Proposed Mt. Airy traffic light concerns nearby neighbors

Neighbors near the intersection of West Mt. Airy Avenue and Emlen Street are concerned that the city’s plans to install a stoplight at the busy corner will do more harm than good.

Those fears were aired during a Monday night meeting, organized by West Mt. Airy Neighbors, with Streets Department officials.

Jeff Hammond, who lives on the corner of Emlen Street and West Mt. Airy Avenue, said that the corner’s infamous traffic problems were solved after the city installing a four-way stop there six months ago.

He’s worried that a stoplight will make drivers less attentive when traveling through an intersection, he said, is notorious for accidents.

More stop signs, less accidents

The intersection was formerly a two-way stop, with stop signs on Emlen Street, but none on West Mt. Airy Avenue.

Since there’s a large hill at the intersection, Hammond said it was dangerous to go through the intersection.”You’d literally play frogger,” said Hammond of turning off of or going straight through West Mt. Airy while not being able to see down Emlen. “You’d go out and you’d gun it.”

In the 11 years he’s lived at the corner, Hammond said he’s witnessed various accidents—some of them quite serious.

“I work from home a lot, so the sound of screeching metal and breaks was a sound I heard often,” he said. “The home [across the street from his] has been hit twice due to traffic.”

Accidents, however, seemingly ceased when the city put in two additional stop signs, making the intersection a four-way stop. The signs were added because drivers sought a new route after a major water main construction project left segments of nearby Allens Lane closed.

“It’s been a dream,” he said. “When the school buses are dropping off the kids, people get impatient that they can’t come up to the intersection [but] that’s the only time I hear car horns.”

Other neighbors in attendance agreed that the intersection has improved.

Traffic light concerns

A traffic light, Hammond and his wife Marcie said would make them uneasy about their two children, aged seven and 10, crossing the intersection.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable with [my kids] crossing as much as I do with the stop sign because [drivers] will try to turn right on red if they can,” Marcie Hammond said. “Even if they aren’t supposed to, they’ll still try to turn right on red if they don’t see anybody coming.”

Commuters from Chestnut Hill or outside the city commonly use two routes, Hammond said. The first is a route from Germantown Avenue to Cresheim Valley Drive to Elmen Street to Lincoln Dr. The second is from Germantown Avenue to Allens Lane to Lincoln Drive.

Jeff Hammond said he worries commuters going his way instead of continuing down Lincoln Drive towards Chestnut Hill because the light may make things faster.

“I’ll have traffic sitting, at all times, in front of my house,” he said.

A six-month reprieve

Charles Denny, assistant chief traffic engineer with Streets , met with neighbors and said the department will look more closely into the situation.

Denny said the traffic signal isn’t a necessity and that it was proposed as a solution because of the corner’s history of accidents.

He noted that there hasn’t been any data to suggest, either way, if the stop signs currently at the intersection are making the corner safer.

“If there is no problem, we don’t have to fix it,” Denny told neighbors. “We just don’t have enough data after [the stop signs were installed].”

Denny promised neighbors that the Streets Department would look at data and wait six months before making a decision.

Installing a stoplight, he said, would cost between $20,00 and $30,000.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.