by Dave Kiffer
January 17, 2005
Then again, considering the fact that the entire project came to a screeching halt for several months because the impediment known as White Cliff wasn't taken into account....well maybe the lack of a plan for Third and Jefferson is not that surprising.
I'm more than a little disappointed that the city government didn't do the most obvious thing to improve safety at that corner: Put in a stop sign for traffic coming down Jefferson. The argument against it - that it would create a traffic jam after high school events - was already used once before, back when they put stop signs on all the intersections on Madison when I was in high school. I remember because - as a high school student who loved to blast unimpeded down Madison and pretty much go airborne off Second and Third avenues - I made the same argument, that the stop signs would create traffic problems. It was a bogus argument then and remains a bogus one now.
The real issue is not traffic congestion. The real issue that should concern everyone is safety. The city won't get sued by someone who took a little too long to get back down to Tongass after using the bypass or got slowed down by heavy traffic after a basketball game. The city will be sued the first time someone is seriously injured at the corner of Third and Jefferson. There have already been several fender benders (including one the same night the city council chose to stick its collective head in the sand). The only question is when the first serious accident will occur.
That's why removing stop signs on Third is a bit of a red herring. Most folks drive well over the posted 35 mph on the bypass. The quicker they are forced to slow back down to residential neighborhood speeds, the better.
The City Council needs to take action now and not hide behind any "unclarity" over whether the city is responsible for Third Avenue beyond the bypass. The Third/Jefferson intersection is a quarter of mile beyond the "end" of the actual bypass and the city has been responsible for Third Avenue since I was a child. The likelihood of prevailing in court making any opposite argument is nill.
The council needs to leave the existing stop signs in place and add one for the downhill traffic at Third and Jefferson. By doing so, it removes at least one direction that drivers crossing the intersection on Third Avenue need to be worried about (and eliminates most of the threat from the leadfooted student drivers).
Then it needs to work with the borough planning department and the property owners to eliminate the hazard created by the two allegedly code-violating fences that further block the view of traffic.
And while it is at it, the city might as well remove the fish-eye mirror that has been put at the corner to allow drivers to see if uphill traffic is approaching. Like most similar types of mirrors, it actually makes traffic appear farther away than it really is, so that doesn't make the intersection any safer. That - of course - is when you can actually see what's in the mirror. Most days it is either fogged up or rain streaked. You have to stare it for quite a while before your eyes adjust enough to actually be able to see anything in the reflection. By the time that you can discern the reflection, you have lost track of what may be coming down the hill. When you look up hill again, you lose track of what may be coming up from Second Avenue.
That's why the best short term solution is to put in the stop sign for the downhill traffic and then try to figure someway to deal with the uphill traffic vision issue later.
BTW Amy Schmitt is absolutely right about the massive ditch on the mountain side of the bypass. Each time I pass it - several times a day - I wonder when the first car will go plunging down into it. Because - until then - the Department of Transporation won't take any action as simple and effective as a guardrail. Someone will have to be seriously hurt before something will be done - and yes, the state - in this case - will be sued.
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