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Downtown Mitchell moving away from traffic lights, as city officials say stop signs will remain

“A big thing is pedestrian movement. It will allow a safe scenario for them to cross the street,” Schroeder said.

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A vehicle stops at an intersection at 3rd Avenue and Main Street where stops signs now serve as the traffic control signals.
Sam Fosness / Republic
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MITCHELL — Stop signs in downtown Mitchell are here to stay.

What was initially thought to be a temporary replacement of traffic lights in downtown Mitchell has turned permanent.

The city replaced the series of traffic lights throughout Main Street during the road construction projects this summer. While most of the construction around downtown is complete, the stop signs haven’t moved, leaving drivers wondering if the traffic lights are gone for good.

Public Works Director Joe Schroeder said the transition to stop signs was a move that aims to enhance pedestrian movement and produce a more calming effect on drivers.

“A big thing is pedestrian movement. It will allow a safe scenario for them to cross the street,” Schroeder said. “Stop lights at every intersection aren’t necessarily warranted either.”

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The Main Street intersections at Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth avenues will keep the four-way stop signs in place. The traffic lights at First and Seventh avenue intersections will stay in place, according to city officials.

Mitchell isn’t the first city of its size in the state to rely on stop signs for traffic control in the downtown corridor. Brookings is another that uses stop signs in the downtown district.

Enhancing pedestrian movement in the downtown corridor is something that city leaders have been focused on in recent years. The addition of the Corn Palace that came with one of Main Street’s first stop sign changes at the Sixth Avenue and Main Street intersection was partially intended to encourage more drivers to get out of their vehicles and walk around the area, which typically increases chances of nearby shops walking inside businesses.

Schroeder said the traffic calming effect from the stop signs should allow drivers to better scan the area, which could increase chances at Main Street storefront browsing.

For the city, another added benefit is reducing costs to keep the lights on. Stop signs also eliminate routine maintenance work.

While there are cost benefits to the city, how will the transition away from traffic lights to stop signs impact traffic safety at some of Mitchell’s busiest intersections?

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Although there isn’t concrete data showing whether stop signs or traffic lights are better at reducing crashes, Schroeder said the switch shouldn’t have much of an impact on traffic safety since the intersections have had traffic control signals for decades. Only time will tell whether the switch to stop signs has any effect on traffic safety.

“Stop control traffic signals already existed in the area for years and years. That’s what makes the switch less of a change for drivers and pedestrians,” Schroeder said.

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While the city is committed to the change, it’s been met with mixed reactions among some downtown business owners.

The Diamond Store owners Bryan and April Rickel are on board with the switch to stop signs, as they say it’s helpful for pedestrians navigating through downtown to shop.

“We like the stop signs. The only problem was when there was a mix of stop signs and lights during construction, people were confused and blew through some of the stop signs. Now that it’s all the same, it has been good,” said Bryan.

Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said he’s heard from some downtown property owners who are opposed to moving away from the traffic lights.

For now, city leaders say the stop signs aren’t going anywhere. However, Schroeder noted there could be adjustments in the future.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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