When people asked me what story I was working on this week, I told them I was writing about a stop sign that some people want removed. At first, it sounded like a boring topic, but the more you look into it, the more you see that it’s actually an interesting topic and one that is far more complicated than you could imagine.
This week I wrote (insert link) about the stop sign at 126th Street and Auman Drive. City Councilor Sue Finkam has introduced an ordinance to remove the sign. She wanted to introduce it earlier – possibly at the Nov. 3 meeting – but it’s been pushed back to Nov. 17 for introduction.
Finkam gave me a phone call to alert me that this was coming, but I really knew this was a hot topic when Bobby “Slick” Leonard – member of the basketball Hall of Fame – showed up at the Current offices to express his anger.
Leonard is well known as the championship-winning coach of the Indiana Pacers and the radio announcer who popularized the catchphrase, “Boom Baby!” He’s lived in Carmel for 45 years and he describes himself as a big supporter of Mayor Jim Brainard. Even at 82 years old, he has a busy schedule, but he wanted to make time to talk to me about this stop sign that has angered him.
“We’ve got one damn stop sign there that’s slowing down the flow,” he said. “And for my money, it’s political. So somebody needs to tell me one advantage to having that stop sign.”
Leonard said he drives past the 3-way stop all the time as he heads from Range Line Road to his home in the Cool Creek neighborhood.
City Councilor Eric Seidensticker, who represents the district where the stop sign sits, said if that stop sign was there then the residents off of Auman Drive would have trouble getting out of their neighborhood. He also said it’s a safety concern for children playing nearby.
Leonard said that’s inconsistent. Driving on 126th Street, Leonard points out several neighborhoods where he said a stop sign would make just as much sense at the Auman Drive sign, yet no sign exists there.
“You don’t see it anywhere else,” he said. “There’s nothing here to let the schools get out.”
He even pointed to his own neighborhood, where he said he’s happy to wait to get out.
“You don’t see a stop sign to let us out,” he said. “We wait. We go with the traffic.”
This debate goes back for years. Part of it originates about when the Gramercy planned unit development was created. There was debate about whether to create a road to connect it to the Auman Drive neighborhood. Existing residents were concerned about new residents driving through their streets and creating safety concerns for children playing. Finkam said it would have been wise to create the connection to reduce the need to use 126th Street to exit.
“The residents already have a way to get out,” Finkam said. “They can get out on Range Line. And they were offered a way to tie into Gramercy and they didn’t want that and so they created a worse problem for themselves.”
Seidensticker points out that the stop sign has been there long before 126th Street was a heavily traveled road and when the Gramercy PUD was going through council, it was pointed out that it was suggested that 126th Street be widened into a three-lane road, which has not happened. Now, he said the stop sign helps slow down the speedy motorists.
“However one of the unintended consequences of this, which is a good thing, is that it slows traffic down,” he said. “There are a lot of houses whose driveways front 126th street. There are children in those houses. When they pulled that stop sign temporarily to realign that street … the speeds got up to 45 and 50 miles an hour. And I know this because I go down that street every day. It’s something that the people want and not just the people on Auman, but also the people in Carmel Village. It’s difficult enough to try to get out even with the stop sign and that’s because 126th has become a much more heavily traveled road then it was ever intended to be.”
Seidensticker claims it’s an issue of a minor inconvenience for people waiting at the stop sign versus a major safety concern for neighbors.
“They don’t even offer a solution for kids to cross the road,” Seidensticker said. “We are trying to make a traffic fix for a short period of time in the morning and a short period of time in the evening. Why? Not because of the people it affects: The people who live there. It’s for the people who don’t want to be inconvenienced with a stop sign. I’m all for a fix, if it’s done right. I think there’s a better solution than just pulling the stop sign. That’s a band aid.”
As I stated in my article, some people think this is being “politicized.” Seidensticker said “the election has started early” and he believes that his opposition has little to attack him on so they are using this issue. Finkam said she’s just trying to be “practical” but she doesn’t understand why those who would oppose her ordinance want to “make it political.” She said it was politicized before she even was elected to the City Council.
Snyder and Sharp were both upset that Finkam is proposing an ordinance about an issue in Seidensticker’s district “without consulting with him.” They explained that there’s generally a rule that you trust each district’s councilor to be the top expert on the district. Especially since those people elected that councilor.
Of course, when I was talking to Snyder on the phone about this issue, a passerby overheard our conversation and told her, “I know what stop sign you’re talking about. It’s horrible.” So it appears that many people have an opinion on this topic.
I’ve seen e-mails from concerned residents complaining about the stop sign, such as this one below:
Hello Council Members,
My name is Ray Rice and I am a 20 year resident of Carmel. I own two homes and operate a business in the city of Carmel. I have called and talked with several of you regarding the stop sign at 126th and Auman drive and have received different reasons why it was reinstalled and why it is still there. The rush hour congestion is getting worse. I have attached a picture of traffic backed up across Range line because of the stop sign. This backup extends to the North Exit of the Palladium. Could you all please work this out? It is not getting better, in fact, it is defiantly getting worse. Please fix this.
