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Following two crashes, some Wichita residents worry about the safety of uncontrolled intersections

A fatal accident at 18th and Sheridan, an uncontrolled intersection, took place in December.
Celia Hack
A fatal accident at 18th and Sheridan, an uncontrolled intersection, took place in December.

The city points to research that shows installing unnecessary stop signs does not reduce crash rates and may actually increase vehicle speeds.

Several Wichita residents are worried about the safety of uncontrolled intersections after several car crashes near 18th and West Street last year.

One of the accidents took place in December at 18th and Sheridan, an intersection without stop signs, and resulted in a fatality.

About 90% of residential intersections in Wichita are uncontrolled, meaning they have no traffic controls like stop signs. New subdivisions don’t have stop signs at all, a spokesperson for the city of Wichita wrote in an email to KMUW.

“Research shows that installing unwarranted stop signs does not reduce crash rates and may actually lead to adverse conditions such as higher crash rates and higher speeds,” wrote Mike Armour, the city of Wichita’s traffic engineer.

That’s because unnecessary stop sign placement is more likely to result in noncompliance and drivers increasing their speed between signs, according to a litany of academic research.

Paul Shoemaker lives near 18th and Sheridan. He asked the city to put in a stop sign after the December crash but was told that there’s not enough traffic or accident history at the intersection to do so.

“To me, waiting for more accidents to occur is not the most efficient way to do traffic safety,” Shoemaker said.

The city studied crashes in Shoemaker’s neighborhood from 2019 to 2021, comparing intersections with stop signs to those without.

“Statistically, the likelihood of being in a crash was more than 6 times higher at a stop-controlled intersection compared to an open intersection,” Armour wrote in an email to KMUW.

Shoemaker says he still wants the city to put in a stop sign.

Robert Ebel, another resident who lives nearby, says he understands that the data doesn’t support the need for a stop sign. But he wishes the city would do something else to make 18th Street safer.

“I kind of wish they were able to be more proactive about neighborhood traffic issues,” Ebel said.

“I’m impressed that they put together data to explain why things are the way they are. … But I wondered if there are also physical solutions that the city could put in place to deter bad behavior or to help make people think twice about speeding or ignoring rights of way.”

Alan Kailer is the advocacy chair of Bike Walk Wichita, a nonprofit that seeks to improve biking and walking infrastructure in Wichita. He says that streets all around Wichita – not just 18th Street – would benefit from traffic calming measures to slow drivers down. Traffic fatalities in Wichita reached their second-highest total in a decade last year.

“The only demonstrated way of effectively dealing with it is to have the streets designed and built in a way that cause drivers to feel less comfortable going at the speeds that the residents feel is uncomfortable,” Kailer said.

He says that includes making streets narrower and having visual or psychological cues on the sides of the street to slow traffic, such as parked cars or trees.

The city is using this approach with its Downtown Streets plan, which will convert Broadway and Waterman Streets from four to three lanes and add parking and bike lanes on the sides of the street.

The Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is currently conducting a survey on traffic and transportation safety issues in Wichita. It can be taken here.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.