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The 'E's of traffic safety

Post Date:11/30/2017 3:02 p.m.

Read the full story in the Winter 2018 Hometown Messenger 

Ensuring safe streets requires many factors, from engineering to education, evaluation to enforcement. 

“There’s no one-fits-all solution to keeping our streets safe for vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists,” City Engineer/Public Works Director Steve Lillehaug said. “We rely on residents to help us identify problematic areas and be active participants in traffic safety.”

The city has a comprehensive system for evaluating traffic concerns to maintain consistency across the city’s street system. While a concern usually starts with a request – a stop sign, speed limit change, warning signs, etc. – it offers an opportunity for education.

Car driving past speed signThe magic solution for traffic safety is not more signs; it's uniformity, Lillehaug said. Whether signage or speed limits, motorists rely on consistency in street systems to intuitively navigate streets without much thinking.

“When you’re driving in Shakopee, we want it to feel the same way as if you’re driving in Duluth or Arlington,” Assistant City Engineer Ryan Halverson said. 

Therefore, the city relies heavily on tried-and-true research practices, state guidelines/requirements and direct observation to objectively study street conditions to determine the best traffic control system. 

Unwarranted traffic control can be more dangerous than no system, according to Lillehaug. For example, speed bumps may seem like an effective method of slowing down traffic. However, studies show speed bumps encourage daredevils, add extra noise and result in speeding between bumps.
Similarly, unwarranted stop signs have been shown to result in increased accidents. Drivers may blow right by an unexpected stop sign increasing the likelihood of accidents at intersections and crosswalks.

“If we put in a stop sign where everyone requested one, we’d have one at every intersection in town,” Halverson said. “Then, no one would obey them.”

Speeding is also a complex issue, which relies more heavily on enforcement and encouragement than engineering. In Minnesota, road speeds are determined by state statute. The city cannot simply change the speed limit; it requires a state speed study.

“Often times, it’s not that the traffic control is wrong. It’s that people’s driving behavior is not obeying what’s in place,” Lillehaug said. “When people don’t obey signs or speed limits, we must resort to enforcement and other means of encouragement."

Officers conversing over traffic stopThat's the daily challenge for the Shakopee Police Department, which enforces traffic laws on 271 miles of roadway, all while responding to a steady call load. Unfortunately, that means officers cannot catch every violator in the act.

"On those days we only have three or four officers on patrol, it's not possible for us to be in all places at once," Capt. Chris Dellwo said.

That's why the city emphasizes education, warnings and targeted traffic enforcement campaigns, such as Toward Zero Deaths. 

Because when it comes to traffic safety, the 5 "E"s – education, evaluation, engineering, enforcement and encouragement – go hand-in-hand.

“We, as staff, don't drive on every street, every hour of every day. We need the community to be our eyes and ears,” Halverson said.

The life cycle of traffic concerns

1. Residents report traffic concerns to Traffic Engineer Micah Heckman via:

Phone: 952-233-9363

2. Engineers evaluate conditions. City engineers perform an initial cursory review of the concern area to identify any immediate safety concerns. Engineers may then conduct a longer evaluation using traffic counts, cameras, etc. to study conditions.

3. Traffic safety committee reviews data. The committee includes representatives from public works and the police department. Members determine whether a traffic control change is warranted and necessary.

4. Staff follows up with resident. Before making a change or recommending no change, city staff will review their findings with the reporting resident.

5. City formalizes recommendations. Regulatory traffic changes must be approved by the City Council; warning signs can be approved at the administrative level.

6. Staff monitor change. Staff continues to evaluate area and track data for future reference.