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Scrap the surprise stop sign sites, town says

Observer photo by Jess Wisloski A stop sign halts traffic headed east on Zephyr Road at Day Lane.
Observer photo by Jess Wisloski
A stop sign halts traffic headed east on Zephyr Road at Day Lane.

Board resists undoing strangely situated intersections

By Jess Wisloski

Observer staff

Ever been driving around Williston and have that strange feeling a stop sign just jumped out at you? It may be that you encountered one of two sets of stop sign intersections that were put in, basically, all wrong.

These four ill-conceived stop signs may not call Williston’s roads home for much longer. According to Bruce Hoar, director of Public Works, county planners recommended to Williston that oddly placed stop signs on Blair Park Road at Paul Street (which is the short road at the entrance to Blair Park from Route 2A) as well as on Zephyr Road at Day Lane, need to go. For drivers, they interrupt normal traffic flow and can be confusing and unanticipated, Hoar said. Furthermore, they’re not in compliance: at a Jan. 3 Selectboard meeting he said that the two intersections, one three-way and one four-way, violated standards in the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which is put out by the U.S. Department of Transportation. (Basically, no, you’re not crazy, those stop signs don’t do what drivers are used to.)

How did these law-enforcement devices go so awry? The problem is where the signs at the two intersections were posted: at Paul Street, a driver has not yet entered into Blair Park Road’s ring, but because there’s no stop sign on that road, they’re presumably just supposed to drive continuously into the circle — a move that instinctively feels unsafe when entering an intersection, if you don’t know the area. However, there are two stop-signs; it’s just that they are on the ring road, so travelers in that circuit must come to a stop whether or not they’re continuing on past the bisecting Paul Street.

As Hoar described it, it would be like a driver headed to or from the Home Depot or Walmart on Harvest Lane and suddenly having a stop sign in the way, for no obvious reason.

“We asked the [Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission] to take a look at that, and they came back with a recommendation that it [the sign] should be at the end of Paul Street to make it into a true T-type intersection that’s standard and compliant,” said Hoar at the Selectboard meeting.

The board, however, voiced resistance to the changes.

“The stop signs at Paul Street and Blair Park have been there a long time,” noted Chairman Terry Macaig, “People are pretty much used to dealing with them as they are,” he said.

Hoar replied, “Stop signs aren’t for you, to be honest. You run the intersection, you say ‘Oh the sign’s not there,’ to be honest, you run through the intersection, you go through. It’s for the motoring public that’s not necessarily used to the area,” he said.

Hoar said he believed the signs were put there originally as a traffic calming measure, which he said is not the right way to slow traffic down. “That’s not what they’re for. Stop signs were not supposed to be used for traffic calming…it’s not what they’re designed for, but you also get complacency,” he said. “That should have never happened,” he added later.

The other problematic intersection is a standard two-road crossing, where Day Lane and housing for The Hamlet begins, at Zephyr Road. Like Blair Park Road, the flow along the main thoroughfare of Zephyr Road is blocked by a four-way intersection with stop signs when Day Lane hits it, right after the turnoff from Route 2A.

“Right now it’s a four-way stop-controlled intersection, which there was no reason for,” Hoar said. “The recommendation was the stop control should only be on the Day Lane legs of that intersection and not at the Zephyr Road intersection,” he said, adding that if speed is a concern, Zephyr is still due to have speed humps and raised intersections put in at Finney Crossing housing.

Selectboard member Deb Ingram said she thought more stop signs seemed safer than fewer. ”It’s better to have everybody stopping, so they can tell who’s going to go where, especially if we’re changing it… it seems like a nightmare waiting to happen,” she said.

Hoar clarified that Blair Park Road would soon have the CCRPC also look at traffic calming measures, to accommodate the increased foot traffic in the wake of the senior housing boom at Falcon Manor, Eagle Crest and a yet-to-be-built new senior complex.

Deputy Chair Jeff Fehrs said he’d want to see more on the benefits of following CCRPC’s recommendations, and the board wound up voting to have a hearing on removal of signs.

The public can weigh in on the stop signs on Tues., Feb. 7 at the 7 p.m. Selectboard meeting.

“I want to make sure I understand the benefit of going with the recommendation, which is having one stop sign at the end of Paul Street, as opposed to right now, there’s two stop signs, both at the end of Blair Park Road,” he said. Hoar urged the board to think about stop signs as mainly a way to give drivers who don’t know Williston’s street setup a system and way to navigate that’s familiar and easy to use.

“Just because you have an intersection, doesn’t mean you have to have a stop sign there…all we’re looking at here is to make it conform with the Manual For Uniform Traffic Control Devices to make it less confusing for people who aren’t from the area,” Hoar said.

While Fehrs wondered if there would be a liability issue in the case of collisions at Williston’s non-conforming intersections, Hoar refused to speculate, but again emphasized, “I would tell you they do not comply…they’re not conforming.”

Fehrs tried to reframe the problem so he could better understand it, from an outsider’s perspective.

“The real issue is you have people coming to Williston, and the way the stop signs are configured is basically foreign to them because it’s not what they would expect, so they show up and we have these weirdly placed stop signs and they don’t know what to do,” said Fehrs.

Williston’s population is 9,409, but the retail center is the highest value in terms of retail sales in Vermont, with nearly $400 million in taxable sales in 2015. An estimated 17,168 people come to Williston from other places during the daytime, according to a 2013 survey using data compiled by the Census.

Additionally, Vermont Technical College’s campus, which is right off Paul Street, accounts for about 475 students, mostly non-Willistonians, as well as other affiliates of the school and staff.

Hoar noted that drivers might assume a stop sign on Paul Street is missing. “There’s something not right about it. It’s not in conformance with what people are used to,” he said.