Federal Way neighbors feud over intersection's safety

If four-way stops are installed in places where they’re not needed, they can actually be more dangerous, according to a Federal Way traffic engineer.  - Courtesy of Wikipedia
If four-way stops are installed in places where they’re not needed, they can actually be more dangerous, according to a Federal Way traffic engineer.
— image credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Since 2001, the intersection of SW 304th Street and 21st Avenue SW has been a point of contention for residents in the nearby neighborhood.

One resident has consistently petitioned the city to install a four-way stop at that intersection.

The city had denied the petition every time for the last 11 years.

For some of the residents of the neighborhood where the contentious intersection sits, the fight has gone on too long, and they feel one person is looking to cause trouble for everyone else. A few others, however, believe the installation of the four-way stop would be beneficial, regardless of the city’s take on the matter.

All these grievances, plus a full city report, were given to the Federal Way City Council during its June 5 meeting.

One of the people who opposes the four-way stop, Chuck Wolber, shared his experiences of some of the strangeness occurring in his neighborhood for several years now. Wolber described a recent incident with the person most in the neighborhood feel is the instigating force in this continued headache for all involved.

“The incident in question involved a line of cars moving westbound on 21st Avenue, stuck behind a slow moving truck. The speed was below 20 mph. My wife was behind the truck at the time, and as this lumbering train of cars came up to an individual’s house, my wife witnessed this person backing her car across both lanes of traffic, holding her car there for a full ten count, ensuring all traffic was stopped in both directions. (They) then pulled into the eastbound lane and proceeded to give everybody a two-second honk,” Wolber shared.

This strange behavior has Wolber and other residents in the neighborhood worried, he said.

“After discussing this with all of our neighbors, we all share the same concerns. We’re concerned about where this is going, where this is heading. It seems to be getting worse. It’s not a peaceful neighborhood. It’s getting less peaceful, and it’s very uncomfortable,” he said.

One of the few who spoke in favor of the four-way stop was Carey McCulla, citing concerns about the safety of her children as her motivation for wanting the four-way installed.

“It’s a problem. It’s a continual problem,” she said. “When you’re coming up 304th, there’s bushes. And kids, they love to run around that corner, and they see that crosswalk, and they don’t think. They just step right out, and there have been multiple times that my kids have stepped out to look and there’s a car coming.”

McCulla said the make-up of the neighborhood, with a lot of older folks living there, means that the four-way stop isn’t as big of an issue as it is for her and her four children.

“I’m doing this to protect my kids, and I’m sorry for the feelings that have been hurt,” she said.

Intersection history: When four-way stops are dangerous

Rick Perez, the senior traffic engineer for the city, reviewed the history of the intersection and the city’s decisions since 2001. Each time this intersection has been proposed for a four-way stop, Perez said, it has failed to meet the metrics used by the city. In fact, Perez said, if four-way stops are installed in places where they’re not needed, they can actually be more dangerous.

“22 studies have found none effective at controlling speeds,” Perez said in reference to unneeded four-way stops. “19 studies found extremely poor compliance with all-way stops that were not deemed necessary by the majority of drivers. 15 studies found that all-way stops that were perceived as unnecessary actually increased speeds. 13 studies found that all-way stops increased pedestrian collisions, especially for children. Five studies found that (law) enforcement costs are unsustainable.”

Perez noted that between 2005 and 2006, the city installed a series of speed tables in the neighborhood, which greatly reduced speeding in the neighborhood. City traffic engineers found that those speed tables reduced rates of “extreme speeding,” in this instance, speeds of 45 mph or more in a 25 mph zone, from 70 incidents a week, down to two.

With years of data backing his conclusion to not approve the stop signs, Perez addressed the concerns of those who are worried about children in the area. Perez said he has children, two of which are special needs children with impulse control issues. Regardless, he reiterated his point that four-way stops are dangerous if installed when not needed.

“I’m sympathetic to the concerns about ‘kids will be kids’ and do stuff that maybe they ought not to do,” he said. “At the same time, what we’ve found, from all the studies previously, is that all-way stops, when not used properly, do not help the safety of an intersection.”

The council had a long and extended conversation about the matter, but ultimately decided to deny furthering the process for a four-way stop at the intersection in a 7-0 vote.


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