Tuesday, January 10, 2012

$250,000 to add a right turn lane?

There are lots of ways to spend a quarter of a million dollars, and with the municipal budget continuing to find itself in a poor state, one would expect that expenditures are scrutinized and prioritized.

Since this is Fresno, we know there's nothing higher on the priority list than finding yet another way to widen a street. An upgrade, as it's usually called, although the only thing being upgraded are vehicle speeds. And even that is questionable.

On December 15th, the city council took up the routine issue of approving a contract for a local company to expand an intersection to provide the ever-so-important right turn lane.

The S. Clovis and E. Kings Canyon Road Traffic Signal Modification Project will install a westbound right turn pocket at the intersection of Clovis Avenue and Kings Canyon Road. Installation of the turn pocket is expected to improve the efficiency at this intersection.
Council Documents

Current Intersection
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With added right turn lane
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Yes, one would expect a dedicated turn lane to improve the efficiency of those looking to turn right in their private vehicle....

But what of everyone else?

In my calculations, this "improvement" negatively impacts many people.

Pedestrians lose out in two big ways. Well, three, if you include the fact that $250,000 could have probably built a whole lot of sidewalk in places without any...

1) Those crossing Kings Canyon find themselves with an even wider road to cross, and so an even less pleasant experience. Pedestrians crossing Kings Canyon must already walk past 7 lanes, and now it will be 8 (one of the lanes is an unstriped bus bay). That's 96 feet, just to make it across a road.

2) And now they'll have to deal with a lovely right turn lane, in which turning right on red as quickly as possible is almost the law. Those crossing north will have to be on their toes if there is a large vehicle in the right-through lane, because anyone wishing to turn right in the new lane will speed past the crosswalk line to get a good view.

Situations like this are extremely common. Some jackass in an SUV or pickup decides that he should stop halfway across the crosswalk. The vehicle in the next lane, looking to turn right, has no way to see if any cars are coming, nevermind the crosswalk. So he has to drive all the way into the crosswalk to look left, blocking, or even hitting crosswalk users.

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Red lines shows the view of the driver is blocked unless they enter the crosswalk. Note that the same situation is present in both crosswalks!

Under the current design, a car in the right lane going straight does not allow those turning right to do so on red. The city calls this inefficient. For a pedestrian, it means they don't have to worry about someone speeding into the crosswalk, craning their head to see if it's safe to go without stopping.

So longer crossing distances AND added danger? What a way to spend $250,000!


Cyclists? Conditions worsen for them as well. There's no bike lanes here, even though the road is wide enough. The widening does not appear to include space for a bike lane, so cyclists actually lose out on space. Many cyclists here use the sidewalk as well, and right turning vehicles are even more dangerous to cyclists using the crosswalk. In California, cycling in crosswalks is explicitly legal, so if a cyclist was moving east in the crosswalk in the above capture, he could be in front of the white vehicle and be invisible to the black vehicle which would be moving into the crosswalk.

How many bike lanes would $250,000 have painted?


And how about vehicles, whose efficiency we apparently value the most?

They're not necessarily all winners either. Constant right turns-on-red aren't very safe, especially for those making a u-turn. I've witnessed many instances in which a driver is so busy looking left for a space to turn that they don't realize there's a car right in front of them turning.

Here's an example. Driving looking to turn right is so intent on looking left to see if he can turn, he misses the giant pickup u-turning right in front of him. If you don't see this happen a few times a week, you're not paying attention.

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But safety obviously isn't a consideration here, so how about the mission to speed drivers as quickly as possible? Well, a wider intersection actually means more delays. For Clovis Ave traffic, the yellow light timing needs to be extended to take into account the additional 12 feet. That's wasted time. More significantly, it makes the pedestrian timing last longer. The newest MUTCD states that a pedestrian walks at 3.5 feet per second^. An extra 3.5 seconds will have to be added to the cycle for pedestrians to cross the added lane. That may seem insignificant, but it makes a lengthy traffic cycle take even longer, at well over 30 seconds needed to get a pedestrian across. As the intersection gets wider, cars actually spend more time stopped.


And the "best" part?

The intersection, where speeding traffic is a priority, is right by the proposed Fancher Creek development.

For those outside of Fresno, this project is supposedly meant to be a transit-oriented (TOD), walkable, urban paradise, and terminus of the future BRT line. A place where all the new-urbanism buzzwords can come together.

In red
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That's what the press releases say anyway. Reality says otherwise. Nothing says "TOD" like "widen the roads!". That, and the fact that the only ground broken on this "urban village" has been a cookie-cutter suburban CVS.

8 comments:

  1. Fresno needs a road diet, badly.

    I grew up in an area where few roads ever reach 100 ft. in width, and even then, they are almost always core suburban arterials. I live in a city were the average street is 50 ft. wide, and narrower streets still aren't infrequent.

    In Fresno it seems more like EVERY street is 100 ft. wide. The intersection you show has no fewer than TWO left-turn lanes. On every side of the intersection. That's just excessive.

    Fresno needs a large-scale road diet. Bad.

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  2. The thing is that politicians must approve of these sorts of projects because they figure they'll be popular with voters. I wonder, what does the average citizen think of them, especially if presented with a critical appraisal like this one?

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  3. I dont think the average voter assigns any value to things like this. Roads just "are". They were put there by "them". If something is wrong "they" should do something about it. If asked who "they" are, Id wager the average person would say "the engineers" and not the politicians.

