Street signage requested at recent Council meeting

Tammy Chamley | Editor

After the tragic bicycle vs. motor vehicle accident near 5th Street and Orleans Avenue on May 25, community members raised concern and requested to be heard at the recent City Council meeting held Monday, June 6. The City of Dell Rapids received approximately 25 requests from Dell Rapids residents to place the issue of street signage and street safety on the June 6th Council meeting agenda for consideration and discussion.

The residents of Dell Rapids expressed safety concerns, not only with the site of the accident, but several intersections in Dell Rapids. The majority of the locations were in the older parts of town. 

Mayor Earley expressed sincere condolences to the family of Zander Heathcote at the start of the discussion. “On Wednesday, May 25 Mark and Rebecca Heathcote suffered the loss of their son, Zander,” Mayor Earley said. “I, our Council Members and City staff want to express our sorrow at the loss of Zander. We can offer no words, expressions or thoughts that can ease or equal the loss you have suffered. Your family, your faith community, your friends and members of our community have gathered to provide you support. Many people have been reminded of a loss in their own families and can understand your loss and how you feel. Hopefully, our conversation here this evening can help us all move forward and do our best in memory of Zander. Following this tragic loss, we received many messages of concern from Dell Rapids citizens. You asked that our City Council consider and discuss safety concerns, especially as it relates to street signage, bicycle safety programs, sidewalks and street intersections…”

City Administrator Justin Weiland also expressed his condolences to the family. Weiland acknowledged during the City Council meeting that our community is growing and with that comes changing traffic patterns and dynamics. The City will continue to analyze where potential safety issues lie across our community. Since the incident occurred, City staff has reached out to KLJ Engineering, the engineering firm that conducted the Master Transportation plan in 2019.  The City has requested a proposal for KLJ to conduct a traffic signage analysis of the core area. This study could serve as a tool for the Council to make determinations on appropriate signage at intersections deemed as problematic or unsafe. 

With the opportunity for visitors to be heard in regards to this matter, several community members came forth to speak at the podium. Becky Heathcote, mother of Zander, was the first to address the Council. “It has been 11 days since I have got to talk to my son,” Heathcote began. “I know you guys can’t put stop signs up overnight because if you could I would already have one down there.” Heathcote acknowledged the memorandum provided by the City and the trails that are in place in Dell Rapids. “The unfortunate part is those trails don’t take those kids to school,” she said. “Those trails don’t take those kids to their friend’s house. As much as those trails are very important, my daughter won’t ride her bike to school because part of the way between 5th and 15th on Clark there is no sidewalks. There is no crosswalk at 10th, I understand that is a thru street because of the hospital. I would challenge all of you to go ride your bike on a school morning and not almost get hit by a high school kid driving that road.” Heathcote requested a stop sign, yield sign or even a no parking sign to reduce a blind intersection on 5th and Orleans. Along with that intersection, Heathcote mentioned several other locations throughout town that needs attention. “Be aware, roll up to the corner, and see how blind it really is,” she added. 

Some other locations that were discussed included 7th Street and Clark Avenue as well as areas near the cemetery during T-ball games as well as intersections near the schools. 

Dell Rapids resident, Sandy Peckenpaugh discussed the obstacles in the older parts of Dell Rapids that make visibility more difficult of pedestrians or cyclists. “On every single corner in the center part of town there are trees within five feet,” Peckenpaugh explained. “There are people planting large plants, there are cars parked. I understand we also can’t put signs but we can cut trees down. We can make sure that there are ordinances that there are not plants or parking within a certain amount of the curb.”

In past years, the Dell Rapids Ambulance team has offered Safety Town to young children to learn bicycle safety and about other forms of transportation. Due to covid, this hasn’t been offered for the past couple of years. Unfortunately, the ambulance team no longer has the staffing available to bring this program back to the community. “We are looking into other options,” Mayor Earley added to the discussion for bike safety opportunities in Dell Rapids. 

The City plans to continue the discussion as well as work with the community to move forward with ideas and plans for Dell Rapids in regards to street safety, signage and bicycle safety measures.