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UNIVERSITY AVENUE TRAFFIC CALMING STUDY
This report was taken from the North Park Main Street webpage.
The original document can be viewed here.
Project Introduction and Recommendation Preface
This study originated at the community level, was moved forward by North Park Main Street, was attended by residents of North Park and was directed by a Steering Committee of North Park interests. As such, this study belongs to North Park. It is different from many studies that originate at an agency or city government department or by a consultant hired by these agencies. Being a community-based initiative, excessive limitations were not placed on what the community could or could not do. Quick fixes or narrow visions were not mandated.
This study documented community preferences and considered a broad range of alternatives. Instead of dropping all discussion of the alternatives that were developed and concentrating only on the preferred alternative, this plan sets the record on the advantages and disadvantages of each approach and the decision-making process that resulted in the “Preferred Alternative.” This way, if technical reasons arise to make the preferred alternative infeasible or if the broader community does not support the implementation of the final plan, the document can be used to adjust or replace the plan with the next best alternative or the alternative can be adjusted as long as the reasons behind each element are understood.
Within the scope of this study, it was not possible to determine all possible solutions and test the effectiveness of these solutions. Existing data is not comprehensive enough to determine both the positive and negative effects that may result from implementation of the plan. The scope did not allow for extensive technical review or coordination of various City of San Diego departments. This means the first step in moving this plan forward must be analysis of what will happen with the implementation of the preferred alternative.
The following elements must be analyzed: full traffic counts of roadway segments and intersection movements; capacity analysis of existing and proposed roadway geometry; analysis of transit ridership and station locations; parking use and demand analysis; volume and location of pedestrian activity and crossings; and the determination of bicycle use levels. The analysis will require the modeling and predicting of what is likely to happen to traffic on University with the proposed changes, including any increased traffic on adjacent streets. With this information in hand, the plans can be adjusted as necessary to increase the advantages and decrease any disadvantages. The plans can be refined based on continual input from the public, from City and agency staff and the results of these additional studies.
Regardless of the results of additional studies, public input and agency review, something must be done with University Avenue. It does not currently work from a traffic flow standpoint. It does not meet current standards for lane configurations or intersection treatments. It does not work from a transit/traffic integration standpoint. Especially important, it does not provide the safety necessary to support pedestrian or cycling activity. The types and locations of accident data (vehicular, pedestrian and cyclist) all indicate action is needed. In order to support the needs of North Park and the interests of redevelopment, development, preservation and current use of this corridor, something has to change.
"The Avenue" is essential community infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt from the center outward. The changes need to be dramatic to address the equally dramatic problems. This plan attempts to provide the solutions to these problems and meet the needs of the community. If any part of this plan is dropped, it will need to be replaced with something else. If this plan does not provide the best solution, then another solution must be put in its place. The status quo was never considered to be an alternative. This street and the economic viability and safety of the community are too important to do nothing.
At first glance, given the current traffic level and limited width of University Avenue, it would appear to be ill advised to consider eliminating a travel lane. However, the dynamics of the current lane configuration must be understood prior to making any judgments. Though much of the corridor does in fact have two lanes of traffic in each direction, these lanes do not function well and result in accidents between cars as well as with pedestrians and cyclists. Left turning movements (in almost all cases) occur from an active through lane. Turning motions onto University occur virtually unrestricted along its length. Parked cars are in substandard spaces next to extremely narrow lanes. Pedestrians are required to cross multiple lanes of traffic with limited visibility and little assistance from positive traffic controls. The transit system, one of the most heavily used corridors in the region, is negatively affected by the current lane configurations and, in turn, negatively affects traffic flow as well.
The proposed plan utilizes the right-of-way more efficiently. Putting all left turn movements into protected and integrated left turn only lanes will remove the major problem of vehicular rear endings, side swipes and head-on accidents and will increase the throughput of this street. Likewise, putting transit in a dedicated lane will remove the transit weave out and lane blockage problems that now exist. Having a lower volume use (transit versus vehicular use) placed next to the curb lane will also make it safer and more comfortable for pedestrians, since adequate buffer space on this limited right-of-way does not exist. The dedicated transit lane will allow cyclists to use it providing increased safety for cyclists as well as limiting the lane blocking necessary for cyclists to utilize University Avenue in its current configuration. Providing several right turn only lanes removes another obstacle to the through lane. All of these factors combine to dramatically increase the throughput of the travel lane.
However, even though the throughput of this single lane would be greatly improved, the other lane will be lost. This may or may not result in some level of congestion that may or may not prompt some motorists to find other ways of moving through North Park. Lincoln Avenue was designed to handle increased levels of traffic and must play a role in making this plan work. Though property owners along Lincoln Avenue may be concerned about increased traffic, the street and its connections to the broader circulation system could handle much more than it currently does. The experience of many other cities that reduced the number of lanes on similar streets indicates it is likely the amount of traffic diverted from University Avenue will be minimal. In most cases, the realigned streets handled the same or even more traffic than previously.
