Friday, October 14, 2011

Fired up

Wednesday night, I attended a City informational meeting about the N. 14th and Superior construction project.  It was a lively crowd--one of the more fired up groups I have seen in a while.  Nonetheless, I was happy to be there, and pleased to talk to a lot of people one on one.  It seemed to me that the great majority of those that attended were opposed to the construction design, which calls for a roundabout and for two pedestrian underpasses. I don't know whether the dialog changed many minds.

Obviously, this isn't my project to defend or explain, but I was asked to step forward and tell people what I thought about the public safety aspects.  Some guy in the back kept yelling at me and interrupting, but eventually was called out by the crowd. I told the audience what we had experienced at Lincoln's first significant arterial roundabout, which was a huge reduction in traffic crashes, and an even larger reduction in injury crashes.  As previously noted here on my blog, in the eight years since the roundabout at 33rd and Sheridan was installed the overall number of crashes fell by 80%,  and the number of injury crashes fell by 92%.  There have been two crashes at 33rd and Sheridan so far this year--neither with injury. Back in 1998, there were 24--thirteen of which were injury accidents.  

These are the facts, and however you feel about roundabouts, you can't ignore these results. My own data and  experience inclines me to believe that professional traffic engineers don't make this stuff up, and I tend to accept the research evidence on roundabouts they present in part because it is confirmed by my own observation. I told people that from a safety standpoint, I was more concerned with the impact of the year-long construction project than the intersection design.  Construction zones pose hazards for both motorists and workers, and inevitably result in traffic on local residential streets from those motorists who ignore the posted detour routes.

A lot of concern was voiced about pedestrian underpasses planned on the south and west legs of the intersection, where the lay of the land supports this method of crossing.  Apparently the grade on the east and north legs is such that an underpass is not practical.  Some people are worried that these underpasses will be a place for ne'er-do-wells to lurk, close to the nearby middle school.  I reminded folks that there are many pedestrian underpasses in Lincoln. I'm in a few of them virtually every day, and I've never seen a problem like this in Lincoln's underpasses, with the exception of the bridges along the Salt Creek levy where we sometimes have vagrants hanging out.  This probably is due to the proximity of these bridges to the railyards and the People's City Mission, which does not admit drunks or allow drinking on the grounds.  About the worse thing I've seen elsewhere is graffiti in a few locations. I just don't think 14th and Superior is going to be an attractive place for transients to crash.

It will be up to us to do what we can to ensure that any such mischief in the pedestrian underpasses is suppressed, and I think we can do so effectively.  The alternative, at-grade pedestrian crossings of a seven lane conventional intersection, is worse, in my opinion, than the risk of trolls in the underpass.  Several people I spoke with preferred the idea of an overhead pedestrian bridge.  While I like the better visibility in a bridge, in order to comply with accessibility requirements, such structures built at a site like this would need to incorporate an exceptionally long approach or a long ramp with switchbacks in order to to keep the grade sufficiently low.  Lincoln doesn't have any of this kind, but I've seen this type of overpass built in other cities, and then rarely used because the route of travel is so long that the very people it was intended for it will not walk the extra distance. I'm thinking of one in particular where the pedestrians almost always cross at street level right underneath a huge million-dollar-plus pedestrian overpass.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't have situations where middle school kids need to cross one of our largest arterial streets, but there isn't much the City can do about this, and the next best practical solution at 14th and Superior appears to be these underpasses.  Sure wish we had one at Highway 34 and Fletcher for the Schoo Middle School students, and I wish the kids going to Scott Middle School didn't have to navigate 27th and Pine Lake, either. At these large intersections lots of distractions, I especially worry about right-turn-on-red vehicles failing to pay attention to a pedestrian or bike crossing in the crosswalk.


Steve said...

I'll admit, I didn't support the roundabout concept at first, but they have proven their value in many ways. I'm not sure what the plan for 14th and Superior is right now, but I had heard or read that they were going to have stop signs and crosswalks on two sides of the proposed roundabout at one point. That might improve safety for pedestrians, but I don't think it's going to help traffic flow much. Maybe that's no longer the case.

Regardless, couldn't your concerns about driver's making right turns on red at the busy intersections with school children present be addressed with no-right-turn-on-red signs during the periods just before and after school? We already have them in many places around town. Unfortunately, I feel someone either screwed up or had their head on backwards. Several of them, at least, allow right turns during peak traffic times when it is nearly impossible to make one anyway without causing an accident. Yet, at three in the morning, when there's not another car in sight, right turns on red are prohiibited, so you sit there wasting fuel for no good reason. Something ought to be done about that. Either reverse the timing, or allow right turns all the time.

Anonymous said...

I dread the construction project way more than the finished product. It's going to a major pain but a much needed improvement whether they build a normal intersection or a round a bout.

Anonymous said...

I'm not worried about ne'er-do-wells, nor do I think kids will avoid the underpasses for that reason. I think kids will avoid the tunnels simply because it's quicker to cross by running across the roundabout. Kids cutting across traffic worries me. I didn't attend the mtg. Were above-ground walkways discussed as a possibility?

Anonymous said...

Until they build a beltway around the city, it won't grow, and it will still take forever to get from one end to the other. Round-abouts are good, but when you have to drive stoplight to stoplight for the length of the city, in every direction, a few round abouts are just a drop in the bucket.