Gus Johnson Residents Ride Stop Sign Approval | Local News


Residents of Gus Johnson Plaza said they couldn’t get momentum a decade ago for their efforts to add intersection stop signs outside their Mankato apartment building.

City staff seemed adamant when a fix was requested. A visit to a city council meeting turned into a dead end. The road just seemed to be closed to any changes at Fourth and Washington streets.

But for Gus Johnson residents like Monica Stensby and Georganne Kramer, the worry never stopped.

Their seven-story house has just over 100 units dedicated to people with disabilities and/or whose birth date goes back more than 62 years. Stensby and Kramer are mobile, but they were concerned about their neighbors inside and outside their building, who weren’t always adept at avoiding high-speed vehicles.

The problem worsened with traffic control changes 13 years ago that left drivers on Washington Street without stop signs as they crossed Fourth and Broad streets.

Stensby remembers unsuccessfully trying to persuade a resident of Gus Johnson to watch cars driving through Washington after getting off the city bus. Focusing on traffic just wasn’t the man’s style.

“It’s focused on looking (around) not traffic,” she said. “I was worried about him”

For Kramer, it was the concern not only of residents of Gus Johnson, but also of residents of the even larger River Bluff apartments a block east, of children and families living throughout the neighborhood, of bikers and skateboarders racing down the hill of Washington Street.

The intersection of Washington and Broad is a neighborhood hub to many destinations, including the Washington Park playground, nearby churches, the neighborhood convenience store, Joseph’s Liquor, and Old Town shopping and dining. The 2009 change, which accompanied Broad’s move from one-way to two-way traffic, added stop signs on Broad but removed them from Washington.

“We didn’t like the change right away,” Kramer said of the removal of stop signs from Washington Street.

She thinks that about four years ago she and Richard Reisdorf asked for a four-way stop at a town council meeting, but nothing happened.

It has remained a talking point at Gus Johnson even over the years. Then came this summer when everything changed with remarkable speed.

“I give credit to Jenn,” Kramer said.

Residents of Gus Johnson were thinking of starting an official petition for a four-way shutdown and asked Jenn Jones for advice. Jones is the Advocacy Manager for the SMILES Center for Independent Living and helps coordinate Citizens For Accessibility meetings, including one at Gus Johnson.

Jones asked SMILES Community Education Manager Mike Lagerquist to find out about the petition process. City Clerk Renae Kopischke told Lagerquist that Deputy City Engineer Michael McCarty would be the person to contact for that information.

McCarty called Lagerquist even before Lagerquist could call McCarty. And McCarty explained that there isn’t really a petition process for traffic rule changes. The group could work to get an agenda from the city council, but the matter would simply be referred to the public works department anyway.

McCarty offered a shortcut.

“He agreed to speak at the CFA meeting to Gus Johnson on July 26,” Lagerquist said.

Residents pleaded their case that night, and by the time Lagerquist left the meeting, associate civil engineer Jon Nelson was already standing at the intersection, watching traffic and taking notes. An official traffic count immediately followed with cameras placed at the intersection to allow a count of walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users.

“I don’t think they’ve ever looked at foot traffic (before),” Jones said. “That’s when they saw there was a need.

“It wasn’t until days after (the meeting) that we were informed that the intersection would become a four-way stop,” Lagerquist added.

There are good reasons why cities don’t routinely put up stop signs to slow traffic, McCarty said. Studies have shown that an excessive number of stop signs – especially when they are not justified by obvious safety concerns – cause drivers to be less vigilant about obeying the signs.

The Gus Johnson case, however, was different.

“We had extreme foot traffic…maybe 200 people using this intersection a day,” he said.

With the numbers in hand, McCarty steered the request down a few bureaucratic avenues — an Aug. 9 traffic advisory committee meeting and an Aug. 22 city council meeting. Almost immediately after council approval, the new stop signs were installed, topped with orange flags.

Speaking about the process recently, the Gus Johnson band’s satisfaction was evident on their faces. They loved the help from SMILES, the responsiveness of the city, the sense of empowerment, and most importantly, their new four-way stop.

“I feel super more confident and safe at this intersection,” Kramer said.

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