By Tony Boom
for the Mail Tribune
October 5, 2017
Turning the busy and sometimes confusing east entrance into downtown Jacksonville into a four-way stop might be given a trial run, an Oregon Department of Transportation official suggests in a memo to other agency staff.
The trial period would help determine the impacts and benefits of stop signs at all corners of the intersection of California and Fifth streets.
The Jacksonville City Council asked the agency to investigate adding a fourth stop sign after residents raised concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety at the intersection, which is part of state Highway 238.
The proposed four-way stop would delay motorists at the intersection at times, Gary Obery, active modes transportation engineer, wrote in an Aug. 10 memo to other ODOT officials. Obery also said it seems reasonable to allow some delays in exchange for advancement of local goals.
“We would strongly welcome it,” Mayor Paul Becker said of a trial period. “Something is going to need to be done. The increase of traffic has been enormous since the introduction of the marijuana grows out in the Applegate.”
The City Council was briefed during its Sept. 17 meeting on a technical report prepared by ODOT about the intersection. Stacey Bray, assistant administrator and finance director, said the council will discuss the report at a future meeting.
“The technical memo shows concerns about traffic queuing at that intersection. We want to be sensitive to that, but there is a community, as well,” said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming. “We want to balance what the community wants and keep traffic moving. Obviously there’s more discussion to be had.”
A trial would have benefits, Leaming said.
“That may be an option given the balance that we are seeking,” said Leaming. “It may not be a bad idea just to see how it would operate.”
The intersection is classified as a 2½-way stop. Vehicles turning right from Fifth onto California do not have to stop, but those going across the intersection do. Vehicles westbound on California must stop, along with those headed north on Fifth, but eastbound traffic on California has no stop sign.
Five crashes have occurred at the intersection since 2007. The only injury was to a cyclist not seen by a motorist.
Manual traffic counts were done during June from 4 to 5 p.m. On average, 263 vehicles turned left from California onto Fifth at that time, while another 167 went straight. Vehicles that stopped at Fifth while westbound on California numbered 178. The average number of vehicles going through the intersection for that one hour was 1,120.
Pedestrian movements also were recorded, with an average of 58 people crossing California at the intersection during the one-hour period in June.
Projections show that in 20 years, a four-way stop at Fifth on eastbound California would back up cars 330 feet vs. 207 feet if it were in operation now when the intersection is operating at the 95th percentile. Cars currently back up 85 feet.
In 2004-05, ODOT and the city installed a four-way stop at California and Oregon streets on a trial basis for 12 months. The arrangement was subsequently made permanent.
California and Fifth was a four-way stop briefly in the 1990s, but it was changed back after reports of traffic cutting through side streets and idling logging trucks affecting historic buildings.
If a trial period is instituted, Obery suggests before and after video studies of the afternoon and evening peak periods when car, bike and pedestrian volumes could be quantified, along with data on car delays and queuing.
During the City Council briefing, councilors Steve Casaleggio and Brad Bennington both noted that the backup figures in the study might serve as an impetus to secure a long-proposed Highway 238 bypass of the downtown area, where historic buildings on California Street are affected by vibrations caused by heavy traffic.
— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.