Proposed Route 571 Main Street Design Unsafe

571/Wallace-Cranbury morning commute 2The WWBPA responded to the county’s proposed CR 571 Main Street design recently, maintaining that it is unsafe for everyone: motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians alike. In the past 10 years, two pedestrians were killed on this stretch of roadway (2004 and 2005), while no motorists were killed.? A 17-year-old motorist was killed in 2006, however, just west of downtown Princeton Junction, when she lost control of her car on the curve coming off the bridge over the train tracks.

The proposed wider-straighter-faster design does nothing to address these safety issues. Instead, it preserves the current 45mph design speed and 40mph posted speed limit. Drivers don’t respect crosswalks when they have to slow from high speed, and the proposed design does nothing to provide pedestrian refuges in the center of the roadway to promote safe crossing.

Rt 571 Concept Illustration

The design also features a new two-way center left turn lane (TWLTL) that studies have shown to be unsafe; AARP calls them “suicide lanes.” One study even showed that artificially lowering the posted speed limit, but not the design speed, caused an increase in crashes.

Picture 7

Here’s a picture of Hamilton’s SR 33 that most resembles what is planned. The 45mph design speed is simply not appropriate for the pedestrian friendly Main Street that our Redevelopment Plan envisions. A survey of other Mercer County towns shows that Princeton, Lawrenceville, Hightstown, Hopewell and Pennington all have 25 – 30mph speed limits on their Main Streets. Why not in West Windsor?

The WWBPA is not just opining, and we’re not just complaining – our response, and our recommendations based on the December 2009 Public Review, are founded on research and guidelines from the New Jersey Department of Transportation. We are recommending constructive, Complete Streets alternatives to remedy the safety issues and make a Main Street that we can all be proud of.

The current design shows why Mercer County should adopt a Complete Streets policy to complement the state and West Windsor township policies – our transportation network needs jurisdictions with consistent policies to benefit our taxpayers.

Thanks to everyone who has gotten involved to support our position! We appreciate all of you who have signed our petition at the Farmers’ Market, or who have contacted the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, which recently conducted public outreach on this and other federally-funded projects.

More help is needed. Please contact our public officials to support our position. With a lower design speed and pedestrian refuges, our senior residents can cross Route 571 safely to the new Rite Aid, and our children can cross Route 571 safely to the new ex-Acme shopping center, as well as to the high school. And our teenage drivers should be able to keep control of their vehicles when going more slowly. Everyone benefits.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses to “Proposed Route 571 Main Street Design Unsafe”

  1. Brian says:

    To clarify, the law would theoretically ban those low speeds in the absence of a traffic survey showing an 85th percentile speed under 30. In those circumstances, its fine. Otherwise, its just a speed trap.

  2. Brian says:

    Jerry,

    I’m glad you would oppose that; unfortunately that is too often the view of small municipalities who know nothing about actual traffic engineering (including the engineers). We need to get a law passed banning municipalities from posting limits of 25-30 on major (striped) roads, and lower than 50 on rural roads that have little to no housing directly on them. This would probably take care of most of my concerns with the speed limit issue, and make them far more consistent. And as literature shows, it’d probably improve safety and general attitude towards the police.

    I find no trouble stopping for cyclists and pedestrians on Clarksville Rd when I’m traveling around 45 mph, but then again this area you’re describing is not nearly as open as the one I’m referring to. I also always give bikers ~5-6 feet minimum, or I slow down to 25-35 mph if I can only give them a few feet. People often tailgate me for doing this. If we’re in an area with tons of parked cars (like princeton), I generally support a lower design speed/speed limit because motorists don’t have the same amount of time to react to a pedestrian. Lighted crosswalks and higher visibility can help somewhat, but part of the problem is that our driver education is poor and that many people are inattentive. Minor inattention on a deserted highway isn’t too bad, but the same inattention can be fatal in a crowded business/residential area. People fail to notice the environment very much and adjust their driving accordingly, but that doesn’t mean we all do that and it sometimes feels like good drivers are being screwed because of the rest.

    I still don’t believe that the area has the density needed for much lower speeds; its primarily a mall/bank type commerce area rather than a ‘villiage center’. But I would support a 35 mph limit if the design of the road were altered to result in an 85th percentile speed of less than 40 mph. I don’t support a 25 mph or 30 mph limit because even though those speeds might be more prudent during ‘on times’, they may be too slow during off times and result in people driving safely being ticketed. Well, I guess unless it’s a crowded town center, like Princeton to give an example. Variable limits are highly ideal and would solve that problem but aren’t really used much and I would say aren’t realistic in the current political climate, though they easily could be based on a simple vehicle sample count with a cable laid across the road. I don’t necessarily dispute the Guidebook either, but I am simply curious under which circumstances this applies; certainly not to more rural roads with high visibility…the circumstances will make all the difference in this case. In a city environment with very low visibility, I’d certainly find their findings to be quite true. An example I can think of is Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick. The 25 mph limit is too slow for clear conditions for a four lane thruway, but during ‘on hours’ I only drive 30 while people whiz past me in the left lane. I see many instances when people completely miss pedestrians because of this. A variable speed limit of 30 during on hours, and 40 during off hours would probably be appropriate for this roadway.

