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Local Editorials

Quit making illegal U-turns near Ottawa McDonald's

Perhaps nothing illustrates the limitations of laws so well as traffic signs.

Everyone who drives a car understands things like posted speed limits: You’re supposed to drive at or below the limit. If you go too fast, you’re breaking the law. But you’re only punished if a police officer sees you and decides to make you stop and issues a citation. The only other way to get punished is if your speeding leads to a crash, and experts can deduce the violation after the fact and roll the penalty into judicial proceedings.

Otherwise, if you exceed the legal speed without getting caught, you’ve broken the law without consequence.

Close to home, drivers develop a sensibility for where police are most likely to enforce a speed limit or other traffic rules. In this way, the signs serve their intended purpose. In fact, that’s how things work the vast majority of the time: People obey the laws because they’re supposed to, not just because they fear getting caught, and generally we all accept the rules of the road are there to keep us safe and traffic flowing as freely as possible.

However, the inverse also is true.

Drivers know where certain behavior is more or less accepted. Maybe it’s going the wrong way in an otherwise empty parking lot or rolling through a stop sign in the middle of the night when it seems the coast is clear.

All of which is to say: quit making illegal U-turns outside the Ottawa McDonald’s.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has been meeting with city officials about the intersection of East Norris Drive and Paul Street.

The proper way to exit the McDonald’s parking lot is a right turn to continue east on Norris (which also is U.S. 6 and Route 71), or a right or left turn onto the much quieter Paul Street. However, it’s also not legal to make a left from Paul, so the proper way to get back to being westbound on Norris is heading south on Paul to the next block, making a right on East Joliet Street and then another right onto Columbus Street, and from there getting into the left turn lane.

IDOT recently posted signs notifying drivers of the new turning restrictions, and Ottawa Plan Commission Chairman Brent Barron said he’s still seeing people trying to make illegal lefts onto Norris, which contributes to traffic buildups or collisions. Police Chief Brent Roalson said officers have been issuing warnings, but real citations could begin any day now.

We agree with Roalson’s idea to fully close off the Paul and Norris intersection by extending the concrete median, in order not to bog down his officers' time with enforcing what may result in a reoccurring traffic issue, and agree with IDOT it makes sense to do so during a planned spring resurfacing project. With a new Domino’s opening soon, the problem will only get worse.

But we also note the existing median isn’t enough to stop everyone from making turns they know they shouldn’t. As such, routine enforcement is going to have to be a part of the solution.

Perhaps part of the problem is unavoidable: a fast-food joint on a busy state highway that serves many out-of-town drivers. We can’t expect everyone rolling through for a quick burger to understand the complexities of local traffic flow. There was a chance to address the issue when the restaurant was closed for remodeling, but that window closed without a fix.

Signage to direct motorists from McDonald's to go either direction on Route 23 would also help guide visitors who may not know their way around.

If we’re going to get serious about reducing crashes and blockages at this intersection, it’s going to have to be done through physical barriers and dedicated police work — as well as a bit of patience from those who live here.

To that end we give the last word to Barron, long a clear thinker on this topic:

“Hopefully the people in the community get it,” he said last week. “We understand you want convenience, speed, you want to get to where you’re going and that’s the easier move to make, but in the long run, if you take a couple extra minutes and go the long way around you make everyone safe and everyone gets to where they’re going at the end of the day, then that’s what’s important.”

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