The issue of lost on-street parking must also be analyzed. Though the plan can result in an actual overall increase in on-street parking, some areas will result in decreased parking while others will find an increase in parking. The parking spaces lost in this plan are essential to making this plan work. They are being removed on portions of the street where adequate width for parking is not possible and potentially unsafe conditions could exist. Some places have a 7-foot wide parking space, next to two 9-foot wide travel lanes. This is well below standards and will continue to result in accidents. An effort will be needed to educate the public and those most affected by the parking loss as to why they are being removed, the consequences if they are not removed and the good reasons for their removal. At the same time, every effort is needed to provide replacement parking in close proximity to the areas of parking loss.
Though the plan has some major challenges, it does represent the best of all worlds when pedestrian safety, community redevelopment, transit efficiency, accident prevention, traffic flow and community aesthetics are taken into account. Doing nothing or dramatically widening the roadway are alternatives the community should not pursue because this "Avenue" and its role in North Park are too important to ignore.
With no mandate for quick fixes or narrow visions, the consultants, the Steering Committee and the workshop participants were free to examine and question many possible solutions. With this freedom comes responsibility. Though the workshops were well attended and democratically conducted, they may or may not have captured the full community’s greatest concerns. No matter how strong the outreach program, only residents traditionally active in the community tend to get involved. The so-called "silent majority" often speaks out just as the final decision is being made or when implementation of a decision is begun. They often have the ability to change this decision or stop implementation. This points out the need to continue to reach out to the rest of the business and residential community of North Park that may not have been involved in the workshops or on the Steering Committee.
Preferred And Refined Alternative
The recommended plan is summed up succinctly with the following major elements. More detail is provided in the following sections.
1. Medians are proposed to control left turning traffic motions, to provide a pedestrian refuge while crossing and to create a positive urban environment.
2. The number of through lanes is being reduced to one in each direction. This reduction is offset by segregating left and right turning traffic in their own lanes and by dedicating transit in an outer lane. The removal of on-street parking in some locations also helps to improve flow.
3. As indicated above, the number of left turning motions are controlled through the use of medians that will accommodate at least every other block turning from turn lanes out of the lane of through traffic.
4. Some adjustments to traffic signals including the addition of a few new signals and several pedestrian notification signals have been added.
5. A key feature of the plan is the dedication of the outer curb edge to a transit only (bikes allowed) lane.
6. Related to the changes in the transit lane, new transit stop locations are proposed to improve the station functionality and efficiency.
7. Though most transit stops are being consolidated, some new stops in new locations are proposed.
8. On street parking is being removed in several areas where adequate width for a safe buffer is not possible.
9. Other locations will receive additional parking, sometimes on adjacent streets.
10. Wherever possible, the pedestrian environment is being expanded and crossing distances are narrowed.
11. A key feature of the plan is the addition of new pedestrian crossing facilities and notification signals.
12. A roundabout is proposed for Texas Street to address this difficult geometry, to improve traffic flow and to provide a focus for future redevelopment.
13. Street trees and median plantings have been identified by many workshop attendees and Steering Committee members as a high priority.
The following is a more detailed discussion of the components of this alternative describing the reasoning behind their inclusion
The medians improve overall traffic flow by limiting turning traffic from University Avenue (and from adjacent streets) to every other block, reducing crashes and improving driver attention, decreasing perceptual width of the street and providing an area for landscaping.
The single through lane provides a direct path unobstructed by left and right turns and transit vehicles and has consistent lane geometry throughout. This lane will probably not be able to carry the full weight of current traffic loads, but the amounts that will be diverted are likely to be smaller than any other alternatives except for Alternative 2, which was focused on vehicular traffic flow at the expense of other uses.
The left turn only lanes allow all left turns to be made from non-travel lanes. Left turn lanes will be protected by medians and where stacking distance is limited, green arrow turn and green yield combination signals will be used. Right turn only lanes remove obstructions to through traffic and limit impacts to parking.
Traffic speed, volume and turning movements warrant two new signals (at Arnold and Oregon). Traffic signals accommodate safe pedestrian crossings. At mid-block crossing, new pedestrian signal lights provide for safer crossing while minimizing affects on traffic.
Dedicated Transit Lanes
This section of University Avenue accommodates one of the most heavily used transit routes in the city (Route 7). The dedicated transit lanes address congestion caused by current conflicts with transit vehicles (blocking or overhanging the travel lane) and bus merging issues at the existing high number of transit stops. The transit lanes also function as semi-protected bike lanes. The transit lanes buffer pedestrians and parking movements from the active traffic lane.
The dedicated transit lanes also provide long-term flexibility since they can be used for other purposes, if necessary. For example, the lanes could be used for parking during off-peak hours.
