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Stop SignsPublic Works

General Information: Stop Signs

Among the many requests for signs and markings installations, the Transportation Operations Division receives numerous requests for the installation of stop signs. Each request is studied to determine whether or not installing stop sign is the appropriate safety measure.

We have found that most stop sign requests are generated by citizens with a genuine concern for traffic and pedestrian safety, who believe that the installation of stop signs would solve many traffic safety problems.

Unfortunately, the solution to some of these traffic safety problems is not always that simple. In some cases, the installation of stop signs may create a situation that is more of a problem than already exists. In these cases, other solutions may be more feasible.

What is the purpose of a stop sign?

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regulates the installation of stop signs (for details of this regulation, click the link to Section 3 here) for the primary purpose of assigning right-of-way at intersections. They are not used as speed control devices nor as means to reduce cut-through traffic by inconveniencing motorists.

Why wouldn't stop signs along our street help to slow traffic?

Studies have shown that motorists tend to accelerate to higher speeds to make up for the time lost at stop signs. Vehicle speeds will decrease within 200 feet of an intersection, but their speeds will remain unchanged or increase between intersections.

What harm would another stop sign do?

When stop signs are installed where the need to control right-of-way is questionable, there would be an increase in traffic delay and congestion with little or no gain in safety. In fact, safety is sometimes reduced. The number of rear-end accidents sometimes increases and pedestrian accidents may increase because of a false sense of security provided by the stop sign. Excessive use of stop signs tends to frustrate and anger motorists, who may divert to less suitable streets. If the motorist consistently observes that the cross street traffic is light or non-existent, the stop sign's installation will be questioned by the motorist, and he/she will frequently roll through or run the stop sign, thus reducing the credibility of stop signs. In some cases, this can occur up to 25% of the time.

Other Costs and Negative Effects

Although the physical installation of a stop sign is relatively inexpensive, studies have shown that there are "associated" costs involved which must also be considered:

  • The sign must be maintained after installation.
  • Extra fuel is consumed when vehicles stop (or slow down) and then re-accelerate-24 hours per day, whether or not any other vehicles are present. This extra fuel consumption may appear to be insignificant until we consider the millions of vehicles each year that will be affected by the stop sign.
  • Extra fuel consumption also leads to increased air pollution - especially in the immediate vicinity of the sign. Stopping 5,000 vehicles per day generates 15 tons of additional pollutants per year.
  • Extra mechanical wear to the millions of vehicles each year that will have to brake to a stop, and then re-accelerate at this location.
  • Residents living adjacent to the stop sign locations also experience increased noise pollution caused by vehicles constantly shifting into lower gears and accelerating from a stop sign.

The major criteria utilized in determining whether or not a stop sign should be installed are:

  • Accident history at that intersection
  • Visibility conditions
  • Vehicular and pedestrian conflicts
  • Unusual condition i.e., Any facility that generates an unusually high concentration of traffic volume of vehicles and/or pedestrians;
  • regular use of the intersection by school age children, elderly or handicapped pedestrians;
  • speeding motorists;
  • unique geometrics;
  • Visible signs of potential traffic problems, e.g., skid marks, evidence of fixed object collisions.

If a stop sign is not appropriate, what can be done to improve the safety at our Intersection?

There may be alternative solutions to the problem at your intersection. Trees or bushes can be trimmed or parking restrictions can be installed near the intersection to help increase visibility. It is the owner's responsibility to trim any privately-owned shrubbery obstructing any public signs. Police enforcement can improve safety. Installation of Interactive Radar Speed Display signs may prove to be an effective solution too.

Generally, the best ways to insure traffic safety are to educate motorists and pedestrians to be cautious at all times and to enforce traffic laws.

Last Updated: May 15, 2013