Archive for Sunday, November 13, 2011

City hard-pressed to stop sign thefts

Drivers pass by orange flags attached to two new stop signs near the intersection of 11th and Mississippi streets in this file photo from June. According to city records, stolen signs add up to $30,000 in taxpayer losses each year.

Drivers pass by orange flags attached to two new stop signs near the intersection of 11th and Mississippi streets in this file photo from June. According to city records, stolen signs add up to $30,000 in taxpayer losses each year.

November 13, 2011


The stealing of traffic signs — almost a rite of passage among today’s teenagers — has cost the city of Lawrence more than $30,000 this year.

And, those costs are something that the city’s traffic engineer David Woosley thinks many vandals don’t consider when eyeing the streets for their latest living room decor.

“It’s not something that comes to mind, that your tax dollars are being spent to install and maintain them,” Woosley said. “And, if you do something to cause a safety hazard, then it’s an incident that can really cost the public.”

So far this year, 230 signs have been stolen (or in Woosley’s words “have disappeared”) within the city limits. And replacing them has cost the city between $30,000 and $35,000. Those numbers are nothing out of the ordinary.

“It’s just one of those things you pretty much have to live with,” Woosley said.

By far, signs with the name of streets are the most common ones stolen. In fact, 84 were reported missing this year. You have until the end of this story to guess which street sign in Lawrence is the most popular one to steal.

The biggest concerns are when stop signs are stolen. So far in 2011, there have been 56 taken, Woosley said.

For drivers on unfamiliar roads, missing stop signs can lead to serious accidents, especially at intersections where drivers on the other road have become used to vehicles stopping. Lawrence Police Sgt. Matt Sarna said when the police are notified of a stolen stop sign at an intersection, they’ll stand by until the public works department replaces it.

“People need to be aware of the dangers that the loss of signs poses and have to think about the consequences if there was a major accident at an intersection that would lead to death or serious injury of innocent civilians,” Sarna stated in an email.

Also on the list of safety concerns are one-way street signs.

“But most one-way streets, if you go down the wrong way, you notice it pretty quick,” Woosley said.

Neither the police department nor Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical recall any accidents that have been attributed to stolen traffic signs. But both warn of the potential danger it might cause.

“It is not a joke or a prank to take signs but very serious and definitely a crime,” Sarna noted in an email.

In Lawrence, it’s a misdemeanor crime, but the penalty could be greater depending on the person’s criminal history or the number of signs they have.

The fire department doesn’t often rely on street signs for directions, Fire Chief Mark Bradford said. All the trucks have electronic and print maps inside them, and the drivers are familiar with the neighborhoods within their districts. But they do use the signs as confirmation that they’re headed in the right direction.

“So, if a street sign is gone, it might hamper that,” Bradford said, but noted a far bigger problem is the unreadable numbers on houses.

No parking signs are also popular ones to steal, and 63 have been taken so far this year. Woosley said that’s partially because people believe if they steal the no parking sign, they can’t get ticketed for parking there.

“That’s until we find out about it and put another no parking sign up,” he said.

The actual signs aren’t that expensive to replace. A stop sign costs about $50, and a neighborhood street sign is around $15 (depending on the length). But the cost of the labor and reinstalling the post and anchor make signs more expensive.

“It all adds up pretty quick,” Woosley said.

Out in the county, theft of signs isn’t quite so frequent. Keith Browning, Douglas County public works director, said about 20 signs a year are taken. And, when they do go missing, they are replaced with a sign that is held on by a rivet, making them hard to remove.

The county is also in the process of putting new signs on different sections of roads. As they do, wooden posts are replaced with steel ones, which also make them more theft-proof.

“That wasn’t the purpose of it, but it’s an unintended consequence,” Browning said.

He said river-crossing signs tend to attract the most vandals.

The city also has taken some steps to make it harder to steal some of the more targeted street signs, using vandal-proof hardware that requires a special kind of wrench to get the sign off.

And speaking of popular signs to steal, here’s the fun trivia fact we promised earlier in the story. A looped street that winds through Kansas University’s sorority and fraternity houses and sits just off Emery Drive has been the most popular sign to steal in recent years.

Its name? High Drive.


gccs14r 6 years, 7 months ago

Public Works could offer signs for sale. Then people could buy them instead of steal them, so it'd be at least revenue neutral (if not a chance for a small profit) instead of an annual expense. They could have a "Lawrence Department of Public Works Retail Sign" stamp on the back for authenticity.

John Hamm 6 years, 7 months ago

Sure. As if students are going to buy something they can steal.....

Bob Forer 6 years, 7 months ago

I like that idea. I think that many students would pluck down the bucks rather than risk getting caught.

sourpuss 6 years, 7 months ago

I was just thinking this. If it costs $15 to make a "High Drive" sign, then make a bunch and sell them for $30. We get the profit AND we don't have to pay the replacement cost. Seems like a WIN to me.

I can understand not selling "legal" signs such as stop signs and one-way arrows - you might get the opposite problem of people installing signs where they shouldn't be!

Lawrence Morgan 6 years, 7 months ago

gccs14r has a great idea. Such signs could be made available at the possible Lawrence Depot for Bus Transportation, and perhaps there could also be a City Shop available for signs from all over Kansas, including - what I've always wanted to do - hand made signs for State Highways and towns.

somebodynew 6 years, 7 months ago

While the above is a great idea, you people are not thinking back to your childhood/college (one and the same?) years. Spend $$$ on a 'legal' street sign or steal the sign and spend the $$$ on beer/substance ?????