    Likewise, the politicians just sign off on it, because the engineers know best, right?

    Even with an issue that DOES become political, like a new highway or rail line...the opponents say things like "they are trying to ram this thing through town". Not even the people invested in (opposing) a project really know who "they" are.

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  4. well that's depressing...

    So pretty much the roads are going to slowly widen, for no reason, until the entire city is basically just one enormous road... :[

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  5. Sounds like a horror movie! Sadly, that seems to be the case. I've yet to find another liveable streets blog or movement in Fresno. The closest are ibikefresno, but even they are mostly the mountain riding bike kinds, not much interested in urban roads.

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  6. Interesting. Finally,someone who has an interest in the city. You mentioned several problems with the proposed right hand turn lane. There are solutions not seen on any Fresno street that can help to alleviate or,even eliminate, some of the problems.

    The first thing would be the design of the right turn lane which I have a question of. Will it be the traditional right turn set-up where traffic turning right is only separated from through traffic with a white stripe? I'm assuming that's so by the graphics. One of the designs in service with the City of Las Vegas is very promising.

    It's a effectively streamlined right turn lane with a smooth concrete median island. It's elaborate and elegant in a way.

    http://goo.gl/maps/QjrBl

    http://goo.gl/maps/6BQ8R

    You can see before the city walled off the original crosswalks where the original path was by looking at the sloped parts of the curbing.. It went across the street through the island median.

    We'll start with the issue with pedestrian safety. In the third picture you described someone having to quickly pull forward into the crosswalk in order to see traffic to make their right turn on a red because someone pulled to far into the crosswalk, and you described a pedestrian trying to cross in that blind spot. This streamlined design, as you can see, effectively eliminates this problem because the island acts as an area of unblockable visibility where a pedestrian can be seen for drivers turning right even if people going through have pulled into the crosswalk. The island can also act as a sort of sub-point to allow pedestrians to cross the wide street in stages.

    The next issue is of improved driver and pedestrian safety. As you can see, the right turn lane has it's own dedicated signal set that prohibits right turns on red. This setup eliminates people trying to 'make the light' because it's separate from the through traffic light. In other words, the right turn signal would turn red first to clear up the departure points for the sidewalks, and then through traffic would get the red followed by the pedestrians getting the walk signal.

    Another issue of that you mentioned with driver safety being that of U-turns, this set-up basically cuts down on people making abrupt U-turns into people turning right, so the people turning right also have shield and additional green light time thanks to that left turn only lane in order to make their turn.

    Several other factors to consider would be lane width and/or multiple turn lanes. The rule of thumb, for turn lanes, is the wider the lane, the greater traffic flow from increased speeds. Multiple lanes also increase the cars per hour of green meaning you can have shorter signal times for the turn lanes and greater times for other things like crosswalk signals.





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    Replies
    1. The project has been built. You can see the final layout here http://goo.gl/maps/kCQDo Make sure youre not looking at 45 degree view, but the overhead one to see the new image.

      I wouldnt take any road design tips from Vegas. The island you describe (which is also found at Shields and Blackstone) is designed to get vehicles moving as quickly as possible. Its even worse for pedestrians, because its a yield configuration, and heads are craned sharply to the left, looking for a gap. Fresno wouldnt want it to have a traffic signal, as it defeats the whole purpose of moving the vehicles quickly. Theres also then conflict with the perpendicular crosswalk, which vegas deals with by eliminating.

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    2. I meant to propose the turn lane with the right turn traffic signal, sorry if I was unclear.The perpendicular crosswalk that you mention, the one that angles to the island, has it's own crossing guard.

      http://goo.gl/maps/1mRDe

      http://goo.gl/maps/JMLVD

      As you can see, there's a crossing guard for the street and one for the turn lane ,a sort of sub-crossing guard. Each crossing guard comes with it's own button so no one can get stranded. Each crossing button comes with it's own information placard which comes with detailed,yet easy to read, information on when it's safe to cross. You can see a rough picture of here. I'm sorry I couldn't get a better one ...

      http://goo.gl/maps/7CyGl

      The safety placards are very useful especially when wide streets are involved Knowing when it's appropriate to start crossing can help prevent someone being stranded in the middle of the road when a light turns.

      You can also see that each crossing guard light has a countdown which is also a handy safety feature for getting across the street safely. On a more subtle note, the crossing guards aren't obstructed by the normal mesh grating seen on Fresno crosswalks which may make them more readily visible. I actually went to Vegas recently, and they seemed very visible.

      http://goo.gl/maps/AMn5r

      http://goo.gl/maps/KFJtz

      As you can see Vegas didn't eliminate all the street level crossings. The ones that still exist serve as examples.

      The above street level crossings with elevators for the disabled aren't horribly bad when you don't have to cross many of them on the stairs. When used selectively they can potentially provide an attractive alternative to crossing such a massive street at rush hour. It feels much safer being isolated from such a street. At they very least, don't throw all of Vegas out. Not all of their ideas are bad.

      The city also appeared to make pretty extensive use of cut-off luminaries. I crossed this one up close, and yet the light it shone from the elevated crosswalk as such a harmless disc. It was amazing.

      http://goo.gl/maps/6E8GT

      Although it does appears their streets may be over lit. I think I may have spotted some 400 watt cut-offs near the highway.

      As for the right turn signal, the intersection of Herndon and Fresno has it for the ,now, dual right turn lanes. I don't know for certain whether it's a stop on red though.

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