Traffic light removal put to a stop

The city has backed off on its plan for removing 37 traffic signals and replacing them with stop signs. At an intense council meeting yesterday, council members learned that the public works department plans to remove more than a third of all the traffic lights in the city. But the city council says citizens need to have more input.

City staff started removing 37 traffic signals because numbers said they should go, but public outcry and the city council on Thursday shut that down.

The council passed a resolution putting a hold on plans to remove those signals and almost 200 more – more than a third of all the signals in the city.

Council members at a business session took turns blasting city staff for not communicating with citizens and then blasted staff’s new response plan: Tell citizens why, when and where the signals would be replaced with stop signs but ignore citizen input.

“We’re not looking to turn any of the traffic signals back on,” said Sherri McIntyre, public works director. “We don’t have the density at these locations.”

Council woman Melba Curls noted that 19 of the 37 signals were in her east side third district and said, “I don’t think it’s user friendly to say we’re not backing down – it’s a community thing, it’s a neighborhood issue.”

Councilman Scott Wagner said: “It should not be ‘here’s your spoonful –you’re going to take it; I hate hiding behind the manual when common sense dictates something else.”

Councilman Michael Brooks said there would be problems when lights are removed where children cross when they get out of school and where cars leave churches on Sunday.

Even before passage of the resolution introduced by third district councilman Jermaine Reed, City Manager Troy Schulte said he would halt signal removals until the next fiscal year begins in May.

By then there will be policies and solutions in place for removing lights over the next three to five years, he said. “We’ve got to start and tackle this issue as we try to maintain a modern traffic direction.”

If signals come out at a school crossing or church, he said, other measures can be put in place to handle traffic there at those times. City officials say stop signs are safer than signals where there is not enough traffic volume because people run the lights.

They and other cities nationwide follow federal traffic guidelines that evaluate nine criteria, such as traffic and pedestrian counts, to determine if signals are needed, McIntyre said. The signals on the list did not meet one of them.

She reported that the city has 604 traffic signals and 144 more of them have already been slated for removal and about 50 more are expected to make the list.

The first 37 tested the procedures for all those other removals, she said, and a system will have to be put into place.

Reed said citizens and the city council will play a role that has yet to be determined.

“There’s red, yellow and green and I think we’re at yellow,” he said.

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