Downtown merchants, worried that the intersection of Hartz and Prospect is dangerous, presented the Town of Danville with a petition in that the fall asking that a four-way stop be installed.
"It's an important intersection, at the very heart of downtown," noted Tai Williams, Danville Transportation Director.
The petitioners said they were extremely concerned over safety at the intersection and listed four points:
1. The lack of visibility when facing west on Prospect wanting to turn left on Hartz, which often results in drivers inching forward;
2. The false sense of security pedestrians get when they activate the crossing lights;
3. The difficulty in seeing the flashing lights during the day;
4. East Prospect is set back and at a slight angle.
"A four way stop similar to the intersection at Railroad Avenue is the only way to remedy the situation," concluded the petition, which was signed by 51 business owners and interested parties.
However, studies have shown that a four-way stop is not the answer to the problem, Williams said.
"The installation of a four-way stop would have an incredibly negative impact on the northbound queue," she stated.
Hartz Avenue carries from 10,000-11,000 vehicles per day, she explained. If a four-way stop is installed, each of those thousands of vehicles has to stop, regardless of whether there is cross traffic.
"Right now in the northbound direction, our queue is backed up from the intersection of Prospect and Hartz to the short street by Molly's Pup-Purr-ee," she said. Models run by the town show that with a four-way stop, the stopped vehicles would extend to Church Street.
Prospect has about 2,300 vehicles per day, said Williams, so much of the time there is no cross traffic for Hartz.
"When drivers see there isn't traffic, there is a tendency to run the stop sign," she explained. "It's truly a traffic hazard: People are expecting cars to stop but due to lack of cross traffic, vehicles are trained to roll through."
"It's a false sense of security," she emphasized. "Our recommendation was not to install a four-way stop."
"We try not to solve one problem by creating others," she added. "We need to consider all the ramifications."
One problem found by the Town's studies is that vehicles on Prospect wanting to cross Hartz, or turn onto it, have limited visibility.
"People take chances, trying to insert themselves into the traffic scene," Williams noted. With so much going on, they may not see a pedestrian in the crosswalk.
"It is an issue especially during rush hour," she said.
One possibility was to eliminate parking places that blocked the views of the cross traffic. But this is always unpopular with downtown merchants.
After much discussion, the transportation department recommended extending the sidewalk into the street, which is known as a "bulb-out" or curb extension. Motorists tend to travel more slowly at intersections with bulb-outs as the street narrows and they also reduce turning speeds.
Bulb-outs would improve visibility for pedestrians and motorists plus would make the crossing distance shorter for the pedestrians, Williams pointed out. Prospect Avenue already has small bulb-outs at that corner.
This will eliminate a few parking spaces, she said, but not many.
Williams also noted that there really have been very few near-misses at the intersection although this may not be the perception.
"We've been out there ourselves doing our own observations," she said. "It's a challenging situation for us. There's only so much that traffic engineers can do to create a perfectly safe intersection."
The bottom line is that pedestrians need to cross with caution.
"The flashing crosswalk does not create a force field around you," said Williams.
The construction of the bulb-outs will be done in conjunction with the renovations of the Veterans Memorial Building at that same corner.