Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Trinity Drive: What Now?

In traffic engineering, one needs flexibility 
since we can't depend on a crystal ball. No one
knows when the paradigm will shift again

I know some are disappointed that the T Board, with my concurrence, voted to shoot down the A options. This was after Ourston Roundabout Engineering, one of the preeminent roundabout engineering firms in the U.S., stated unequivocally that the design would not handle peak traffic flows with acceptable level of service. The position of the TB, as I understand it as a member (and I'm speaking for myself here), has always been that the design must not fail during peak commuter hours (i.e., must provide acceptable level of service) in order to move forward. Obviously, this position was not supported, either by Ourston or by our own citizens who modeled the data.

One could move forward in several ways.

1. Push on with the A options and let the road fail during rush hour, thus forcing drivers to adjust their travel or sit in traffic, polluting.  I don't think this was politically feasable and it certainly wouldn't make for a fun road for anyone wanting or needing to commute during peak traffic times. One could improve shuttle and transit services and give people the choice of using a transit system instead of their car, as commenter Jon suggests. One can either increase road space or decrease numbers of cars, after all. By simply trying to match road space with current demand, we are thinking inside the box and spending a lot of money maintaining a big road.

2. Work with LANL to have workers stagger their commuter hours, thus spreading out our huge traffic gluts that only last a couple hours a day, thus eliminating the need for more transient capacity. This would require cooperation between DOE, LANL, and LAC--and of course drivers.  This, in combination with encouraging alternatives to the single-occupant car/light truck, would be my first choice. Wide, multilane roads cost more money to build and maintain, are more difficult and hazardous to cross on foot, and encourage speeding when empty.

3. Demand that DOE improve the Truck Route as a true four lane bypass highway. This would get traffic off of an "A-option" Trinity, but may also get significant business out of Los Alamos County. Not necessarily good for the local economy, so flush that one.

4. Hold our noses and build a road that is obviously over-engineered for the rest of the day (eg, Diamond Drive) but will handle peak loads. Do this in a way that does not violate the County's "Policies for the Design of Streets and Rights of Way", since the County continues to move whole-hog into developing the south side of the street, thus requiring a compromise between pedestrian and vehicular mobility all along the increasingly developed corridor between the Los Alamos Medical Center and Tewa Loop.

This will, of course, require some sensitive engineering to avoid another Diamond Drive International Speedway. Pedestrian flyovers (overpasses or tunnels), narrowed traffic lanes with protected center refuges, Hawk system midblock crossings, and other treatments need to be included. These options will, of course, reduce level of service compared to a free-running four lane road, raise costs or both. No surprise, except to some who have not considered it. One person recent opined that since Central is walkable, why worry about Trinity?  I guess that person would also say that since we have an Interstate highway to Albuquerque, why would we need one to Denver?

In any of these cases, we need to stop thinking inside the box.  Those B and C bicyclists whom some in the community speak for could be ill served by some or all of these designs, and better served if we actually look elsewhere in the country (such as Portland, Oregon) and decide to whom we are designing and find out what works. League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke, in a letter to a county Councillor, reminded us that the Portland example shows (and this is a very rough paraphrase--I'll get the quote later) that:  Very few cyclists (me and Neale Pickett, as someone recently kidded at a council hearing) will ride anywhere and on anything. Only a few percent (less than 10%) of people will bicycle even on well designed and well connected on-street, non-separated bikeways. The majority of the population, roughly half, will consider bicycling only if they are provided their own protected right of way. Nearly half will not cycle at all. Based on past data here in Bombtown, I tend to think that works here.

In my earlier position (which I still hold), I hold that the A-3 option would likely be less appealing to most potential cyclists, i.e., those whom some want to "encourage", than the road as it sits today. If we really want to build a Trinity Corridor that appeals to "children, the elderly", etc., and those less-confident potential cyclists,  then I really do think we need to look at separated designs. That doesn't mean bollards running along Trinity traffic, either, as this would create a maze of turning and crossing conflicts in which the cyclist would lose.  I think perhaps a bicycle boulevard or some other exclusive right of way treatment that is truly its own place would better encourage the rest of the world, i.e., that elusive 50%.  I concur with former Councillor Robert Gibson in this regard.

We have to dispense with the notion that the Trinity corridor has one purpose alone: to get people into and out of Los Alamos as fast as possible. Such a notion ended when the County decided to develop mixed use (housing and commerce) on both sides of the street. So clinging to the notion of a Trinity Drive as a fast blast outa town does a disservice to all of the people along the corridor to whom the county has marketed Los Alamos as a nice place to live. There is nothing nice about diving out of the way of speeding cars as you try to get from Loma Vista to Smiths on foot or bike, walking down crumbling sidewalks inches from heavy traffic, and walking long distances between pedestrian crossings.

Communities need to increasingly balance our need for an actively physical civic lifestyle, carbon-lite transportation, planning and zoning that optimizes traffic flow and minimizes waste, and transportation systems that provide both intercity and intracity mobility. With all our Ph.D.s and engineers, we have no excuse to do a lousy job.

Stay tuned.


Jon said...

Transit needs to play some role in the rush hour. Obviously people are choosing not to take the park and ride; that doesn't mean they aren't potential transit customers. Can we put a lot at the bottom of the truck route, or near the Y, and get those last ten miles onto ACT or the LANL taxi? (Would have to be a pretty big lot, alas, and a lot of the surrounding land is Pueblo.) Is it feasible to have the ACT White Rock route provide LANSCE access? (It's a long way back in from the road there.)

I'm not yet convinced that four lanes on Trinity is necessary, but the capacity needs to be provided somehow.

Amy said...

After finding out the action the county took last night, I can assure you that I will never serve on a board or get involved in any way for the county again. Really. Good luck to you all.

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