Here are City Councilor Sue Finkam’s complete talking points for why she thinks the stop sign should be removed:
Objection: Auman residents have no place to exit.
Response: Auman residents are able to exit onto Range Line. Unlike their neighbors across the street who have nowhere else to go, yet still manage to exits safely onto 126th Street. There are no crash records to indicate other residents are unable to exit onto 126th Street safely.
Additionally, Auman residents were offered and encouraged to connect to Gramercy and they remonstrated against that, so a connection was not included in the revised Gramercy PUD.
Objection: The stop sign at Auman keeps speeds down.
Response: According to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control, STOP signs should not be used for speed control, and STOP signs should be installed in a manner that minimizes the numbers of vehicles having to stop.
Objection: The sight lines are poor, creating a safety hazard for those exiting Auman onto 126th Street.
Response: That is inaccurate. Sight lines were improved when the path was constructed along 126th Street in 2010, greatly improving visibility and eliminating the need for the stop warrant. The reality is that traffic is backing up from 126th into Range Line Rd. and sometimes 3rd Ave Southwest creating a safety hazard. According to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control, a STOP sign should not be installed on the major street unless justified by a traffic engineering study. Traffic engineering studies recently performed indicate the overall intersection is functioning at a Level of Service D in the PM peak hour. The goal is to have streets perform at Level of Service A or B.
We have a low cost, quick fix to a large safety problem in front of us. We don’t have to look for $. We don’t have to wait for future funding. We don’t have to use engineering controls. We simply have to remove a stop sign.
For some reason I do not understand, this stop sign has become highly politicized. I ask my colleagues to look at the data (not the emotion) that surrounds this issue, and take the immediate step of improving safety and traffic flow and remove this stop sign.
Here’s an email thread from Luci Snyder that also addresses this issue:
From: Snyder, Luci [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Monday, June 16, 2014 10:31 AM
Subject: RE: Auman Dr. Stop Sign.
Thank you for writing about this issue. We have been talking about this sign for several years and there are a few more considerations to take into account that are not political as you would imagine if you gave things a bit more thought.
First, did you send this to the other Councilors? If not, with you permission, I will forward your thoughts. This is not in my district and we usually begin with the Councilor in whose district the problem exists as a courtesy. Notice the courtesy toward Eric, the Councilor representing this district.
Next, How many minutes did you have to wait? It always seems interminable but, although a wait of any kind is annoying especially when it has changed over the past 40 years, another consideration is the cost vs the wait time.
There are three possibilities:
1. Remove the sign, making it almost impossible for the residents of Auman to get out of their neighborhood during busy times.
2. Replace the sign with a roundabout….usual cost $2M +- . In this case impacted by the offset intersection and land acquisition costs….possibly two homes.
3. Replace the stop sign with an “on-demand” stop light that would be green for the greater amount of time, but when someone needs to enter out of Auman onto 126th, would be triggered to change to red on 126th.
Thank you, again, but you can see that we have various factors to take into account.
Let me know about forwarding.
Carmel City Council -Southeast District
From: Richard [[email protected]]
Sent: Friday, June 13, 2014 6:57 PM
To: Snyder, Luci
Subject: Auman Dr. Stop Sign.
Today, at 5:30 PM, I drove westbound from Keystone to Rangeline on 126th st. Traffic was stopped from Auman Dr. west to Rangeline. It was difficult to make a left turm unto Ramgeline because westbound traffic could not clear the intersection. I hope this route is not required for an emergency run of some sort at this time of day.
I have been driving from Brookshire to Rangeline on 126th st. for 40+ years. I can find absolutly no justification for the stop sign at Auman Dr. The only thing special about this sign is political in nature.
Any line-of-sight problems to the West of Auman have been rectified. THIS SIGN IS NO LONGER NEEDED.
I also received the following e-mail in support of keeping the stop sign there:
Mr. Aasen and others,
This letter is in response to the published article “Outcry over 126th Street Stop Sign” from Current in Carmel’s November 1 issue. I admire Mr. Leonard and all he’s done for Indianapolis and the entire state but as much as he might know how ‘traffic’ up and down a basketball court might flow, he has no idea how it works in reality in relation to how difficult it can be exiting our neighborhood from Auman Drive onto 126th Street. The removal of this stop sign would be a severe detriment to the safety and well-being of our neighborhood.
Already, drivers in a rush heading east or west on 126th barely stop as they approach the intersection. There have been many occasions at several times of day that I have been nearly T-boned by one of these hurried commuters. Having the stop sign in place at least provides a brief pause for these scofflaw drivers. Even as an avid cyclist, leaving our neighborhood from Auman is just as dangerous and risky.
