Monday, August 4, 2008

Phoenix's Reversible Traffic Lanes

Images courtesy of ilco at Stock.xchng

Here's an interesting factoid about Phoenix for out of towners - we have reversible traffic lanes. No, they're  not a different color on the other side. They're traffic lanes in which cars move southbound during the morning rush hour and northbound during the evening rush hour.

These reversible lanes are found in the middle of 7th Street and 7th Avenue. The 2 Seven's are main traffic arteries in mid-town Phoenix, easing traffic flow from the North Phoenix suburbs to the downtown business district and removing a bit of traffic from the north-south bound Interstates 17 and 51. Each  street is about 6 lanes wide at their widest spot and the reversibility (lookit Ma, I just made up a word) stretches from Dunlap road in the north to about McDowell road in the south.

Seventh Avenue & Street are each about 1/2 a mile away from Central Avenue. Check out the Google map of 7th Street & Glendale Avenue, then zoom all the way in as far as you can on satellite view. See those yellow lane markers in the middle lane? That's the reversible lane. From 6am to 9am  Mondays through Fridays it goes southbound into downtown Phoenix. Weekdays from 4pm to 7pm  traffic flows northbound out of the city. The rest of the time the lanes serve as your standard left turn only spot.

Tourist Tip - Phoenix is laid out on a big grid making it really easy to navigate and read city maps. Major streets are about a mile from each other.  Numbered streets go north & south. Named streets go east and west. The major exceptions in Phoenix are Grand Avenue and Cave Creek Road which each run diagonally through the city. Grand is on the west side and runs northwest-southeast. Cave Creek is on the east side of town and runs northeast-southwest.

The numbered streets start at a baseline of Central Avenue which is technically Zero Street. Streets on the east side of Central Avenue are sequentially numbered 1st Street, 2nd Street, etc., and the same holds true for the Avenues on the west side of Central.

To get an idea how geographically huge the metro Phoenix region is, imagine this: on about Baseline Road in Central Phoenix you can drive from about 150th Avenue in the West to at least 225th Street on the East side and never know you just drove through at least 6 different towns - Buckeye, Goodyear, Avondale, Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Apache Junction. It will look like suburbia & cityscape for the whole trip! (But it gets a little confusing beyond about 82nd Street or 101st Avenue because the city/town governments started using street names instead of numbers.)

Anyway, back to the reversible lanes. The Downtown Voices Coalition blog ran a story August 3rd about Phoenix's reversible lanes, citing a City Council study that found them detrimental to pedestrian safety and a nuisance to local merchants. The Council recommends re-signing them or shutting them down (after 25 years in use, BTW). However, the same story cites a Streets Department study that found commute times would skyrocket if the reversibles were abolished. I couldn't find a link to that study but found a pretty cool PDF showing where traffic is the heaviest in Phoenix. It's from 2005 but you can pretty safely figure that most spots just got busier between 05 and today.

I'm all for supporting local merchants but since the news story didn't list any traffic accident statistics, I'm a little suspect. How could reversible lanes be detrimental to pedestrian safety unless those peds are crossing in the middle of the street (which is illegal)? Maybe I'm biased? The reversible lanes have been driving for longer than I have after all. Maybe I need to attend a City Council meeting.

I traveled 7th Street regularly for several years when I was a paralegal. I liked the reversibles! The change in  traffic flow kept me alert on those sleepy morning commutes. Also, I think it's fun to take a short detour through a local neighborhood instead of making hairpin U-turns and left turns in the middle of the street during an all-too-brief break in rush hour traffic. That's way dangerous and the few times I've seen people do it I shake my head in amazement and wonder "where are the cops when idiots are on the loose?!"

All in all, I'd like to see concrete stats on the number of traffic accidents caused specifically and solely by the reversible lanes before I'd get behind doing away with them. Anybody have an opinion? I can see from my stats that 300-500 people read me daily. Weigh in! I check the comments before they go live so if you make a typo I'll fix it. No need to worry about looking silly on a blog. Join in!

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