September 24, 2009 Update: Albany's City Council Voted unanimously on 9/21 to implement four-way protected turns (left turn signals in all four directions) to protect school children. Many thanks to all who came out and spoke. Please stay tuned as we monitor implementation and other traffic issues at Ocean View School.
ACTION NEEDED: The plan to upgrade the Jackson/Buchanan intersection to improve the safety of those walking across, particularly students, will be taken up by the City Council on September 21st in response to AS&R public comment at the July 20th meeting.
The improvement to this intersection must go beyond what the Traffic and Safety Commission recommended, which basically would maintain the status quo with regard to the safety of those who walk. AS&R now believes that either a split north-south phase with dedicated right turn lanes through the elimination of some parking must be studied for effectiveness, or the original plan of removing more parking to create dedicated left turn lanes and signal phase must be carried out. Anything less does not honor the Safe Routes to School grant that is paying for this project. Further, two crossing guards should be provided at this intersection as is the case for Talbot and Solano for Cornell Elementary School students and Santa Fe and Marin for Marin Elementary School students. These locations have less motorist traffic than Jackson and Buchanan, so providing only one crossing guard at the latter location is inequitable. Finally, the project should create a cross walk on the east leg of the intersection (across Buchanan) to create a completely walkable intersection that doesn't prioritize motorists over people who walk. Comments by parents of Ocean View students who walk across this intersection, particularly relaying difficult experiences, would be very helpful.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION: Albany is planning to upgrade the operation, and to some extent physical configuration, of the intersection of Jackson and Buchanan Streets to improve its function for people crossing it on foot. The upgrade is being paid for by a State Safe Routes to School grant, and so the primary intended beneficiaries are Ocean View School students living to the north of the school. More history on this project is available toward the end of http://www.albanyca.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=9327.
The current plan calls for installation of a modern traffic signal that has more phases in order to limit conflicts between motorists and people in the crosswalk. AS&R also advocated successfully for the plan to include for installation of bulbouts at either end of the crosswalk across Buchanan on the west side of the intersection, but this was after the grant issuance and so this component will be funded by the City.
THE ISSUE: Both the signal modification and the bulbouts are sorely needed. The signal design has hit a snag, however. The design originally called for installing left turn lanes on Jackson and implementing left turn phases separate from through phases. This would have removed the threat to people in the crosswalk of motorists turning left from northbound Jackson onto Buchanan. Installation of these left turn lanes requires more travel lane width, however, and this would have necessitated removing on street parking. No constituency opposed this for the spaces across from Ocean View School south of the intersection. The residents on the east side of Jackson did oppose the planned parking space removal in front of their homes.
Albany Strollers & Rollers did not advocate for removing parking to accommodate the left turn lanes when the issue was before the Traffic and Safety Commission. This was because there were unexplored options other than removing street parking, and experience showed advocating for as much is politically fraught and mostly a non starter. The Traffic and Safety (T&S) Commission's 4-1 vote recommending the signal without the Jackson left turn lanes at its June 25th, 2009 meeting is a case in point. It would have been difficult to impossible to turn two votes from negative to positive.
Still, something better than planned must be done. As it stands, the recommended signal would provide a separate phase for motorists turning left off of Buchanan from through going motorists on Buchanan, but only one phase for all motorists on Jackson. As such, this project will not significantly enhance the safety of students using the crosswalk, and so the project has crept away from its primary safe routes to school goal.
The current motorist counts for this intersection are shown in the attachment. In engineering parlance, the current level of service (LOS) for motorists is B, which is quite good. LOS is graded from A to F based upon the average delay motorists experience at an intersection. As an example of how good B is, the current (but about to be changed) guidelines only find a significant traffic impact when service degrades two levels due to a project, or reduces to level E or F. Analysis of the new signal project combined with the upcoming improvements on Buchanan for cycling indicate the LOS will remain B after these projects are installed. The LOS in the future will be B in the morning and C in the evening without the project, and C in the morning and C in the evening with the project.
All of this information is conveyed as data for formulating and considering alternatives that will achieve the safe routes to school goal without the lose of parking on Jackson north of the intersection. AS&R could use your creativity. If you have thoughts please send them to the AS&R list at firstname.lastname@example.org or myself at email@example.com. Ideas that have come up to date follow.
An option brought forward at the June T&S meeting is to have what is known as a "scramble" phase. This is when the signal shows red to all motorists while it provides a walk phase. Staff indicated they would have the AECOM, the transportation engineering firm on the project, look into this option. AECOM has done so and the analysis indicates a scramble phase would slow traffic significantly. A scramble is not considered an option at this time.]
Another option is to install short right turn lanes in combination with split signal phasing on Jackson. Split phasing means southbound and northbound motorists would have separate green phases. The right turn lanes would provide for right turns during red lights, which would compensate somewhat for the degradation in intersection function caused by the split phasing. Installing these right turn lanes would require some removal of parking as well. This is still planned in any case on Jackson south of the intersection, so that is not an issue. Removing parking on the west side of Jackson north of the intersection could be an issue. This is mitigated a bit by the fact that on street parking for the corner property would remain on Buchanan. Split phasing with enhanced right turn on red capability would provide the next best level of protection for students in the cross walk. It would prevent motorists from turning left over the crosswalk during the walk phase, and would clear more motorists turning right across the crosswalk during the non walk phase.
The final, worst, option that has been brought forward is to install a crosswalk on the east side of the intersection (which is currently missing) and make this the primary crossing to Ocean View School. This would obviously entail crossing Jackson on the south side of the intersection as well. There are a few reasons for this option. First, only 23 southbound motorists turn left from Jackson across this potential crosswalk, as opposed to 87 motorists turning left from northbound Jackson across the current crosswalk. This reduces the hazard considerably even if the new signal operation is no different on Jackson. This would not really work until the Pierce signal is installed as part of the Buchanan cycling improvement project, though, as it would require students living west of Jackson to cross that street twice. With the Pierce signal available for students west of Jackson, though, most of the students crossing at Jackson would be coming from the east and so placing the crosswalk on the east side would serve them. The Pierce signal installation is likely further away in time than the Jackson signal installation, though. Another reason for an east side crossing is that it will be needed eventually to serve the Gill Tract when it is redeveloped.
What do you think? Thank you for your ideas, and/or questions.
updated September 11, 2009