Our family enjoys how close we are to the Library and the fine playground at Carmel Elementary. We count being able to walk to these locations – and many others so close by – as one of the great benefits for living where we do. The stop sign on 126th is invaluable in allowing us (I, my wife and 2 daughters) to safely cross the street. Truth be told, we could actually use a marked crosswalk in addition to the valued stop signs Mr. Leonard, the Mayor and some councilmembers fail to appreciate but that is an entirely different argument, I’m sure.
Another benefit we enjoy with the stop signs is that not only does it allow us to leave our neighborhood safely, but also to enter safely as well. It gives the traffic a much-needed pause to allow us to return safely to our homes as we turn in from 126th. Without the signs and especially turning from the westbound lane onto Auman, sudden backups could be generated as my neighbors and I wait for a reasonable opening in oncoming traffic to turn in. These ‘surprise’ backups are much more dangerous and more likely to result in a serious collision than the mild line that seems to be only present during evening rush hour. The familiarity and expectation to stop at the signs has saved many a front and rear bumper as compared to what would happen with hurried drivers not expecting or wanting to stop for a rather inconsequential minute or two. A little less business for the local body shops, but I’m sure they would understand.
I’d also like to point out Councilwoman Finkam’s flippant comments about the stop signs. Firstly, suggests that we could simply leave our neighborhood via Range Line Road “if they prefer”. I’m sorry, but we do not prefer. If you’d like to wait in traffic, then exiting onto Range Line is the way to go. At all but the smallest hours of the morning or night a 5 minute wait for an opening is a commonality. Unless your destination is to the west or southwest of our city, there is no plausible reason to leave that way. It’s just takes too much time for any measure of efficiency with the great amount of traffic Range Line typically carries as a major thoroughfare in Carmel. We would wait there much longer than anybody would wait at the stop signs on 126th.
Secondly, she feels the traffic on 126th could hinder emergency vehicles from passing through quickly. As I returned from a recent bike ride, I witnessed the exact opposite. As I rode down 126th, two fire trucks from the station near City Hall came racing east down the road. There was plenty of room on the curb and grass for cars to move out of the way. The firemen did not appear at all to be held up and I’m sure they were able to perform their ever-valued jobs with bravery and professionalism no quicker than if the road had been empty. I consider both comments as patronizing and dismissive to the fine residents in our neighborhood and those surrounding us as well. As for connecting and exiting through the rumored Gramercy development; those routes would be so heavily and needfully controlled with speed limits and stop signs that leaving via that route would simply not be an option in any sense of the word.
I’d like to return to Mr. Leonard’s comments before wrapping up. He mentions that there were other areas where a similar stop sign arrangement might make sense, but people seem to deal with it. He even points out his own neighborhood as an example. I know just where he lives as my parents are also Cool Creek residents and Mr. Leonard enjoys FOUR choices to exit onto 126th to our ONE. If that were the case here, I’d be in agreement but our Auman neighborhood does not enjoy the luxury of multiple exits onto 126th which is the basis for defending our one and only exit as a safe route for us to reach our jobs and enjoy the resources so close by that I mentioned before. Once again, he just doesn’t understand.
The next major street north, Main Street, has a stop light and a school zone to control speeds and traffic along that route. To the south both Carmel Drive and 116th Street are multilane roadways that are specifically designed for higher speeds and higher traffic flow. The stop signs at 126th and Auman are our only defense against the many drivers in an unnecessary rush and the only way we can best ensure the safety of the Auman neighborhood residents, old and young.
By the way, did you notice he’s standing next to the stop sign that controls traffic from Auman Drive ONTO 126th? You didn’t even pose him next to the proper sign. Surely Mr. Leonard or you don’t want us turning freely and uncontrolled onto 126th. That would be a mess and I truly hope it’s an oversight on your part.
As a Carmel resident, a father, a husband, an Engineer and as someone who values common sense in any of these roles, I hope this gives you a fuller understanding of why it is absolutely imperative that we keep the stop signs in place at Auman and 126th Street.
As a last note, please feel free to forward this email to Mr. Leonard to inform him of his misguided opinion. I leave it to your discretion and fully understand your decision on the matter either way.
819 Auman West Drive
Sue Finkam responded with the following: “Aaron, thank you for CC:ing me on your note to Adam. Two things: I was not being flippant regarding leaving your neighborhood via Range Line Road. It’s been stated Auman residents have no other way to exit other than 126th. That’s not true. You have a choice to use Range Line. Also, the fire truck comment was from the fire chief.”
Eric Seidensticker responded by saying: “Thank you for your email. Thank you for taking the time to present some thoughts and perspectives that many people might not be aware of.”
Here’s a copy of the ordinance:[gview file=”https://youarecurrent.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Stop-Sign-Ordinance.pdf”]