Besides, stealing them gives the "cred". Nice idea, but I wouldn't invest my money in a street sign store in this town.

average 6 years, 7 months ago

Huh. I would have guessed the "South Park" signs for sure. Being one block from the cop-shop might discourage, but I can't imagine people stealing road signs have quite that much foresight.

headdoctor 6 years, 7 months ago

Haven't you heard. The safest place to commit a crime is right by the police department.

MarcoPogo 6 years, 7 months ago

According to some of the people around here, the safest place to commit a crime is IN the police department.

Joe Hyde 6 years, 7 months ago

Someone perhaps new to town enters an intersection at 30mph, t-bones the left side door of a crossing car and kills its driver, or runs over and kills a kid riding a bike...all because someone stole the stop sign that would have controlled the intersection and prevented the accident.

Theft of stop signs and other critical traffic control signage needs to be made a high-level misdemeanor offense, if not a felony offense, simply because of the immediate and extreme risk to life and limb that such thefts pose to the motoring public.

Bursting 6 years, 7 months ago

Yep risk is there, luckily they said nothing like that has happened but I completely agree that, STOP, YIELD, and other traffic warning signs should should have a much stiffer penalty. I was always a huge NO-NO to steal STOP signs when I was younger for sure.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 7 months ago

220 volts running through the signs might do the trick.

guppypunkhead 6 years, 7 months ago

This article kind of seems like an advertisement for how easy it is to steal signs...

irvan moore 6 years, 7 months ago

put a $100. reward out for turning in thieves, prosecute the heck out of them and make it a $1000. fine., at least that way we'll get our money back.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 7 months ago

Shoot a couple of them when you catch them stealing, the word would get around you mean business, and the problem would start to solve itself.

Lisa Rasor 6 years, 7 months ago

The town of Studley, Kansas, had such a problem with people stealing their city limits sign on Highway 24, that they quit replacing it altogether. Even though they started selling souvenir signs, it didn't stop people from stealing the real thing. So they finally gave up on having a real sign announcing the town.

headdoctor 6 years, 7 months ago

Where in the world would they have been selling souvenirs unless it would be the elevator or gas station? If those are even still there. Everything else has been shut down for decades. Studley pretty much ceased to exist before the other small towns in Rooks, Graham, and Sheridan County.

Lisa Rasor 6 years, 7 months ago

They sell them at the Cottonwood Ranch, on Hwy. 24.

kansas_o_kansas 6 years, 7 months ago

missing signs, lack of street lights (parts of this town are very, very dark), and hordes of drunken college students stumbling in and out of traffic. I'm amazed Lawrence doesn't have a higher body count.

DillonBarnes 6 years, 7 months ago

Kids don't want to buy the signs, that's not what it's all about. It's about the experience to steal it. Selling signs wouldn't solve a thing.

I dunno... Loctite?

Stuart Evans 6 years, 7 months ago

back in my youth, we went on a mission to swipe a stop sign from a country road. Once we found a good one, we were quickly foiled because the county had bent the bolt, effectively making it nearly impossible to remove the nut. Once we got over our disappointment, and started talking, we decided it wasn't safe to remove the sign anyway, because it could have caused a wreck.

NickB 6 years, 7 months ago

I don't believe that figure at all. The article says that the signs themselves aren't that expensive, so they must include the labor costs in that $30,000 figure. That assumes that the city workers replacing the signs wouldn't have a job if they didn't have to do that, which is a false assumption to make. We're paying for someone who has the responsiblity to -- among other things -- replace signs that have been stolen.

pace 6 years, 7 months ago

I think they should make stealing a stop or yield sign a felony. That antic has caused several deaths across the country.

50YearResident 6 years, 7 months ago

Some good ideas have been posted here. Install signs with 1 way bolts like restroons use. You can tighten but not loosen the bolts. Make a fine for stealing. Make a reward for turning someone in via TIPS

Brian Hall 6 years, 7 months ago

I figured High Drive was the most stolen. I'd like to know what other street signs are popular. One would think maybe Lawrence Avenue and Massachusetts Street but a list of top ten or even five would be interesting just to see if they are all signs around KU (like High Dr.) or near downtown or something else.

ljwhirled 6 years, 7 months ago

It isn't all fun and games. These kids got 15 years after they stole a sign and someone got killed.

I'd suggest the city simply start using security fasteners. That should stop 90% of the theft.

"I'd also like to point out that if the city doesn't install security fasteners and someone dies, the city could be held liable." - There. That should get our lawyer run city to do something.

Maybe I should send them a letter via certified mail................................

Stu Clark 6 years, 7 months ago

Malibu CA has the opposite problem. Residents near the beach buy NO PARKING signs on the internet and put them up on the streets in front of their property.

tomatogrower 6 years, 7 months ago

When I was young there was only one sign I ever saw that I would have loved to steal. It was in Bolivar, MO. It said Buffalo Springfield, which for you youngsters was a rock group back in the '60s. Anyway, it was right near the police station and my mother gave me a proper amount of guilt as a kid, so I never tried.

RoeDapple 6 years, 7 months ago

Well when I was young I . . er . . hmm . . damn. I can't remember when I was young.

tomatogrower 6 years, 7 months ago

You must have had a lot more party than I did, RoeD

independent_rebel 6 years, 7 months ago

I say sharpen the edges of signs until the signs are razor sharp. Let 'em sacrifice some fingers for taking a sign.

gccs14r 6 years, 7 months ago

Ooo, yeah! Then, when it goes flying through the air during a storm or after an accident, it can decapitate someone instead of just bonking him on the head.

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