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Zoning: general Small town resident needs city planner help to fend off aggressive city council

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#1
Hi. I live in a small city (pop 2500 ) built in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Our home is on a cul de sac with an 8% grade which makes it a bit dicey to get up the hill in winter weather. There are about twenty homes on our street. Until recently our
traffic signs allowed us to continue up the hill, through the town at 25 mph to our driveways. It was good for better mpg, but really helped in keeping momentum up slick winter roads when stopping might mean staying stopped.

Here's my problem. A new city council composed mostly of out of state residents approved a stop sign fifty feet from my street. In snowy weather, this is going to be a problem. The sign was recommended by a resident who said he was a city planner. He said the sign needed to be installed because of a traffic sign "standard". There are no new benefits to the sign placement other than it fitting the standard . I'm looking for variations to standard stop sign placement in sloped communities that might help restore our decades old, and accident free former road configuration.

Thank you for helping. We are vexed about this.

Jim
 

Hink

OH....IO
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#3
Welcome from the Great State of Ohio! I am a moderator, so LP's wish is my command.

Hopefully you will find some answers for your question there.


Moved to Land Use and Zoning
 

Suburb Repairman

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#4
Kind of reminds me of when a neighbor starts dropping the "PhD" at the end of his comments, even though his PhD is in underwater basketweaving. The meer fact that someone is a city planner doesn't make them an expert--it is a broad field. My first comment is that a city planner is not a traffic engineer; planners are rarely, if ever, responsible for determining regulatory sign placement (typically it is the city engineer, sometimes with planning consultation if it is traffic calming or pedestrian-related). My second comment is that the standard manuals like ITE and AASHTO are not religious dogma; they are to be interpreted by expert staff responsible for design & function of transportation systems to the context (again, usually your city engineer and sometimes with consultation from planners).

With your city council, I would use that exact argument except I would leave out the MPG reference (one stop sign won't kill your mileage); the slope issue is a good argument as is the fact that the road has maintained this configuration for 30 years without incident.

I'm not aware of formal policies, but administrative discretion for city engineers on such "standards" is quite common.
 

ursus

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#5
You should have access to planning services through the Mountainland Association of Governments. Look them up. Placement of a stop sign isn't much of a planning issue, necessarily, so your Council's reasons for even talking about it may need some more explanation when you talk with them.

Fair warning (without knowing the situation): when they understand the situation they may tell you that in this situation the Council was right to place the stop sign. However, my advice stands: If what you're looking for is a planner to help you in this situation you really should talk to Mountainland. They are your de-facto planners if your city does not employ a part or full-time planner.
 

Gedunker

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#6
I agree with 'Burb Fixer', generally. However, the most important document is the Utah adopted version of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices [MUTCD]. You can find it at the state's website and I would read the chapter on "Regulatory Signs". The Federal Highway Administration [FHA] governs placement of regulatory signs (and lots of other signs, too).

I'm an Indiana planner that works a lot with MUTCD because our city does not currently have a City Engineer. Generally, traffic control devices require some warrant (for traffic signals a/k/a stop lights) or rationale (for stop signs, as an example) before they are installed. (In Indiana, the warrant analysis has to be provided for the state in order to authorize installation of a traffic signal - state approval is NOT required for installation of a stop sign.) Traffic engineers, and the regulatory documents they work with, are biased toward moving vehicles, well, moving and not stopping, IMO. When reviewing a request for posting speed limits (in an alley, no less), it became fairly clear to me that the Indiana MUTCD required some level of traffic study to support the rationale for posting any speed limits in alleys.

I would ask the City Council* to provide the rationale for placing this stop sign. They should provide you actual accident data that indicate a relatively high rate of traffic accidents - multi-car; single-car; pedestrian; bicycle; and, other (e.g.,a car and pedestrian collision). There should be evidence of property damage (which could be the vehicles in the accident, not just "real" property) and/or injury as well. Without that rationale, it's my opinion (and I am not an attorney and I didn't sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night) that a sharp attorney, familiar with MUTCD requirements, representing someone injured at that stop-sign controlled intersection, would most likely clean up in court.

*Does Utah not have a residency requirement for City Councils? That seems odd to me, but I'm a Hoosier, so what do I know...
 
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#7
Kind of reminds me of when a neighbor starts dropping the "PhD" at the end of his comments, even though his PhD is in underwater basketweaving.
Do you know the same SMU professor that I do? OK, he's a math or computer guy, but that won't stop him from nitpicking a trip distribution assumption.

I agree with 'Burb Fixer', generally. However, the most important document is the Utah adopted version of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices [MUTCD]. You can find it at the state's website and I would read the chapter on "Regulatory Signs". The Federal Highway Administration [FHA] governs placement of regulatory signs (and lots of other signs, too).
Without knowing more about the situation, it's hard to say who's right. You can check into the engineering justification for the sign, there's probably a document somewhere. The basic stop sign warrant looks at traffic volumes and crash history. The City Council has the ability to override an engineering opinion, it just opens the city up for liability. Like any planning decision, the staff provides the info and the politicans make the choice and then later try to avoid responsibility. Unwarranted stop signs are the bane of many a city engineers' life, they really are bad since it breeds contempt for actually-needed signs, increase noise around the intersection, adds to emissions, and when used as traffic calming then speeds between the stop signs actually increase. If it is unwarranted, the engineer has hopefully already made their case and unfortunately been overruled for political reasons. So there's not much traction there to argue for a change. But a failed warrant document might be useful for waving in the face of the mayor/council in the media, especially if you can get the TV stations interested in some nice video of cars sliding down icy hills due to the government's unlawful (not really but the media can say that) application of the stop sign in contravention of expert advice.

Now if the stop sign actually does meet warrants, they will hide behind that. But meeting the warrant is not a justification or requirement for the sign to be installed, it is just a minimum threshold that has to be met in addition to having real reasons for the control device. Essentially it is a shortcut to replace a real cost-benefit analysis. The warrant is basically a test saying that a stop sign at an intersection with enough traffic or observed crash rates will tend will have more benefit than the known drawbacks (as listed above, both quantitative and qualitative). The City needs to say "we think a stop sign here is needed for X, Y, and Z reasons, and it meets the warrants, and the drawbacks are 1, 2, and 3, but are overwhelmed by solving A, B, and C." The warrants do not provide the reasons.
 
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