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Silver Bay intersection prompts class action

Lake County highway engineer talks to Rick Frericks' sixth grade class at William Kelley Schools about how to make a dangerous intersection in Silver Bay a little safer. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)1 / 2
Sixth graders at William Kelley Schools brainstorm why drivers ignore the stop sign at the intersection of Penn Boulevard and Edison Boulevard and potential ways to get drivers to obey the signs. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)2 / 2

Rick Frericks was walking home from work earlier this fall at William Kelley Schools in Silver Bay. As he passed the Lake Superior School District bus garage, a driver failed to stop at a stop sign at Penn and Edison boulevards.

Over the next couple of weeks, Frericks said he saw drivers fly past the stop sign at nearly 30 mph a few more times. He realized the intersection at the edge of the Silver Bay city limits was a problem.

Frericks asked his sixth-grade class if they had seen anything similar. Nearly three-fourths of his class raised their hands.

"Two kids I know live on that street," Fisher Betzler said Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Before Fisher was even finished talking, another student piped up and said he also lives near the intersection.

Concerned about the dangers to students, other pedestrians and motorists, Frericks planned a lesson for his students: They would take action and voice their concerns at a Silver Bay City Council meeting Nov. 6.

School was canceled that day, however, so his students couldn't attend.

What's more, the roads are regulated by Lake County. All the council can do is make the Silver Bay Police Department aware of the issue so it could increase patrols in the area.

Fortunately, Lake County highway engineer Krysten Foster was at the meeting to talk to the council. Foster offered to come in and make an exercise of the issue by helping the kids craft some potential solutions to the problem. They would be presented to the Silver Bay City Council and the Lake County Board of Commissioners.

Foster came to the class to talk about the different options and Silver Bay Police Chief Doug Frericks came along to help answer kids' questions and offer students a law enforcement perspective on the problem.

The students broke into groups after Foster introduced herself and explained her job managing all the aspects of the county's roads and highways. Foster asked them to brainstorm why the problem was happening.

Students talked with each other about the cause: Northshore Mining employees getting off work and absentmindedly blowing through the intersection on their way home; tourists anxious to get through town and even people taking a "no cop, no stop" attitude while driving.

Groups also talked about the dangers of the intersection, including the risk to life and limb as well as the property costs of potential crashes. Students also came up with different solutions that would alert drivers to the upcoming stop sign like rumble strips, speed bumps, "stop ahead" signs, larger stop signs and even signs that light up and make noise.

Foster and Chief Frericks floated among the groups to provide guidance.

When the class came back together, the students talked about the problems with speed bumps and rumble strips: noise, potential damage to vehicles and, most importantly, how both can be concealed by snow and ice in the winter.

When students suggested an illuminated sign similar to the sign at the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 3, just north of Betty's Pies, Foster informed the students that a sign of that type carries a $15,000 price tag.

"There have been multiple fatal accidents at that intersection," Foster said. "Part of my job is to think about the risk an intersection has and the cost of different solutions."

Foster also pointed out the problems of placing a flashing stop sign in a residential neighborhood instead of on a high-traffic road.

"If you live near that intersection, would you want a stop sign flashing in your bedroom window all night," Foster asked.

Chief Frericks asked what the kids thought of potentially removing all the stop signs at the four-way stop and talked about the dangers of too many signs. Sometimes, when drivers are inundated with too many signs on the roads they stop paying attention or simply ignore the signs they do see.

Chief Frericks also told class to make sure the students let the Lake County Board of Commissioners and the Silver Bay City Council know they had talked with him about the problem before bringing it up at a meeting.

"I guarantee you the first thing they're going to ask you is if you've talked to me before you came to the board," he said.

At the end of the lesson, Foster said she would recommend to the county board a double stop sign coming into town and a stop ahead sign to alert drivers leaving town about the upcoming intersection.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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