Saturday, September 17, 2022

New Ramps on Wallace Road Lead to Nowhere

With the crosswalk education and enforcement action by the police this week, it was a good time to check out the new work on Wallace Road. ODOT had this summer installed a bunch of ramps, new beg buttons and countdown signals with restriped crosswalks, some enhanced crosswalks with flashing beacons, and new overhead signals with more reflective backgrounds.

The project is weird, even incoherent, and broadly fails to improve crossing in key ways. 

Apart from upgrading the signal hardware, basically they just added a bunch of ramps! They just sprinkled them everywhere. The ramps are mainly at unmarked crosswalks, but the speed of traffic, volume of traffic, and width of the road makes these crosswalks very tricky business, especially for someone blind or using a mobility device. While the ramps and other elements might meet the letter of ADA compliance, they don't meet the spirit and intent at all. ODOT didn't really improve conditions for non-auto travel here.

Ramp to nowhere at Bassett St

If ODOT is going to put in ramps on very busy streets, they should also stripe crosswalks and make clear to drivers they should expect to stop. Ramps should signal "this is a good place to cross." The installation here instead reinforces the power asymmetry with default conditions in favor of drivers and continuous flow. Many of them are not at all good places to cross. "Knock yourself out. Good luck with that."

The other side of the street at Bassett

At Moyer Lane and Walgreens the crosswalks are closed, but people cross anyway. There is demand here.

At Moyer Lane crosswalks closed

But there is demand to cross here

At Veall Lane there is no striped crosswalk, but there is a small median refuge. The ramp is tilted at an angle, not directly in line with the refuge and ramp on the opposite side.

At Veall Lane there is a median refuge

Crossing side streets and driveways was weird too. Though this is not crossing Wallace Road, but is along Wallace Road, at a shopping center driveway next to Burger King, the ramp is behind the stop bar, so the implied crosswalk goes through stopped cars! The relocated ramp does shorten the crossing distance a bit. The old one kinda dumped you out in the bike lane and a person might find themselves in the car travel lane if they weren't super careful. It was not a good configuration. But this one didn't make any adjustment to the car lanes and showed cars still have priority.

At Burger King, a ramp behind the stop bar

There's just a welter of different ramp and implied crosswalk configurations here, and almost none of them are very helpful with actually crossing the street. The bump pads and yellow do locate edges and help with the transition over the curb, but otherwise the crossings are mostly defective in some way with a bias for cars and car travel once you are in the roadway. They are formal signs and surface appearance of ADA compliance, but not a whole lot more. Walking or using a mobility scooter here is still very subordinate to the motor vehicle capacity function for the state highway.

Farther up at Narcissus Court is the first of several enhanced crosswalks with a flashing beacon and median refuge.

The enhanced crosswalk at Narcissus Court

I tried it out, and it too is not very helpful.

Drivers were very disinclined to stop even when the beacon was flashing. 

45mph in town on Wallace Road NW (2014)

The beacon here may not be bright enough or perhaps there needs to be an additional set of beacons to account for the greater stopping distance at higher speed. Since this is a State Highway many people zoom, but their disinclination to stop was not always because they didn't see the beacon. They feel - with justification! - that the non-verbal design cues on the road signal priority for cars and high speed. Not just at 45mph but considerably faster.

Additionally, I felt vulnerable. Even when the front rank of cars were stopped, it felt like they could get rear-ended by someone behind them. It was still not a very comfortable crossing. This was an exception: Nearly every new enhanced crosswalk with a flashing beacon has offered a subjective sense of improved comfort and safety. Not this one.

In high speed urban environments like this, the enhanced crosswalk with flashing beacon does not seem very helpful, and in fact seems very underpowered. The crossing needed more robust safety countermeasures, gestures at odds with ODOT's speed and capacity demands for a State Highway. 

But this is an urban street and we should demand slower speed on it.

Further north on Wallace there were additional enhanced crosswalks, but I did not visit them. Maybe another time. I was mostly interested in the close-in section where we should want and expect lots more non-auto travel.

Overall ODOT's deployment of ramps and other elements seemed like rather begrudging compliance with the ADA, only meeting a minimum. They still seemed like they did not want to interrupt the flow of motor vehicle traffic, and were not willing to make many concessions to non-auto travel in a close-in, urbanized area. All in all it was very partial, incoherent, and much less useful than it might have been.

Recently see:

Addendum, October 24th

On FB a reader points to the removal of a curb cut.

At the Union St. Bridge path end
ODOT removed a curb cut and ramp

They are right. This removal seemed part of ODOT's overall resistance to the at grade crossing here (See posts bulleted above). Additionally, in the context of the ADA work, a ramp may need to signal a crossing, and ODOT does not want a crossing here at the moment. Hence removal.

As for any practical inconvenience resulting from the removal, that did not seem very significant.

The bike lane on this side of Wallace is outbound, and there's basically zero instances in which someone biking in it would want to go from the bike lane up to the bridge path. Outbound on Wallace prior to the path terminus, the only way to get on the bike lane is from Musgrave, and you could get better access to the bridge path from there by going through the park to the trestle. Why would a person on bike need to make the right turn from bike lane to path here?

More likely is wanting to go in the other direction, from the path onto the Wallace bike lane. Not having the curb cut and ramp is a real inconvenience there, but you can do a half block of sidewalk riding to the wide driveway at McDonald's and the credit union, and then join the bike lane there. Or just take a longer way through the park and on Glen Creek and joining the Wallace bike lane at that gigantic intersection.

The removal does impose some out of direction travel, and is an instance of the sidewalkification of bicycling, but in the context of all the other things screwed up here along Wallace Road, this seemed a small matter. And in fairness to ADA requirements, a ramp there might be dangerous without a formal crossing. The focus here has been on the whole question of an at grade crossing rather than the detail of this particular curb cut. If we can solve that, some kind of curb cut and ramp will return.


Don said...

One thing you didn't notice is that they took about two feet of curb away from where there "upgraded" the crossing, providing less curb to slow cars down as they make more sweeping turns.

This "upgrade" is a failure for walkable streets, but a win for increasing flow of cars

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

You are right, I did not notice the change in width or radius! Maybe there will be more to say later on that.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I have a friend who lives in a motorized wheelchair, she says that every time she goes out on Salem streets, she expects to die! She would gladly volunteer to test crosswalk plans and give real advice, but no one is interested in real people doing real work to make streets safer.

She has outfitted her wheelchair with tall flags and flashing lights and still people bump into at crosswalks. They claim they do not see her! And all crosswalks have too short of a crossing time for a motorized wheelchair. Doesn't anyone check that?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added a bit on a ramp removal.