Several Wichita residents are concerned about the safety of uncontrolled intersections after several car accidents near 18th and West Streets last year.
One of the crashes occurred in December between 18th and Sheridan, an intersection with no stop signs, and resulted in deaths.
Approximately 90% of residential intersections in Wichita are uncontrolled, meaning they lack traffic controls such as stop signs. The new subdivisions have no stop signs at all, a Wichita city spokesman wrote in an email to KMUW.
“Research shows that installing unwarranted stop signs does not reduce crash rates and can actually lead to adverse conditions such as higher crash rates and higher speeds,” wrote City of Wichita Traffic Engineer Mike Armor .
That’s because, according to a litany of academic research, unnecessary placement of stop signs is more likely to cause non-compliance and drivers to increase their speed between signs.
Paul Shoemaker lives near 18th and Sheridan. He asked the city to place a stop sign after the December crash, but was told there isn’t enough traffic or crash history at the intersection to do so.
“For me, waiting for more crashes to happen is not the most efficient way to ensure traffic safety,” Shoemaker said.
The city studied crashes in the Shoemaker neighborhood from 2019 to 2021, comparing intersections with stop signs to those without.
“Statistically, the likelihood of being in a crash was more than 6 times higher at a stop-controlled intersection than at an open intersection,” Armor wrote in an email to KMUW.
Shoemaker says he still wants the city to put up a stop sign.
Robert Ebel, another resident who lives nearby, says he understands the data doesn’t support the need for a stop sign. But he wants the city to do something else to make 18th Street safer.
“I wish they were able to be more proactive about neighborhood traffic issues,” Ebel said.
“I am impressed that they have put together the data to explain why this is the case. …But I was wondering if there were also physical solutions the city could put in place to discourage bad behavior or to help people think twice about speeding or ignoring right-of-way rights.
Alan Kailer is the advocacy chairman of Bike Walk Wichita, a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the cycling and walking infrastructure in Wichita. He says the streets around Wichita, not just 18th Street, would benefit from traffic-calming measures to slow down drivers. Traffic fatalities in Wichita hit the second-highest total in a decade last year.
“The only proven way to effectively address this is by designing and building roads in a way that makes drivers feel less comfortable at speeds that residents find uncomfortable,” Kailer said.
He says it includes making roads narrower and having visual or psychological cues at the side of the road to slow down traffic, such as parked cars or trees.
The city is using this approach with its Downtown Streets plan, which will convert Broadway and Waterman Streets from four lanes to three and add parking and bike lanes to the side of the street.
The Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is currently conducting a survey of traffic and transportation safety issues in Wichita. You can get it here.