The first matter of business the Newton City Council took up at Monday night’s meeting was a request to change the parking regulations for the 400 to 700 blocks of East 19th Street North.
The proposal, which would have restricted parking in that area to only the west side of the street, was rejected on a 5-1 vote. Councilor Noreen Otto cast the lone “yes” vote. Immediately following the vote, Mayor Mike Hansen told those in attendance a resolution considering the placement of four-way stops on the street.
“I am executing my authority as mayor to say there will be an ordinance to place stop signs at both North Eighth Avenue and North 11th Avenue on the agenda for November 18,” he said. “I have asked [Chief of Police Jeff Hoebelheinrich] to bring information and statistics for the council to review at that time.”
For several residents sitting in the gallery during the meeting, it was a small step forward for an ongoing fight to have stop signs installed on the street. Dave Hoyt and his wife Judy, who have lived in the area for about 35 years, said they have been asking for something to be done for nearly two years.
“We call it the raceway,” Dave Hoyt said in an interview prior to the meeting. “They’re drag racing through there all the time ... At least with parking on both sides, they have to slow down some. But, if you eliminate the parking, they won’t have to slow down at all.”
Jody Hoyt said semitrailers frequently drive through the neighborhood — usually faster than the 25 mph speed limit — causing their home to shake. She said she frequently must rearrange her dishes because of the truck traffic.
The Hoyts first approached the Newton Police Department with their concerns and request for stop signs. They were then directed to the Traffic Safety Committee. Dave Hoyt said his request at the committee’s October meeting fell of deaf ears.
“I’ve lived in that neighborhood for 35 years, and in that time, there have been seven cars totalled — one of which was ours — because people were driving too fast and hit parked cars,” he said. “The one that hit our car knocked it clear up in the neighbor’s yard. He said he was doing 25 mph. There’s no way.”
The Hoyts said something has to be done because a number of new families with young children have moved in, and the neighborhood is immediately north of Berg School and south of Newton Christian School. To them, the need for stop signs is a simple matter of safety.
“We were there the night [Brendan O’Brien] was killed,” Judy Hoyt said. “We came up on it just after it happened. It was a terrible tragedy; something you just don’t get rid of.”
O’Brien’s mother, Molly Moore of Kellogg, spoke to the City Council during the public forum portion of Monday night’s meeting. She tearfully begged the council to consider installing the stop signs.
Three more residents stood before the council to echo her sentiments. Two weeks earlier, the Hoyts presented the council with more than 300 petitions signed by those who live in the area, those who frequently travel in the area, and those who have students at Berg.
“We only had three people who were offered the petition and said they wouldn’t sign it, and that was because they just don’t sign petitions,” Dave Hoyt said.
At the onset of discussions regarding the Traffic Safety Committee’s recommendation to restrict parking, Public Works Director Keith Laube discussed the guidelines the committee uses when determining traffic safety issues. The first priority, he said, is safety, followed by the efficiency of traffic flow.
“With regard to stop signs, there are several criteria we follow,” he said. “The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices looks at visibility and the amount of traffic. We try to be consistent in how we apply those. Based on those criteria, [East 19th Street North at North 11th Avenue East] doesn’t warrant a four-way stop at this time.”
Laube said there have been five accidents in the vicinity of the intersection of East 19 Street and North 11th Avenue in the past three years.
Councilor Evelyn George, who represents the neighborhood in question, noted that the neighborhood has an exceptionally high number of pedestrians. Not only does it have a lot of school children walking to Berg or Newton Christian School, but also adults who want to use the track there for walking, as well as those who plan to use the Hike and Bike Trail, which begins at East 19th Street North.
“It’s a pedestrian safety issue,” she said. “There are periods where there is a very heavy volume of pedestrians. That’s when we need to be most concerned ... with stop signs in place, we’re only talking about adding a few seconds for drivers.”
Councilor Dennis Julius said eliminating parking on the east side of the street would only exaggerate the problem. He said drivers would be more careful and observant if cars are parked on both sides.
Jasper County Assessor John Deegan, who lives across the street from the Hoyts, also addressed the council Monday evening. He showed councilors how the proposed parking change would negatively impact his safety when backing out of his own driveway.
“I don’t want the traffic to move better through there. I want to slow it down,” he said. “There are 12 houses on the west side of the street, 18 on the east — two of which are duplexes — so we’re talking potentially 20 more cars on my side of the street. The visibility won’t be better for me.”
Otto said she was supportive of both the Hoyts’ efforts to get stop signs installed, as well as the parking restriction recommendation. She asked Laube if there was a “measurable downside” to installing stop signs, even if the intersections didn’t necessarily meet MUTCD criteria.
Laube said it would not, and noted the area may warrant stop signs in the future, if more housing development occurs there. That prompted Hansen to quip, “It might be sooner than you think.”