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By David Slone
WARSAW — The intersections of Detroit and Pope streets and Detroit and Prairie streets have been discussed by the Warsaw Traffic Commission before, but Wednesday, Oct. 4, the owner of the business that sits at Detroit and Pope added his perspective in hopes of something getting done there.
In introducing Randy Kirkendall, owner of Warsaw Cut Glass, 505 S. Detroit St., City Council President Jack Wilhite said Kirkendall contacted him.
“He brought to me what I felt was a little bit different perspective on that corner. We talked about congestion and the amount of traffic going through there, creating problems. There have been requests to put a three-way stop there at Detroit and Pope. We didn’t feel like that was good or an appropriate answer. However, Mr. Kirkendall brought to my attention a perspective from speed and the problems with people traveling through that area at probably a higher-than-safe rate of speed, creating problems. And if we approached it from that perspective, we might be able to actually make the intersection safer, knowing that this is not going to cut down on congestion,” Wilhite said.
Kirkendall told the commission he’s been watching the intersection for 43 years and they’ve watched it get worse over the years.
“I think one of the issues is that people are using it as a shortcut to get from (SR) 15, avoiding the light on Winona (Avenue) and Buffalo (Street). And we thought if they put a stop sign there at the end of Prairie Street, it might back traffic up for a while, but I think in the long run, people would just stop using that street as a shortcut because people just fly around that corner, almost to the point where a lot of them end up in our back parking lot,” he said.
The other thing that backs up traffic, Kirkendall continued, are the school buses. “When the traffic builds up there on Pope Street, they can’t make the corner to turn to go down to the school, and so we thought” they could reconfigure their plan to get places. A lot of semis also miss the turn on Winona Avenue and then come down and have to go on Prairie. “It’s just gotten really bad here lately.”
He thought a stop sign at eastbound Prairie and Detroit would slow traffic down in the long run.
Warsaw Police Department Capt. Joel Beam said that according to standards, “You can’t use a stop sign to force speed. A stop sign has to be justified by crash data, volume of vehicles. You can’t use it just to slow cars down.”
Kirkendall said he thought it would help.
Beam said they’ve had Michiana Area Council of Governments do a study a couple times on the intersection.
During the March 2022 Traffic Commission meeting, City Planner Justin Taylor said according to 2021 traffic count data, Pope Street had about 6,800 cars average daily count, and north/south on Detroit there was around 5,000 a day.
At the May 2022 Traffic Commission meeting, after a person had approached Traffic Administrator Lance Grubbs about the possibility of making the intersection of Pope and Detroit a three-way stop, Beam reported he reached out to MACOG and received their report on the intersection next to Warsaw Cut Glass. He said it was MACOG’s recommendation that it not be made a full-way stop.
Wednesday, Beam said he didn’t know if speed was even listed on MACOG’s prior report and wanted to take a look at the report again because he was curious.
“I know people just floor it, trying to make that light, and it’s worse certain times of the day. And a lot of times if there’s a bus hung up there, trying to go east there on Pope Street, people will fly around the bus in the left lane. It’s become a nightmare,” Kirkendall said.
Public Works and Street Superintendent Dustin Dillon said it wasn’t a simple situation, but “putting a stop sign there to stop traffic, and then they take off and have the straightaway, you think that’s going to necessarily slow traffic down or they’re just going to floor it and take off like they are coming around the corner anyway?”
Kirkendall said he thought it was a lot harder to go that quickly from a complete stop than if you’re flying around the corner and already are on the move.
Wilhite said he was standing beside Kirkendall when they were talking about the intersection and Wilhite was surprised at how quickly vehicles made the 90-degree turn. When he was driving that area Wednesday, Wilhite said he thought 20 mph was more than fast enough. Standing near the intersection, he said he thought the trucks were going 30-35 by the time they were in front of Warsaw Cut Glass.
“If a stop sign is not possible, what about a slow zone or slowing down the speed limit in through just this area?” he asked. If they did that, he suggested that police could be there writing tickets all day, at least for the first day.
Another suggestion from Wilhite was putting a round mirror at the end of Pope Street so drivers can have a better visual of what’s happening around the building.
Councilwoman Cindy Dobbins said, “I think it gets hard to turn either left or right from Pope Street onto Detroit because the cars aren’t coming around there very, very fast and you end up waiting quite a bit of time to make that turn.”
Kirkendall pointed out that cross country teams run through there, and there’s also many pedestrians and bicyclists that go through that area.
Resident Jeff Swanson said he lives south of town and has used the roads for the last 23 years, but traffic has really picked up over the last year. “If you stop people at the Pope Street entrance when you’re going north, it would make it a lot safer pulling out on Pope Street. That has become a dangerous intersection,” he said.
If they put out a stop sign for the northbound traffic, they also should put one for the southbound traffic on Detroit, too, he said.
Swanson said people also are driving fast on Detroit because the whole reason they’re using Prairie Street is to make the light at Winona. He said he would put a stop sign coming up Prairie to Detroit and at Pope Street, too.
“Over the last year, there’s a lot more traffic coming through there than what there used to be,” Swanson stated. “And they’re not coming through there to do business with Randy and stuff. They’re coming through there to just make the shortcut.”
City engineer Aaron Ott said he would be interested to see if Pope Street has enough traffic that really needs its own left-turn lane. He said he thought the situation there may have some relief if there was only a single lane there, though it may cause traffic backups. As for eastbound Prairie, he thought maybe some road markings and curbing might help.
Councilman Mike Klondaris agreed it was a very busy and convoluted intersection. “I think we need to try to do something to mitigate the situation. I think a stop sign at the end of Prairie before you get to South Detroit Street might be an option. I would hate to see the turn lane taken away,” he stated.
He also wondered about putting a stop sign on South Detroit Street just before Pope.
Dillon said the problem he sees with putting a stop sign at either one of those locations is they would cause traffic to bottle up. An engineering study would have to be completed before any stop sign was put into place.
After some further discussion, Grubbs said the intersections will be put on the Nov. 1 meeting agenda.
WPD Sgt. Lewis Fuller said, “We hear a lot of talk about speed and I’d like to see that MACOG study because, in my experience as a police officer, when you’re standing next to the road and a car goes by, you think it’s going faster than it is so I’d like to see the speed data.”