Cambridge Council debates  four-way stop sign request

This intersection, just to the southwest of Cambridge-Isanti High School, was the subject of an extended discussion regarding the placing of a four-way stop there.

The Cambridge city council looked into making one minor change to the North Fern Street reconstruction project, but due to the potential major implications of that change, the council decided to table the item until the Aug. 6 meeting in order to collect more data.

At issue was a request by several residents on Winnetka Place to place a four-way stop at the intersection of their street and North Fern Street/8th Street. Winnetka is a cul de sac that connects with North Fern Street to the southwest of Cambridge-Isanti High School in the middle of two sharp curves as North Fern turns into 8th Street. The north part of the intersection leads into a student parking lot for the high school.

Based on a petition sent to the city by residents of Winnetka, city engineer Todd Blank conducted research into the feasibility of putting a four-way stop at that location. As part of his research, Blank looked into the average daily traffic amounts for each of the streets and parking lot, checked with police chief Todd Schuster about any traffic accidents reported at that location, and even personally drove through the area to test the maximum speed that could be reached given the sharp curves. Blank said he did this extensive research due to the city’s history of putting up stop signs where they were not warranted.

According to Blank, Fern Street/8th Avenue carries approximately 2,000 vehicles per day, Winnetka has about 150 cars per day, and there are about 400 cars per day that enter/exit the parking lot.

“One of the criteria for a four-way stop is there should be similar volumes at each direction,” Blank said. “So we do not have that at this location.”

Additionally, Blank said there have been no reported crashes in recent history.

Finally, Blank said the traffic flow should be more consistent throughout an eight-hour day than what is reported there. Obviously, there are two periods of heavy traffic before and after school, but the traffic flow is much lighter during the rest of the day.

Based on all of those factors, Blank recommended the city reject the request and go with the same signage as before, which included a “pedestrian traffic ahead” sign for both directions on North Fern, stop signs at Winnetka and the parking lot, and a clearly painted crosswalk. 

Blank noted that the current signage falls in line with Minnesota Department of Transportation’s written guidelines for placing traffic control signage. The bottom line, Blank stated, is that adding stop signs to locations that don’t warrant them could actually decrease the safety of the drivers and pedestrians, rather than increase it.

Chuck Harvey, who spoke for the homeowners on Winnetka, disagreed with Blank’s assessment.

“It’s not about the volume of traffic, it’s a matter of safety,” Harvey said. “Paco (one of the other residents) has three children. I have three children. Another couple down the block has two kids. And this simply is not a safe intersection. What’s probably going to happen is there will be a serious accident, and it will probably involve one of the children on our block. I think you would be making a big mistake if you don’t put a stop sign there.”

During extended discussion on the topic, the council brought up several possible alternatives to placing stop signs. Some of those ideas included pedestrian-activated flashing warning signs, the “stop for pedestrian” cones like on Main Street, having a patrol car stationed at the intersection, or even asking the school district to hire crossing guards. 

Ultimately, the council instructed staff to talk with the school district about possible solutions the district would be willing to enact, along with researching additional data on four-way stops at similar intersections.

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