Litchfield City Hall

City Council meets at City Hall at 126 N. Marshall Ave.

Traffic safety and congestion — especially at bus stops and around schools — were topics that created a lengthy discussion during Monday’s Litchfield City Council meeting.

The discussion was prompted by a petition signed by 43 residents asking for a four-way stop at the intersection of East Third Street and North Davis Avenue.

“I’m concerned about the safety and welfare of the young children at their bus stop on my corner,’ Ramona Lohse, who lives in the neighborhood, wrote in a letter submitted with the petition. “I have watched as the bus stops and the kids dart out and across the street while ‘speeders’ and cars fail to stop for them or slow down.”

The request seemed to open the door to pent-up frustration by some City Council members about traffic safety.

Ward 2 Council member Darlene Kotelnicki, who served on a Safe Routes to School committee that two years ago reviewed pedestrian routes and traffic flow to and around each of Litchfield Public Schools’ buildings, said the committee’s work identified a number of issues. One suggestion from the committee called for increased police patrols before and after school, but she didn’t think that has happened.

Kotelnicki initially offered a resolution for a traffic study of three intersections near the high school-middle school complex – Fifth and Gilman, 10th and Gilman and 10th and Armstrong – “to address traffic flow and safety issues.”

But as discussion continued, and additional problem areas and concerns were raised, she pulled her resolution. Instead, she offered a resolution calling for Ward 1 Council member Eric Mathwig, a former State Patrol officer, to represent the City Council in a discussion with city staff and representatives from Litchfield School District, Litchfield Police Department and Hicks Bus about traffic flow around the middle and high school campus, in addition to the Third Street and Davis Avenue intersection, and Butler Street near Prairie Park. Mathwig is to report on those discussions at the next Council meeting.

That resolution received unanimous approval, but not before more discussion as both City Council members and Administrator Dave Cziok tried to clarify exactly what the goal should be.

Suggesting several intersections throughout the city needed review, Cziok said, went beyond the request for a four-way stop at one intersection that was requested by the petitioners and indicated the city had “to take a bigger look at traffic to and from school.” He also said that the wide-ranging discussion hit on “two very different items” of safety at intersections and traffic flow throughout the city. He asked if a traffic study should be undertaken by the city engineer.

Kotelnicki indicated she wanted something done more quickly and less expensively.

“To me, we know it’s an issue,” Kotelnicki said. “How much do we have to pay to change something if we know it’s an issue?”

There seemed to be near-unanimous agreement that there were traffic issues around the city, but methods to resolve them diverged.

Mathwig said that he used to sit with his radar gun at various intersections around town and monitor speeds. Among the highest speeds he recorded were 58 mph on 10th Street, which runs on the north boundary of the high school-middle school complex; 62 mph on Gorman Avenue nearing Fifth Street; and 58 mph on Fifth Street.

While the city could take various approaches to reducing speed and encouraging automobile safety, including more stop signs and strategically places signs, Mathwig said, the burden still falls on individual drivers.

“It’s human failure that causes the crash,” Mathwig said. “Regardless, if we put up a million stop signs, we’re still going to have the crashes … but we still have to try.”

Ward 5 Councilor Sara Miller, a Meeker County Sheriff’s Office deputy, also questioned whether more controlled intersections were the answer.

“We honestly have a lot of issues in town,” Miller said, including many uncontrolled intersections. “But we can’t put a stop sign at every single place that needs one.”

Miller said she also thought it important to support the local police, in answer to the comment that they were not monitoring traffic before and after schools.

“When you don’t see them out there … there are a lot of other things they’re responding to that might remove them from that (traffic) responsibility,” she said.