee also discussed the possibility of installing pedestrian signal lights in the area, moving the crosswalks and other potential solutions, but found significant drawbacks to each.
    “I look at this and no matter what solution we talk about, it causes another problem,” Ald. John Sigwart, a member of the committee, said.
    Vanden Noven also noted that Port Main Street Inc. is considering creating an entryway feature in the area, which could change the dynamics.
    The committee decided against making a recommendation, saying it needs to first find out what Main Street is planning for the area and talk to experts.
    The committee also recommended placing a four-way stop at the corner of Norport Drive and Holden Street, a measure recommended by City Attorney Eric Eberhardt.
    Eberhardt, who lives on Holden Street just north of Thomas Jefferson Middle School, wrote to Vanden Noven asking for the changes, saying, “based on my daily experience, I am convinced that it is only a matter of time until a child or other pedestrian is struck.”
    He compared the times when parents drop off and pick up students as “an Indianapolis 500 traffic situation in which children and adult pedestrians are quite literally forced to run for their safety or their lives while crossing at the intersection.”
    On the second day of summer school this year, he said, his wife was walking in the crosswalk when she was nearly hit by a motorist.
    “It is indeed frightening to watch each morning as we say a silent prayer for the safety of the kids and adults on foot,” Eberhardt wrote. “Frankly, there is something about the layout or appearance of the intersection to motorists that leads them to sense it is, or ought to be, a four-way stop — but it is not.”
    City Administrator Mark Grams said there are a number of issues at the intersection, including people parking at the crosswalk, which inhibits pedestrians’ ability to cross, and people driving fast on Holden Street without regard for pedestrians.
    “I always opposed putting stop signs on Holden because it is kind of a thoroughfare,” Grams said. “Now, I’m kind of seeing the light.”
    The situation isn’t limited to school drop-off and pick-up times, Sigwart said. It also occurs when there are swim meets or soccer games at the middle school and when there are softball games at Lincoln Elementary School.
    “People think traffic on Holden Street is going to stop,” Sigwart said. “Something happens at that intersection where you  think traffic on Holden is going to stop. I’ve seen people pull out (from Norport) right in front of people.”
    Ald. Paul Neumyer, a committee member, noted that part of the issue is that there are no stop signs for the length of Holden Street.
    “Once traffic clears that curve (north of the school), they really pick up speed,” he said. “What would it hurt to make this a four-way stop?”
    The committee recommended that the city consider install stop signs with flashing LED lights ringing them. That, they said, would help drivers notice them.
    The state requires that new stop signs be installed with flags on them to help notify motorists of their presence, Vanden Noven said.

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