Did city of Janesville’s decision to remove street lights from intersection lead to spike in crashes?

JANESVILLE, Wis. – Rock County residents are asking the city of Janesville to reconsider its decision to remove street lights from an intersection near downtown following a spike in accidents.

The street lights at the intersection of Court and Jackson Street were removed after the city made several changes to traffic patterns in 2018.

“The infrastructure is quite older,” said Janesville Director of Public Works Paul Woodard. “We would have had to replace those signals if we wanted to keep them after the conversion was done.”

The price tag to replace the lights? Roughly $250,000 an intersection. Woodard says the cost was not a factor.

“They weren’t needed anymore,” he said.

Not everyone agreed the lights weren’t needed. City council member Paul Williams, who drives a tow truck for a living, spoke out against the plan to remove the lights.

“I was concerned that that intersection should be at the minimum a four-way stop,” he said.  “Or continue to have stop and go lights at it.”

Williams said the layout of the intersection could lead to an increased number of crashes should no lights be there.

“By the time you get a look at the traffic going west, I was concerned it was going to be too late,” he said.

Yet, the lights were removed and replaced by two-way stop. Following the change, accidents have risen from two in 2017, to 17 in 2019.

Karen Lisser’s car was totaled following a crash last fall.

“I was driving on Court Street and there wasn’t anyone at the intersection as I was approaching it,” she said. “The guy flew through and hit me, right back at the drivers side door.”

 

Karen Lisser was sent to the hospital following a crash this past fall.

 

Lisser went to the hospital, where a police officer told her had she not worn her seat belt, she would have likely been thrown from the car.

“I lost a brother to a car accident,” she said. “So you always know that could happen.”

Lisser was one of a half-dozen people to be injured in a crash at Jackson and Court in 2019. Data indicates most accidents took place during the middle of the day.

Woodard says there’s no way to tell for sure if stoplights would have made a difference.

“If you had a traffic signal in, in some cases, those accidents still would have happened,” he said “You need to take a look at each accident and see, would a signal have helped that situation or not?”

Lisser says she’s determined to see a change.

“What is it going to take? Someone dying in the intersection?,” she said.

Woodard said the city has plans to create a safety audit committee as early as this spring, which could include city engineers, police and an outside consultant. He says the group will analyze crash data and determine which steps should be taken.

He says it’s also a possibility a closed bridge on Milwaukee Street could have led to an increase in traffic flow on nearby Court Street.

“If you see an intersection that has repeated accidents time and time again, then it may not be the fault of the driver,” Williams said.