Building a Smarter Road

Over the years I have frequently expressed frustration with a City Council that seemed hell bent on leading Rochester into 1960. This time I have to say we got it right. Presented with a reconstruction project of Collegeview Road we were presented with at traditional level of service based design which would have resulted in a 4 lane highway and messy intersections that were less safe for all users of the road. The council rightfully asked some tough questions and staff came back with a new analysis and recommended design which turned out to be safer, flexible, and less expensive to build & maintain.

4th Street SE & Collegeview SE road are part of Rochester’s eventual Primary Transit Network (PTN) Meaning we want the corridor to be transit friendly, people friendly and urban. The initial proposal was for a traditional 4 lane roadway which is less safe for all users, especially pedestrians crossing at 19th Ave SE, where a school, park, and hospital come together. This crossing would have involved a skewed intersection and 6 lanes to traverse. An actual viewing of the number of vehicles in the corridor shows that only 12,500 vehicles a day use that corridor. In 2000, this was about 10,000 A true need for 4 lanes isn’t usually until 22,000 vehicles per day. At the current rate of growth a 4 lane design wouldn’t be needed until about 2077. In other words, the tax paying public would be asked to build, maintain and then rebuild a section of roadway before it was actually needed.

In stead of this 1960’s style design which considered automobile delay a couple times a day and disregarded all other users; the City relied on language from our newly adopted Comprehensive Plan. This language reads:

PLANNING 2 SUCCEED (P2S) COMP. PLAN
 ROADWAY SHOULD BE DESIGNED FOR TRANSIT
 TOLERATING A MODERATE LEVEL OF PEAK
HOUR CONGESTION ENCOURAGES TRAVELERS
TO CONSIDER OTHER TRAVEL MODES – PG. 230
 ALONG THE PRIMARY TRANSIT NETWORK (PTN),
ALTERNATIVE LEVEL OF SERVICE CRITERIA
SHOULD BE CONSIDERED – PG. 232
 LOS EXEMPTIONS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED
WHERE MULTI-MODAL TRAVEL IS A PRIORITY –
PG. 233

With this in mind we asked “Can we do this more cost effectively and more safely?” As it turns out the answer was “yes.” The council requested the intersection be considered for a roundabout. This in turn eliminated the failing intersection from driving the design. This was initially proposed about 3 years ago at a ROCOG (Rochester Olmsted Council of Governments) Meeting, but then never considered by staff. Turns out it works great. Because of the lack of consideration this was simply removed from the scope of the project and will be done in the future.

Without this single intersection gumming up the works, it was easy to design a 2 lane (plus turn lane) design that preserves the option for an additional lane in each direction should the need ever arise. Irrespective of the option selected there was to be a buffered bike lane on the outside shoulder. This can actually be converted to a transit lane when and if this becomes part of the primary transit route without much expense. At that point the bikeway would have to move behind the curb. This kind of smarter design will safe taxpayers more than a million dollars initially and even more in annual maintenance. The biggest advantage is not the financial savings though, it is the added safety. A 2 or 3 lane roadway has so many fewer conflict points and is so much safer for crossing traffic and pedestrians that this smarter design can truly be called a life saver.

I think the county is designing there section poorly, it will be far more expensive and less safe for the public. That is my opinion, but if the only thing that matters is an outdated metric like Level of Service (LOS) I am sure it looks great. That said, it is a road that they wish to maintain. So long as they aren’t going to force bad designs on us, we don’t need to force good designs on them. That is up to the voters.

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