Council puts up stop sign to warning lights

Idea for flashing signals at three sites sent to Parks Commission

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — It sounds like a good idea. Install advanced warning flashing lights at three of the city’s busiest crosswalks to make motorists aware of pedestrians crossing the streets.

The Oak Park Heights City Council thought otherwise Tuesday and sent the idea to the city’s Parks Commission for more study.

The council had discussed installing advanced warning lights at 58th Street near Stillwater Area High School, 58th Street near Boutwells Landing and crossing 56th Street at Oakgreen Avenue at an earlier work session, according to City Administrator Eric Johnson.

Pedestrians would push a control button to activate the pole-mounted flashing lights to warn motorists that crosswalks are occupied, Johnson said in a memo. Because all city crosswalks meet approved standards, the warning system is considered an enhancement, he added.

Oak Park Heights-based Traffic Control Corp. offered a preliminary estimate of more than $42,000 to install the system at the three proposed intersections, Johnson said.
The council faced several decisions regarding the proposal, Johnson said. They included getting more quotes for the work, seeking financial partnerships with Boutwells and the high school, when the work should be done and how to fund the project, he added.

“This project does not have a dedicated funding source at this time,” Johnson writes in his memo. “However, as this is a new project and generally benefits the city’s trail-way systems, the city park dedication fund may be considered as well as the undesignated portion of the city’s budgeted projects fund which has a balance of $179,000.”

But city Police Chief Brian DeRosier expressed some reluctance on the effectiveness of the system. He said in a memo that some pedestrians might feel a heightened sense of safety or “rights” with the warning lights and “not take precautions they should.”
DeRosier said putting the warning system near the high school would not address problems motorists and nearby businesses experience during the school year at what the police chief notes “is already a congested area for signage, lights, traffic and curving road design.”

“These lights may have a negative or ineffective contribution and add to that clutter and confusion,” he writes.

But DeRosier adds that the warning lights would be effective at the Boutwells and Oakgreen locations.

Mayor Mary McComber said she favored talking with ISD 834 officials about helping pay for the system at their locations.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to talking with the high school about a cost-sharing agreement,” she said.

Councilman Mike Runk strongly opposed installing the system near the high school.
“I don’t like the one at the high school. We don’t want those kids crossing there,” he said. “I don’t want lights there. I think it would encourage more kids to cross there.”

Runk added that he does not feel the city should pay to install the warning system at Boutwells.

“The one at Boutwells, that’s Boutwells concern, not ours. I don’t think that’s our responsibility,” he said.

Runk did support a system at Oakgreen, noting that northbound traffic enters the city from a rural stretch of the road with a higher speed limit.

“Oakgreen, thats the one I’d put in. I think it would be a good test,” he said.