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Intersection of Fifth and Oak (copy)

Baraboo residents have asked the city to make the intersection of Fifth and Oak streets downtown a four-way stop to improve safety.

Accepting a committee recommendation and residents’ pleas, the Baraboo Common Council voted 8-1 Tuesday to stop traffic in all four directions at the intersection of Fifth and Oak streets.

A city-funded study indicated the intersection sees neither the traffic volume nor crash rate to justify a four-way stop. But a 200-signature petition and citizens’ cautionary tales about pedestrians and drivers encountering near-accidents between Nanny Park and Coffee Bean Connection won over the council.

“It’s for the safety of the kids,” council member John Ellington said.

Despite MSA Professional Services’ finding that the intersection doesn’t meet accepted standards for four-way stops, the council’s Public Safety Committee voted 2-1 last month to stop eastbound and westbound traffic. MSA conducted a traffic count March 19 and found Oak and Fifth rarely topped 100 vehicles per hour. An intersection typically would need to see 300 vehicles an hour to warrant a four-way stop. No crashes have been reported there in five years.

Council member Tom Kolb said the petition and residents’ accounts of near misses persuaded him to vote for the change. As an ordinance revision, it must pass a second reading before becoming official.

“There’s a lot of foot traffic there, a lot of kids in the park,” Kolb said. “As a preventive measure, it may not be a bad idea.”

Council member Phil Wedekind voted against the four-way stop Tuesday, as he did at the committee level April 29. He said it made no sense to pay for a study and ignore its findings.

“As far as I’m concerned, right now we wasted $1,800,” Wedekind said.

Staff also expressed reservations about the change. While MSA’s study noted that the council can take special circumstances into account, by any quantitative measure the intersection doesn’t require a four-way stop. Only two crashes reported there since 2013 would’ve been avoided with more stop signs.

“I don’t have the data to support that it’s an issue,” Police Chief Mark Schauf said.

He said safe roads require good engineering, enforcement and education. “We’re trying to fix this with an engineering thing, and it may be an education thing,” Schauf said.

Council member Michael Plautz, who voted for the four-way stop Tuesday and at the committee level, said adding stop signs would reduce risk. “I’d rather have a kid in the street with cars slowing down, rather than traveling through at 25 (mph) or even 30,” he said.

Even once stop signs are installed, safety still will depend on driver awareness.

“The key is, people have to pay attention to them,” City Engineer Tom Pinion said.

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley or call him at 745-3507.

Baraboo News Republic Senior Reporter

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