    I also don’t see much use of ‘minor speed bumps’ or ‘speed tables’ that you can safely cross at 30, but keep the speeds below 35 due to intervals. These would be far more effective at lowering travel speeds and ‘traffic calming’. I know one 35 mph zone that has these and its highly effective for the most part. Certainly more effective than posting 25 and desperately trying to speed trap it.

    With regards to cyclists, I think a reasonable compromise would be to pass a law mandating that people slow down to 35 mph or give more room, even if its on a high speed road. That way the road doesn’t get posted low for the ‘safety comfort’ of a few when there is no hazard to going 15 mph over the arbitrary limit when there are no bikers present. Think of South Mill Rd as a key example.

    Frankly, I think people get off way too easy for driving like utter morons, while good drivers occasionally get nailed for no good reason. I would support much harsher penalties for ‘bad driving’ if the system were fair and more open to being challenged.

  3. Jerry Foster says:

    Brian,

    Your comments are reasonable, and they do point to the issue of transition. Clearly the stretch of road isn’t a main street in the traditional, pre-car-era sense, such as in Hightstown or Princeton, and won’t ever share that era’s history and street design. The population density will increase, if our redevelopment plan is implemented, as infill progresses in small projects, plus the transit village on the other side of the tracks.

    Not being a civil engineer, it’s not clear to me which features would be easy to change to get reductions in design speed. Being uneducated, it seems that reducing roadway width and banking (aka super-elevation), as well as eliminating specialized turning lanes, would save significant money, calm traffic and deliver the next step toward a contemporary main street. If those or whatever other measures gets us to a 35mph design speed, cars will be far more likely to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks.

    According to the studies, above 35mph motorists find it too difficult to see pedestrians in time to honor the crosswalk. The 25-30mph guideline is from the Smart Transportation Guidebook – we aren’t attempting to introduce our opinions over the judgment of the transportation professionals who authored it. The suggestion to implement the current design but the lower the posted speed limit to 25mph is in my view the worst case scenario.

  4. Brian says:

    Here’s my comments on this ‘complete street’ thing:

    I think you should settle for a smaller reduction in design speed to 40 mph, not 30 mph. Currently, typical small residential side streets are designed for 30 mph with a speed limit of 25, and most people are in the 25-30 mph range. To ask for that on a main road is unrealistic. It would take a lot of modification to drop the design speed a full 15 mph, and it wouldn’t be fair to drivers during less congested times since the speed limit is supposed to signify the safe speed during IDEAL traffic conditions…it would just turn into a speed trap. And as I read in the complete streets briefing, drivers just go what is seen to be a reasonable speed. People often think ‘well we’ll just drop it to 25 to be safe then, it can’t be worse than nothing’ except that it actually is worse than nothing, because it makes our system of laws into some kind of joke and erodes respect for properly set limits.

    Part of what is important in designing a ‘main street’ is urban density; this area does not have the density required to get travel speeds all the way down to 25.

    Most major residential/commercial thruways have a limit of 35 or 40 mph; parking and narrowing the road could be implemented along with crosswalks with a reduction in 85th percentile speed to the ~38 mph mark. Heck, one could just remove the speed signs and let traffic take care of itself theoretically…so the limit could be kept the same. But if we’re talking about the area from High School South to Wallace Rd, I would support a modest reduction in design speed since I think it could be done realistically.

    I also believe that improving sidewalks/crosswalks is a more effective way to improve pedestrian safety than trying to reduce speed limits or slow people down a lot; in fact, the mere presence of these devices tends to slow most sensible drivers down a bit. Finally, I think you’re more likely to get what you want if the proposal isn’t quite so drastic.

Archives

Categories

Tag Cloud

bicycle bicycle commuting bicycle safety Bicycle Tourism bicycling Bike/Ped Path bike commuter journal Bike Commuting bike lanes bike path bike racks bike ride bike safety biking Community Bike Ride Complete Streets crosswalk D&R Canal Downtown Princeton Junction East Coast Greenway Historic Bike Trail League of American Bicyclists Learn to BIke Livable Communities Main Street Mercer County mercer county bike commuting Mercer County Park multi-use trails National Bike Month NJDOT pedestrian pedestrian safety Plainsboro Princeton Princeton Junction train station Ride of Silence Route 571 safety sidewalks Smart Transportation speed limits traffic walking West Windsor