Along with a president, Mariemont voters will decide on a controversial stop sign referendum

Residents say it's needed; officials disagree.
Posted at 8:00 AM, Nov 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-05 08:38:13-04

MARIEMONT, Ohio - A national debt of $20 trillion. Dysfunction in Congress. A U.S. Supreme Court vacancy. Global warming. Fracking. Police shootings.

And then there’s the three-way stop at Mount Vernon and Emery in Mariemont, the suburb outside Cincinnati that looks like the backdrop for a Norman Rockwell painting.

Besides helping determine who will lead the country for at least the next four years, voters countywide will cast ballots Nov. 8 on a long list of local issues.

Under debate in Mariemont (population 3,400) is Issue 26, one of 53 ballot questions in Hamilton County on Election Day.

Issue 26 will determine whether a traffic engineer will be hired to do a formal study each time the village wants to install a stop sign. That study must show that the new stop sign meets criteria spelled out in the Ohio Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

Mayor Dan Policastro and other village officials are opposed, arguing that voters should “Nix 26!” because it’s unnecessary and expensive.

“This is also saying that the council can’t make a decision without having to go outside (to a traffic engineer),” Policastro said. “And it’s saying that our police chief and our engineer can’t make a decision and that’s dead wrong.”

Policastro said all six council members, as well as Police/Fire Chief Rick Hines and Village Engineer Chris Ertel, share his opposition to Issue 26.

A sign in support of Issue 26 in Mariemont

“Our main concern is now and always will be SAFETY,” says a one-page flier that was paid for by an organization called Citizens Against Issue 26. Policastro, Hines, Ertel and council members Eric Marsland and Dennis Wolter all have signature lines at the bottom of the flier.

“We want to be as safe as we can be and proactive for our children and for our senior citizens,” Policastro said.

Proponents of the initiative contend they just want the village to follow Ohio law and traffic control device standards that are used statewide.

One point both sides agree on is that the fairly recent decision to create a three-way stop at the T-intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and Emery Lane is ground zero for the stop-sign controversy.

Mount Vernon is one of the primary east-west corridors that moves traffic through the village’s residential area. Emery is perhaps a quarter-block long, a cul-de-sac, with six homes.

The first street west of Emery is Mound Way, where Linda and Robert Bartlett live. Both grew up in Mariemont and, along with neighbor Grant Karnes, led the effort to get the Issue 26 on the ballot.

The Bartletts said studies have shown that installing stop signs that aren’t based on engineering data doesn’t guarantee that a street or an intersection will be safe.

“There’s no policy here. It’s (a decision to install a sign) random and haphazard,” Linda Bartlett said. “I’ve had people tell me that they never stop at that stop sign – they roll (through) it.”

Robert Bartlett agreed.

“When there are inconsistencies throughout the village and drivers don’t feel that the signs are valid or warranted, they don’t take (the signs) seriously,” he said. “They ignore it or they roll it.

“When they see a stop sign, then they assume that people will stop. But if a car doesn’t stop it creates the potential for an accident to occur,” he said.

In the last five or six years, more than 20 new stop signs have been installed in the village, Bartlett said, adding some make perfect sense while others don’t.

“I have been told that there are six more requests for stop signs and we need to get it done right,” he said.

Policastro disagreed, saying only six new stop signs have been installed in that time period. But he did agree that there are about a half dozen requests pending for additional stop signs.

Bartlett also said he thinks the village may be vulnerable in the event of a lawsuit if there’s clear evidence that Mariemont didn’t adhere to state guidelines.

“The signs could be making it more dangerous rather than safer,” Linda Bartlett said.

The mayor warned that a traffic study for a stop sign probably would cost at least $2,000. Supporters of Issue 26 said they found one firm that estimated a study would cost between $300 and $500 - while three other firms said the price tag would be between $1,000 and $2,000.

Policastro doubted that any study would cost $500 or less.

“You can’t get an engineer to answer the phone for $500,” Policastro said.