WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Residents near two Sedgwick County intersections are asking for something to be done to prevent crashes.
Wednesday afternoon, they got some answers during a Sedgwick County news conference about the intersections of 21st Street and 167th Street, west of Wichita and 79th Street South and Greenwich Road, east of Derby.
21st Street and 167th Street
On Wednesday, a concerned resident emailed KSN News about the 21st Street and 167th Street location. She said that she and her neighbors believe a stoplight would prevent more deaths and injuries there, but they have been battling Sedgwick County Commissioners to get one installed.
On Tuesday morning, the intersection of 21st Street and 167th Street was the site of a crash involving several vehicles. KSN received a video of the crash, however, the injuries weren’t serious.
Over the last few years, the intersection of 21st Street and 167th Street has been in the spotlight.
Off-duty Wichita Police Department Officer Stacey Woodson was killed after being hit by a drunk driver in April 2018. His son, Braeden, later died at the hospital from injuries in the crash. Shortly after, in 2018, a study was commissioned and showed no changes were recommended at the intersection. There are stop signs and a flashing light on 167th to let traffic know to stop.
During the Wednesday news conference, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office said there have been 50 crashes at the intersection over the past 10 years. Of those, 11 were injury crashes, three were fatality crashes.
Lynn Packer, Sedgwick County Public Works interim director, said the last official study of the intersection was in 2019. At the time, the study indicated that no changes were warranted.
But Packer said the County has added safety features and will be adding more as they wait for the results of a new study. There is a placard on the stop sign warning drivers on 167th Street that 21st Street traffic does not stop. There’s a flashing red beacon. The County added reflectors to the double posts on the stop signs.
Also, this week, the County will add “Stop Ahead” signs on 167th Street and will put intersection warning signs on 21st Street. The County is also working with Evergy to add lighting to the intersection, however, the sheriff’s office says most of the crashes at the corner are during daylight.
Packer said any other improvements will have to wait until after the study is finished.
“We’re engineers. We’re going to look at the data. We’re going to look at what’s out there,” he said. “We’ll be very deliberate and very calculated with making sure the appropriate recommendations are made, and we’re not going to do anything that’s going to make the situation worse.”
County Commissioner David Dennis, who represents that area, said human error is behind a lot of the crashes.
“People are running that stop sign at 167th and 21st Street, and they’re T-boning someone else. They’re not stopping. How do we get them to stop?” he asked.
While some have suggested putting a traffic signal at the intersection, Dennis is not sure that would work.
“If you look at the accidents that have happened there, 167th has a stop sign on both sides. It’s got a ‘Stop Ahead’ sign on both ends, and it’s got a 48-inch stop sign. It’s got a big red beacon … that’s flashing all the time,” he said. “If you can’t see a ‘Stop Ahead’ sign, if you can’t see a 48-inch stop sign, if you can’t see a beacon that’s ‘this’ big … is really a stoplight going to make the difference?”
Greenwich and 79th South
Residents east of Derby believe the County should do something about the corner of Greenwich 79th South. There was a crash there Tuesday night. The sheriff’s office says someone heading south ran the stop sign on Greenwich and hit a westbound car on 79th Street. The person who was southbound was critically injured.
Delena Shelton told KSN News that her husband broke both of his legs in a crash at the intersection in December. She believes guardrails are the answer.
Commissioner Jim Howell, who represents the area, pointed to some improvements that were made in 2015, the same year a woman died near the intersection. He said the stop signs are the maximum size, there is a flashing red beacon, and signs warn drivers before they get to the intersection that “cross traffic does not stop.”
The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office said there have been 42 crashes at the intersection over the past 10 years. Of those, 15 were injury crashes, and one was a fatality.
The County engineer said they have not done a formal study on the intersection yet, just studied crash data.
“I do know that we have increased the size of the stop sign above … the recommended size into a 48-inch sign back in 2012, and we added flashing beacons to that stop sign in early 2018,” Packer said.
He said that any additions will be based on federal standards.
“At the end of the day, it’s just really good to have good data, and I appreciate the fact that we have expert staff that helps us with that data,” he said. “They will be looking at this intersection specifically for, as an analytical, scientific look at this, at whether or not improvements are necessary.
He said it is important not to jump to conclusions.
“I’ve learned in my eight years here on the County Commission what seems to be politically the right answer sometimes is actually the wrong answer,” Howell said.
No easy answers
Packer said that, in general, the public really likes to see traffic signals go up until they’re stuck at a red light.
And he said traffic signals are not always the right answer.
“When you prematurely put in traffic signals, for example, you are most definitely going to be increasing the number of crashes at that intersection,” Packer said.
However, he said the crashes would probably be less severe because they would be rear-end crashes.
“We can point to just about every signalized intersection in the county and tell you that the crash rate at that county, at that intersection, increased once that stoplight went in or the traffic signal went in,” he said.
He said stop signs often have the same result.
“When you suddenly go out there and put in a stop sign where one hasn’t existed for their entire life, it takes, the human factor is part of it, comes into play,” Packer said. “They’re not looking for it. They’re not expecting to see it, and I guarantee you people who had no intention of blowing by that sign are going to do it because they don’t expect it.”
Commissioner Dennis said he has asked about the possibility of a roundabout at 21st Street and 167th Street. He said Wichita drivers are getting familiar with roundabouts, and they don’t have to stop for them.
However, he said Public Works told him it takes a lot more property. The County would have to acquire farmland on all four corners. Plus, he said it would cost between $300,000 and $500,000 to install a roundabout.
“The lead time on that, minimum, is three years, probably five before that could happen,” Dennis said. “So we really have to start solving some of these issues immediately because we can’t have these number of accidents continue.”
While the County waits for study results, the sheriff’s office has instructed patrol deputies to increase enforcement in the areas.