Spilo: Proposed Arch Street Design Unsafe

Submitted by Michael Spilo, Chairman, RTM Public Works Committee. The opinions presented are my own.

The proposed design for the Arch Street intersection is unconventional and unsafe. The nearby image shows a standard “bumpout” design alongside the proposed design. In the left hand, standard design, crosswalks are clearly separated, away from each other and away from the corners, at 90° to the roadway. This separates pedestrians crossing in each direction so that drivers can easily tell which way pedestrians intend to cross, even with heavy pedestrian traffic.  There are also curbs and poles between pedestrians and oncoming cars.

The proposed design is nonstandard, and like the Elm Street intersection, the proposed design crowds pedestrians into the corners of the intersection as you can see in the righthand image. The proposed crosswalks include odd bulged-out areas in the corners.  These bulged areas are confusing and not clearly designated for crossing in any direction. Worse, these areas are directly in the path of oncoming traffic.

With this “enter-at-the-corner” design, drivers see pedestrians mass at the corner and are often unable to tell which way a pedestrian intends to cross. This situation is worse when there is heavy pedestrian traffic.

The drivers’ confusion can cause them to enter the intersection believing pedestrians are crossing the other way. As a result the drivers may be forced to stop suddenly or make emergency maneuvers causing accidents.  You can watch this happen at Elm Street.

Another issue with this design: a standard the ADA ramp is parallel to the crosswalk (see “standard design” image).  When strollers and wheelchairs cross the bottom of the ramp at a 90° angle, the wheels proceed naturally in the direction of the crosswalk.

But with the proposed design, the ADA ramp is curved. The equivalent easy, 90°, entry where the wheels come off the end of the ramp together into the intersection is towards the center of the road, not parallel to the crossing direction. This encourages use of the bulged out crosswalk areas, with wheelchairs and strollers entering at an angle to their intended direction travel, increasing confusion and exposing them to oncoming cars.

There are other aspects of the design which are nonstandard, including sight lines and turning radius.  This design also eliminates any possibility of future bike lanes.  However, the most dangerous aspects of this design can be corrected by moving the crosswalks away from the corner.  This would require eliminating the “island” and the associated bypass lane, which are themselves unsafe.  Such a change would slow traffic further, and make right turns off Arch street impossible for trucks and emergency vehicles.

The only way to make this proposed design safe is to add traffic lights.  But the only traffic lights which would work safely are those which have all-way pedestrian crossing, like the lights at the lower end of Greenwich Ave. Such all-way crossing lights are inefficient – they stop traffic in all directions and make pedestrians and motorists wait a long time to cycle, and this increases congestion and encourages jaywalking, as you can see at Greenwich and Railroad Aves. It’s also widely recognized that lights on Greenwich Ave would be very unpopular.