Traffic signals should not be arbitrarily removed or installed with disregard to the findings of an engineering study. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices is the standard behind traffic control by which state DOTs and municipalities are required to abide. It is imperative to follow these standards to ensure safety and efficiency exists throughout the transportation network, not to mention avoiding liability.
Many of us have opinions, as drivers, about what type of control that we think an intersection ought to have; however, these conjectures do not substitute for proper engineering evaluation, and we should not deviate from these standards due to individual perceptions or political pressure.
I believe we are setting a dangerous precedent of undermining the work of our city management. As City Council members, it is not possible, nor is it expected for us to be experts in all aspects of the fields that we legislate and oversee. For this very reason, we have a competent and knowledgeable group of professional city managers, and we commission professional consultants from time to time.
In this case, the city commissioned a professional engineering consultant in 2005 to evaluate the intersection at Margaret and Elm streets. During the recent discussion, I heard some say that they have no idea why the signal was taken out. Perhaps if you read the engineering study, you will know the answer, which is that there is simply not enough traffic to warrant a signal.
Others say that we know better than someone at New York State DOT. Again, read the study. The city hired a consultant to perform the study that was disregarded, not the DOT.
As a council, we are all in agreement that there exists a visibility problem as vehicles approach Margaret Street from Elm due to parking spaces on Margaret Street very close to the intersection. Our resolution should have addressed the root cause of the problem and improved the sight lines for motorist approaching the intersection by removing two or three parking spaces.
The removal of parking spaces would have been the prudent and safe solution for this intersection and at virtually no cost. The recent council decision was not only a poor choice, but, without removing the parking spaces to improve sight distance, it’s quite likely that the signal will not help.
Mark Tiffer is the Ward 2 councilor on the City of Plattsburgh Common Council.