Stop signs not necessarily needed

Many intersections remain uncontrolled

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comMarch 14, 2013 

— It's midday at Q and 21st streets as a car approaches the four-way intersection. Rather than coming to a stop, the vehicle cruises through without so much as a pause.

However, the driver won't get a ticket. This is one of the city's numerous uncontrolled intersections. With no stop signs on either street, the only requirement is that cars slow down to 15 miles per hour.

"That is a bad one right there," said Dewayne Ross, 43, who's lived at the corner of the intersection for more than a year.

While he said he's never seen an accident there, he's seen many close calls, including some he's been a part of. "A lot of times just pulling away from the curb."

However, his main complaint is the speed that people drive. "They go through here 40, 50 miles an hour," he said.

And speeding is not reason enough to put in a stop sign at the intersection, according to city officials.

"You're not supposed to use stop signs to slow down traffic," said Kim Espinosa, planning manager with the city of Merced. "They're not supposed to be used as speed control, even though that's why many people ask for them."

In order for the city's traffic committee to approve a stop sign, the intersection must meet a number of state requirements. The formula includes a specific number of accidents within a year that could have been corrected by a stop sign, as well as levels of vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

Requests denied

The traffic committee recently denied a request for a stop sign at the corner of Stonybrook Avenue and Willowbrook Drive because it didn't meet state guidelines. The decision can be appealed to the City Council, which is not constrained by the state formula.

"You're trying to have a free flow of traffic," Espinosa said. "It has to do with efficiency."

That makes sense to Torrey Rigan, 32, who lives at the intersection with his family. "It works out for me because living on this street, it makes things a little bit quicker."

He said he's never seen an accident or even a close call.

"As far as I know, it's been pretty quiet," he said. "I do see people blow through here. There are certain vehicles that I recognize that take less precaution."

Pulling over speeders has become more challenging since the Police Department lost its traffic unit to budget cuts, said Lt. Jay Struble.

While traffic accidents at intersections with no stop signs have not increased recently, he said, they can be dangerous, especially if people drive over the speed limit.

"People don't realize that it maybe an uncontrolled intersection," he said. "They might assume the other car has a stop sign. In today's day and age, people are in a big hurry and they need to slow down."

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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