POCATELLO — Some residents who live near Tendoy Elementary School believe a recent project to improve safety at a busy intersection has changed traffic patterns and made certain surrounding streets less safe.
City officials say they are taking the residents’ concerns seriously and have already started researching the area behind Tendoy for a possible new school zone. Furthermore, officials say they plan to add new dead-end signs to the area, at the residents’ request, and they’ve requested heightened police patrolling there.
In 2017, the city finished a project to address an unusually high number of serious accidents that were occurring at the intersection where Jefferson Avenue, Alameda Road, Pocatello Creek Road and Hiline Road meet.
The city added new medians, crosswalks, accessible ramps and additional signage.
Pocatello Public Works Director Jeff Mansfield explained the Federal Highway Administration required the city to implement a plan to improve safety at the intersection, and the city reviewed 17 alternatives before deciding upon changes.
Laurie Engelhardt lives behind the elementary school at the corner of Filmore Avenue, which reaches a dead-end, and Redwood Street. She believes traffic volumes have soared in her once sleepy residential area ever since a median was built to restrict left turns from Alameda onto Jefferson as part of the project.
“Right now, we have people come up Redwood and make a big circle on Filmore because they don’t know how to get out,” Engelhardt said. “Traffic just comes up here, and they get so mad they race through the neighborhood.”
Furthermore, Engelhardt said children live in most of the homes in the neighborhood, and there are no crosswalks or school zone signs behind the school.
“The kids still play on these streets. They run across Redwood and ride their bicycles there,” she said.
Residents of the neighborhood presented the City Council on May 16 with a petition bearing roughly 60 signatures requesting solutions to “address the dangerous traffic pattern.”
City officials studied traffic speeds and densities in the neighborhood both in 2018 and this year and haven’t found evidence of unsafe conditions. While city officials acknowledge it’s likely speeds have increased behind Tendoy, they point out traffic studies have confirmed they’re still comparable with other residential streets in the community. The studies show the residential streets behind Tendoy are used by fewer than 1,000 cars on an average day.
Tom Kirkman, deputy public works director, said the average speed on Linda, for example, is 22.8 mph, and the average speed on Redwood is 19.9 mph. Both average speeds are well below the posted limit.
Furthermore, “level of service” studies conducted by the city’s engineering department have given the roads behind Tendoy an A service rating, meaning traffic volumes and speeds are favorable and there are seldom accidents.
Accidents have also dropped significantly at the intersection of Jefferson, Alameda, Pocatello Creek and Hiline since the redesign, according to the city.
Kirkman said the city plans to avoid indiscriminately adding signs to the area.
“I think it is important to realize a lot of times you can’t sign your way out of problems,” Kirkman said. “We always want to study closely and make sure we’re putting an appropriate sign in an appropriate place.”
Jamie Bloxham, who lives on Linda Avenue, supports the creation of a new school zone but believes that change alone wouldn’t solve the problem. She’d like to see a new roadway created through a vacant lot the city owns adjacent to the intersection, linking Pocatello Creek Road to Alameda to alleviate congestion. Bloxham said speed bumps would also make the neighborhood safer.
“That intersection at Redwood and Jefferson, I’ve sat there for 7 minutes trying to wait to get out on Jefferson, and we never had that problem before,” Bloxham said.
Mansfield said the city plans to install a dead-end sign on Filmore this fall to help motorists better navigate out of the neighborhood. He said the city is also in the early stages of a traffic evaluation to determine if a school zone behind Tendoy is in order. If a school zone is approved, the speed limit would be reduced from 25 mph to 20 mph.
Mansfield argued an access road from Alameda to Pocatello Creek would only further complicate an already complex intersection. He said the city has a policy against installing speed bumps, which pose challenges for city snowplowing and street crews.
Mansfield explained there are crosswalks with crossing guards on Jefferson and Alameda, but adding a crosswalk behind the school isn’t feasible under current conditions.
Federal law would require a crosswalk to lead to a sidewalk or accessible ramp. As it now stands, a crosswalk would lead only to the grass in someone’s yard, and installing sidewalks is the financial responsibility of homeowners, he explained. The city applied for a pedestrian safety grant to install sidewalks in the neighborhood but didn’t receive the funding.
Bloxham believes the best solution would be to redo the intersection once again.
“Something needs to change,” Bloxham said. “Something is going to happen and it’s not going to be good.”
Terry Shumway, who lives on Linda, would also like the busy intersection to be redesigned once more, or restored to its original design.
“What they’ve done is created a monster, and I don’t think there’s any way out of there,” Shumway said.
Shumway said he routinely sees motorists speeding and disregarding stop signs in the neighborhood. Shumway believes it would also behoove the city to implement changes to divert traffic from Linda onto Poplar Street, which is a wider thoroughfare.