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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Council to Examine Reconfiguring Fifth Street

Perhaps one of the benefits of the city council campaign is that issues arise about safety concerns. Fifth Street has between B and L has been a problem for some time. The council originally tried to mitigate this problem with the light signals on F and G with dedicated left turn signals.

That solution has alleviated some of the problems. On the other hand, it has also according to neighbors forced some of the traffic onto Eighth Street which lacks the flow capacity of Fifth Street. Furthermore, because the lights are not triggered, during off-peak hours, one may be waiting for a minute with no other traffic for the light to change.

The larger problem is with the streets that do not have traffic signals.

First, the traffic moves too fast through the four lane road. Some have likened it to an urban highway. As a result, there are two significant hazards. One is that cars that want to make a left turn off of Fifth block traffic because there are no dedicated turn lanes. The other is that cars turning onto Fifth, particularly making left turns, take unnecessary risks.

A further problem is the lack of bike lanes between B and L, putting bicyclists directly on the street with vehicles.

Overall there was a one week time period where I saw no fewer than four major accidents on Fifth Street. To make matters worse, a vehicle one Saturday turned from Fifth onto C Street by Central Park during Farmer's Market. The vehicle was traveling at least 30 to 35 mph as it entered onto the much slower trafficked street. The driver then swerved to avoid a pedestrian, hit the gas instead of the break, and ended up crashing into four parked cars. Our car was the fourth, and the only vehicle involved in the accident not totaled. Luckily not a single person was injured, but it was close.

There is also another hazard in close proximity and that is the corner of D and Fourth Street. The problem there is that inexplicably it is a two-way rather than a four-way stop. First of all, that causes confusion for drivers, and you often see people on Fourth Street (who do not have a stop sign) stop and people on D Street (who do have a stop sign) assume that those on Fourth Street have to stop. Further complicating that is the lack of visibility onto Fourth Street due to cars parking diagonally to the curb. That means you have to creep out into traffic in order to see if traffic is coming. All of this could be alleviated with a four way stop, but for some reason the city has been slow to act on that. That intersection is an accident waiting to happen.

The easiest way to alleviate the problems on Fifth Street would be to turn it from a four lane street into a three lane street with dedicated bike lanes on both sides. You then produce a dedicated turn lane for both directions and a "suicide lane" that would allow cars to make a left turn onto Fifth Street and into a center lane before merging into traffic. That is probably the solution I would favor at this point, although it would likely lead to some sort of a log jam entering from L and from B Street.

There are other configurations that would likely be worth looking into, including more four way stops or traffic lights between B and F and G and L. But I think re-striping would be simplest and would still keep the flow going while making turns much safer.

I will not pretend to have all of the answers, so if others have good suggestions post them below.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting