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Wheels & Heels: Dangerous Intersections

Let caution be your guide when traveling through the intersection of Commerce and Sycamore Street.

Living near the corner of Commerce Drive and Sycamore Street, Beverly Herbert is used to the tell-tale screech of brakes and the crunch of metal.

“I’ll be sitting here and I hear it,” said Herbert, who lives on Sycamore. “The crashing of cars. Another fender bender.”

Last month on St. Patrick’s Day, – despite a no right-turn-on-red sign – and clipped a Nissan Pathfinder, flipping it upside down. The Pathfinder driver, complaining of injuries and suffering from shock, was taken by ambulance to DeKalb Medical Center, according to the police report.

It's a dangerous intersection, according to Herbert and other nearby residents. Decatur Assistant Police Chief Keith Lee said eight accidents occurred at the intersection since March 1, 2008.

"Statistically, I wouldn’t rate it as an intersection with a high number of accidents," Lee said.

But that’s not to say that the city isn’t concerned about the safety of the intersection. 

Decatur City Engineer John Madajewski says the city has an ongoing contract with Grey-Calhoun to monitor traffic signals in the city.  The city will ask the contractor to “send someone out to take a look to see what is going on” at the intersection.  

All traffic signals in the city are technically under the purview of the county, Madajewski said. Five years ago, the city launched a signal timing project to adjust the timing of 39 signals in the city. In theory, a driver traveling at the posted speed limits should be able to travel through the city in an efficient way, i.e., without being stopped by every traffic light.  Tweaks are still coming.

One thing that helped at this intersection is prohibiting right turns on red from Sycamore, since turning cars can’t see cars heading north on Commerce from the direction of Fellini’s. It's a blind corner.

Cocky drivers sometimes ignore those signs, just as the driver did on March 17, who got a ticket for "failture to obey (a) traffic control device."

Herbert, who calls the intersection dangerous, is surprised there haven’t been more crashes.

“A lot of people cross the street with their kids going to preschool at the Methodist church,” said Herbert.

Some parents park on Sycamore and walk across Commerce to the school. There are a lot of kids on bikes during the day, some traveling to the library or Decatur Recreation Center.

Driving through the intersection at around 9 a.m. early this week, it's easy to experience the hazards at the intersection. The line of cars waiting to drop off children at Decatur United Methodist’s preschool blocked one lane of Sycamore completely. Those idling cars prevented traffic from moving through.

Then there's the timing of the light. Another resident on Sycamore said the light just takes so long to change at Commerce. By comparison, the light at Sycamore and Church changes too quickly. Due to the pedestrian traffic from Decatur Square, usually only one car from Sycamore turning onto Church can get through before the light changes again.

While the city continues looking at ways to improve the intersection, nothing can replace motorist caution and obeying traffic rules -- especially at this intersection.

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