An Andover neighborhood that wanted their four-way stop signs back were denied by the Andover City Council on a split vote at the Aug. 15 council meeting.
As part of an ongoing initiative to remove stop signs from less busy intersections, the city of Andover last November removed stop signs on Underclift Street at 138th Lane and 140th Avenue. Stop signs on the side streets remained.
140th Avenue is a three-way intersection. 138th Lane is a four-way intersection and a traffic signal is close by at Round Lake Boulevard.
But after a fatal vehicle crash on the afternoon of April 29, 170 residents from 109 households signed a petition asking that the Underclift stop signs at 138th Lane and 140th Avenue go back in.
According to the criminal complaint, Chandler Joseph Diedrich was allegedly intoxicated and speeding as he drove north on Underclift Street. He lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a tree and an electric box around the intersection of 140th Avenue and Underclift Street. His passenger, 52-year-old Andover resident Brian Schewe, was ejected from the vehicle and killed.
Diedrich’s case is still pending a result in Anoka County District Court. There was a court hearing on Aug. 21 and another hearing was scheduled for Oct. 25. He has not entered a plea.
Mary and Ray Froberg circulated the petition and Mary Froberg spoke during open forum at the June 6 council meeting. The council invited neighborhood residents to speak for more than an hour at the June 27 workshop. Meanwhile, Anoka County Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Brian Podany pulled records of crashes and speeding tickets to give the council a better handle on the situation.
Podany said the records staff pulled data back to 2002. The intersection of 138th Lane and Underclift Street saw five combined property damage and personal injury crashes in the past 15 years. The intersection at 140th saw seven crashes in that same time frame, although all but that 2017 fatal incident were only property damage accidents with no serious injuries reported.
The Sheriff’s Office brought marked and unmarked squad cars to the neighborhood in late June and throughout July for a total of 32 hours, 38 minutes. A dozen people were stopped. Six citations were issued for speeding and another citation was for a stop sign violation. According to Podany, most of the people stopped were identified as residents of this neighborhood.
Council Members Sheri Bukkila, Jim Goodrich and Mike Knight believed the city had made the right decision to remove the stop signs and voted to not put them back in. Mayor Julie Trude and Council Member Val Holthus wanted the signs returned.
Goodrich said the city does a lot of research and abides by the common engineering standards when deciding on traffic issues. He said the stop signs on Underclift “just doesn’t belong there.”
On the other hand, Holthus said the council needed to look at more than the data and consider the neighborhood’s wishes.
“They truly believe there’s a need for the stop sign,” she said. “I don’t want to ignore the residents in that neighborhood that believe strongly enough to sign a petition to put signs back.”
Bukkila said she is not ignoring the residents. She said other neighborhoods would ask for additional stop signs if the council bent the rules for this group.
“It’s about being consistent and creating a defensible position,” she said.
Mary Froberg pointed out that the council has not consistently abide by the Minnesota traffic signs policy manual. Five years ago, the council on a 4-0 vote agreed that the intersection of 147th Avenue and Guarani Street should remain a four-way stop.
Although the numbers did not justify a stop sign, Bukkila at that time said trees made it difficult to see the stop sign when driving south on Guarani and when she was going east on 147th Avenue at night she had trouble seeing the sign because there was no street light.
City Attorney Scott Baumgartner had reminded the council in July 2012 that it had discretion on deciding where stop signs could be installed.
The Blaine City Council in the summer of 2016 added three more four-way stop intersections along 119th Avenue before any traffic study was completed. A large neighborhood group pushed the city into action after 39-year-old Dani Aguilar was killed by a drunk driver while checking his mail. A subsequent study showed a decline in traffic and the Blaine council chose to keep the stop signs in.
And although the city said it sent notifications to residents to get their input before removing the stop signs, Mary Froberg said this was not sent to the whole neighborhood and only to the residents closest to the intersections of 138th Lane and 140th Avenue.
Mary Froberg said the council is following a guideline and not a law. She believes the city is afraid of being sued in case a neighborhood with a two-way stop argues the accident could have been prevented with a four-way stop. She understands that if her neighborhood got the four-way stop signs back another neighborhood could argue they deserve them as well.
“I understand that, but now that there has been a petition and a very strong voice to have those stop signs put back up, they can get sued as well,” she said. “So what did they accomplish? Nothing.”