Needing more time to think about potential solutions, the Laramie City Council narrowly voted 5-4 Tuesday to postpone its decision whether to approve or deny an application to restore parking spaces taken away from the intersection of Fourth and Clark streets last year.
Council members Charles McKinney, Erin O’Doherty, Jayne Pearce and Bryan Shuster voted no on the postponement.
The issue has been highly controversial this spring as it was considered by the city’s Traffic Commission. The intersection was converted into a two-way stop configuration to reflect updated traffic patterns after the demolition of the Clark Street Bridge.
However, installing the two-way stop configuration took away 10 parking spaces, which many of the residents have said is a huge issue.
“I would challenge you guys to put yourselves in our shoes,” said James Talbott, who owns a business on the intersection. “You lose your parking in front of your business, you lose your parking in front of your residences. … They own a house they can’t park in front of.”
During its meeting Tuesday, the City Council listened to a presentation from city engineers about why a two-way stop is the safest, most efficient configuration for the intersection based on federal guidelines for professional engineers.
The guidelines are more than just recommendations, but standards professional engineers must adhere to.
“For ethical and professional reasons, staff cannot support to install a situation within a municipal street right-of-way that will introduce less-than-optimal safety conditions,” City Engineer Eric Jaap said during the meeting. “Any change to the current design of the intersection cannot be endorsed by the Public Works Engineering Division.”
Members of the City Council asked if they can vote to install an all-way stop even though it doesn’t meet the warrants deemed necessary to do so by the national engineering standards. City Civil Engineer Eric Milliken said while that’s technically an option, staff “strongly, strongly” recommends against it since 6,000 vehicles travel across the intersection on Fourth Street every day.
“This is a classic two-way stop control intersection in every sense of the word,” Milliken said. “All of our engineering analysis has shown us that a two-way stop control is the most appropriate for the intersection in terms of operationally and in terms of safety.”
However, lowering the speed limit or an all-way stop are both potential ways to take away some of that yellow paint, which is what the residents are asking for. Many noted the intersection of Fourth and Clark streets is the only one on Fourth Street with the restrictive paint.
“They’ve got more paint on that street — 165 feet — than they’ve got on both sides of it when you go past Lewis Street all the way to Harney (Street),” said Richard Wilkins, who owns a house on the intersection. “Why? Now, are they going to paint those other streets? Are they going to take their parking, too?”
The City Council also asked why other, similar intersections along Fourth Street are without the same parking restrictions for the two-way stop. City staff explained that, much like developments, typically upgrades to intersections that are “grandfathered” into new codes or standards are updated on a case-by-case basis as other projects or updates to the area are initiated, like remodeling an old building or the removal of the traffic light on Fourth and Clark streets.
Despite the backlash to the two-way configuration, one member of the public commented in support of the city engineers. Richard Pribyl, a licensed professional engineer who recently moved back to Laramie from Alaska, said everything in the engineers’ presentation matched the processes and guidelines he uses every day as a professional transportation engineer himself.
He added while Laramie does have a parking issue, it also has a plethora of intersections with sightline issues.
“I really do feel for people whose parking is impacted — obviously, parking is an issue here,” Pribyl said. “I think this is a move in the right direction. I have strong personal beliefs in this, and you have to start making a change somewhere. Sight distance is a problem for this town.”
Additionally, Councilwoman Jayne Pearce expressed concerns about potential liability should the City Council decide to approve an intersection variation not recommended by city engineers.
City Attorney Bob Southard said while governmental entities in Wyoming have some protection from liability concerning road design, a vote to ignore engineering standards could be an “arrow in the plaintiff’s quiver” should someone decide to sue after an accident or injury.
“If we’re given national standards to follow and choose not to,” Southard added, “I’ve never seen a case like that in Wyoming. I don’t know where that ends up.”
Some of the council members, including Councilman Paul Weaver, said they weren’t sure how to vote since the issue is not very black-and-white.
“I’m not really sure that either recommended motion on our sheet here is the appropriate approach,” Weaver said. “I’m not certain I want to vote for either of these things because I don’t think they address the central issues, which is to pay attention to our professional staff and guidelines, but still try to do what the council’s job is, which is … to try to deal with two problems. We’ve got one, which is the disruption of the neighborhood and the businesses and the residents over there — which, from my perspective, is not okay and needs to be addressed — but I don’t think we can do it by simply saying, ‘We’re going back to the way it was.’”
Since the City Council has a rule in its code of conduct barring the introduction of new agenda items after 9:30 p.m., it didn’t have a chance to discuss potentially pausing Traffic Commission operations while the city reworks its section of code to better define the commission’s roles and responsibilities.
However, many on the City Council saw the potential need for the restructuring during the discussion about Fourth and Clark streets, since the Traffic Commission technically voted to deny the city’s recommendation to deny the residents’ application to reinstate parking around the intersection.
City staff said “the denial of the denial” wasn’t an express approval to restore the parking, which also caused the City Council some confusion on how to vote Tuesday evening.
The vote to postpone was not for city staff to continue to look at the issue, but for the council members to decide how they wanted to vote or if they wanted to recommend a different solution entirely.
The City Council postponed the item until the Sept. 3 regular meeting.