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Uncontrolled stop-sign intersections remain a mystery in Duluth

DCN Correspondent

The Woodland neighborhoods have no stoplights, and it takes about a mile and a half while traveling from Oxford Street to Calvary Road before a driver approaches a stop sign. Like many other neighborhoods in Duluth, there seem to be no stop signs at intersections directing traffic flow. Instead, the responsibility of stopping is rested on drivers.

“There’s a lot of waving,? said Steve Preston, owner of Falk’s Pharmacy in the Woodland area, speaking about the motions people give when allowing other drivers to pass at that particular intersection. “Everyone knows the person on the right has the right-a-way.?


Elysian Avenue and West Winona Street is one uncontrolled intersection in the Woodland area of Duluth. Drivers use hand gestures on one another, signaling who has the right-of-way. (Veronica Wilson / DCN)

Preston is correct, according to Minnesota state law: “When two vehicles enter an uncontrolled intersection from different highways at approximately the same time, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right.?

“When I first came to Duluth I wondered ‘Why aren’t there any stop signs?’ ? said Duluth police officer Erik Hanson. “Where I came from, everywhere had either a stop sign or a yield sign.?

“You go to the cities and it's either you have a stop sign or you don’t. I live on Lakeside, and it’s completely uncontrolled,? Preston said while trying to recall the few intersections on Lakeside that are controlled.

Although Hanson could only speculate and offer opinion as to why Duluth seems to have so many uncontrolled intersections he said, “We’re an older city and unless there are problems at an intersection, or a lot of requests, we don’t put up new signs.?

Since Duluth became a city, in 1870, its development has come a long way.

Historian Sheldon Aubut provided a quote by a Duluth immigrant: “Superior Street was a continuous succession of hills and gullies; to find a place for crossing the street was a question of great deliberation and caution, and to actually cross was an act of recklessness, forfeiting your life insurance.?

Historic Lake Avenue looked nothing as it does today.

Quoting Aubut’s Duluth tour transcript: “Lake Avenue was all swamp and couldn't be crossed. First Avenue East had a sidewalk that was made by driving stakes into the marsh and nailing planks to them. They were so uneven that a person walking them appeared to be drunk.?

Lifelong Duluthian and employee of Falk’s Pharmacy, Nancy Ness, remembers Duluth as always having numerous uncontrolled intersections. She said that for as long as she can remember, Duluth has always been made up of neighborhoods with few stop signs.

According to Ness, for the most part, it never seemed to be a problem because people are familiar with their neighborhoods.

“Being born and raised here, you get used to the way things are,? Ness said.

Preston has also been a Duluthian for years. He agrees that the lack of stop signs is not something that he sees as a problem or thinks much about because he has grown accustomed to the roads and its intersections.

Familiarity from Duluth drivers with neighborhood roads may be one reason for the lack of stop signs in residential areas.

Hanson speculates there are probably a higher number of stop signs in areas that see more tourists in Duluth. If there is more out-of-town traffic there will probably be more stop signs.

According to Duluth City Councilor Todd Fedora the city also tries to stay away from placing stop signs at three-way Ts, and where there is not heavy traffic flow. Instead, emphasis is centered around placing them at highly trafficked four-way intersections.

After contacting City Council members, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and other city representatives, no one was able to offer insight as to why many Duluth intersections remain uncontrolled.

The reason for the high number of uncontrolled intersections in Duluth is open for interpretation. There does not seem to be an easy answer.


I appreciate that the author had a lot of interviews for this little story and even pulled some historical data, too. That represents a lot of time.

I love the tone of this piece, which becomes a real celebration of home and community through this somewhat invisible symbol.

But I have to ask: Isn't saying that "we don't need stop signs because there are so few accidents" the kind of logic that leads to arguments against wearing seat belts? So few accidents happen, why should I wear a seat belt?

I was researching shared spaces and stumbled upon this article. i suggest everyone research it.

and to david:

if you get into an accident, your seatbelt could save your life, but if you get into an accident where there was a stop sign, that stop sign isnt going to save your life.

that is the false feeling of safety people like hans monderman was trying to free us of.