Another aspect of the dedicated transit lane is that it can accommodate a wide variety of transit vehicle types. Discussions with the Steering Committee and at public workshops did not necessarily exclude any type of transit vehicle type. In fact, the consensus was to allow for a variety of transit vehicle types and services. The final mix of transit vehicles and services will need to be determined jointly between MTDB and the community. However, it could include:
- Standard blue car service vehicles that now use the corridor;
- An enhanced blue car service with level boarding busses;
- Green car service with inter-community looped shuttle service;
- Red car service (or modified urban red car service that may not meet the speed requirements of this service) including BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) vehicles that are low boarding and offer an upgraded look and amenities to standard busses;
- Vintage (original restored historic) streetcars with fixed rail electric streetcars and streamlined catenary (above ground power) systems;
- Replica electric streetcars on fixed rail, with or without overhead catenary systems or in the ground proximity inductor / recharging battery systems; or
- Rubber tired replica streetcars
All of these options can work within the preferred alternative. Any option with fixed rail would have to address public safety for cyclists, since it is not safe to use this outer lane for cycling. An alternative Class Two (bike lane) route would have to be provided along with safety signage noting that cycling is unsafe in this lane.
Existing Transit Stops to be Removed
Too many stops impede efficient transit vehicle timing. Most of the existing transit stops are of the “near-side” type which is not preferred by MTDB and most also require the transit vehicle driver to weave out and back into the travel lane, with associated issues of safety and efficiency. Most of the stops have inadequate length for articulated buses.
New Transit Stops
The new locations are designed to improve transit efficiency by limiting transit stops to key pedestrian origins and destinations. Also, moving stops to far-side locations benefits pedestrian safety and access and removes conflicts with right turning vehicles at intersections. In addition, the new stop locations are proposed in conjunction with improved pedestrian crossings and signals.
On-Street Parking to be Removed
Many parking areas are isolated with only a few spaces. Most of the eliminated parking occurs where substandard widths exist. These areas have statistically high numbers of accidents involving parked cars, rear ends and side swipes. Lost parking on the south side of University Avenue at the west end of the project area is replaced with parallel parking converted to angle parking on the north side along adjacent side streets.
On-Street Parking to Remain or be Added
Existing parking to remain is in the core business area. Parking is added primarily in the core area where road width is adequate to allow passing vehicles to maneuver. Angled parking is added on side streets with adequate width, low traffic volumes and limited curb cuts.
Curb Extensions and Widened Sidewalks
Sidewalk widening accommodates a high level of pedestrian, streetscape and storefront uses. New curb extensions decrease crossing distance, increase pedestrian visibility and slow turning traffic. Associated crosswalks with highly visible markings, median refuges and special crossing lights will greatly improve pedestrian safety.
Pedestrian Improvements at Intersections:
Improved pedestrian-activated signals would be highly visible and include visual and ADA-audible countdown timers. The addition of high contrast crossing markings and in-pavement LED flashers in conjunction with curb extensions would make crossing locations considerably safer.
Texas Street Roundabout
A roundabout at this location was a high priority for many workshop attendees. (Another suggested location was at 30th Street.) Roundabouts reduce conflicts, especially when compared to the confusing offset intersection with marginal visibility. Roundabouts can actually increase the amount of traffic handled through them and help to maintain a steady flow of volume and speed. This roundabout location also takes advantage of the elevated site by providing a high visibility focal point for redevelopment. It should be noted that the Roundabout, though an innovative idea that can help with redevelopment, is not critical to the basic concept of other traffic calming elements. The rest of the plan can work with or without this Roundabout.
Street trees were probably the highest priorities for more workshop attendees than any other element. Trees provide a more comfortable walking environment by reducing glare and cooling paved surfaces by shading them. Trees work particularly well to calm traffic because drivers tend to slow down where there are repetitive vertical elements along the roadway. These elements, especially trees, reduce the apparent size of the streets. Trees also have been shown to be a positive element that can assist in overall redevelopment efforts.
Community Design Treatments
A variety of art concepts, signage and community theming has been provided in this document. A special design transit shelter has been proposed that will capture the historic character of the original electric streetcars that ran up and down University. This modified version would have to take into account current ADA requirements, safety, maintenance issues and possible advertising requirements (to cover maintenance costs). A second transit shelter is proposed that relates to both the historic period and current improvements found at 30th Street. These shelters would fit into a smaller walkway space. Signage has been proposed as part of this project that would help to establish a character for this corridor and relate to existing improvements. Finally, a community identity opportunity exists at the Georgia Street Bridge. This “portal” into the community should be celebrated with the North Park name (the flip side could show Hillcrest or Uptown).
Several follow on efforts are needed prior to moving this concept forward. Some of the steps needed to implement this plan are discussed in Chapter 7. An estimate of probable costs has also been included in the appendices.