TUPELO – In the two years since stop signs replaced traffic signals at four downtown intersections, accidents at those locations have more than doubled.
And at one intersection – Green and Elliot streets – the accident rate jumped sevenfold, according to statistics from the Tupelo Police Department.
“I’ve seen at least 12 accidents since they took down the traffic lights,” said Lawrence Deas, an attorney with an office on the corner of Jefferson and Church streets. “There is a near-accident every day. I sit here every day and hear the horns blare all the time.”
In the 21⁄2 years before the switch, Deas’ intersection logged seven accidents. In the two years afterward it had 17.
“I even wrote a letter to each member of the City Council, to the mayor, the Public Works director, to everybody I could think of,” Deas said, “warning that they needed to do something before somebody got seriously hurt or worse.”
The changed after the Tupelo Traffic Committee unanimously voted on the matter Aug. 14, 2007. Members did so based on the recommendation of then-Public Works Director John Pittman, who wanted to improve traffic flow.
But their exact directives weren’t followed.
Minutes show the committee recommended replacing the traffic signals with four-way stops at Jefferson and Church and Jefferson and Broadway.
Instead, they got two-way stops with Jefferson as a through street.
The committee also recommended a three-way stop at Jefferson and Madison, but that intersection kept its signal.
Only the intersections at Green and Elliot and Green and Magazine were changed according to the committee’s recommendation. Both got two-way stops with Green being a through street. Both also saw an increase in accidents.
Tupelo Water & Light Manager Johnny Timmons, who handles traffic signals, said he understood the committee’s recommendations differently than what’s reflected in the minutes.
“I always understood that they wanted Jefferson and Green to be the primary arteries,” he said, “so we didn’t want to shut those down with stop signs.”
Timmons said he has personally received three complaints about safety at those intersections. He said he’ll take the police statistics back to the Traffic Committee and lobby for a change.
The problem, according to another downtown attorney, is that most people assume those intersections are four-way stops. Either motorists on Green and Jefferson stop when there’s no stop signs, or those stopped on the smaller streets assume the other motorists must also stop and they’ll pull out in front of them.
“I have seen probably two wrecks there in the last year, one of them was just the other day,” said Gary Carnathan, whose office is near Broadway and Jefferson. “I have seen probably five or six what I call squalling the tires, putting on the brakes and stopping before a collision. If you pull out on Broadway, you’re going to get nailed.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal