Best traffic solution for a bad intersection?
October 12, 2006 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Trafficfilter: at a problem intersection, what traffic solution would most benefit me – a stoplight, a traffic cop, a rotary, or something else?

There’s an intersection on my daily commute that causes me at least a five-minute delay every morning. My only way to work is on a two-lane state road (let’s call it Route 18), and the problem happens at the intersection of Route 18 and a side street, from which a lot of cars want to turn onto Route 18. The drivers on the side street have a stop sign, but drivers on Route 18 slow down to let them on, which makes the traffic back up for miles (and makes me very annoyed, since the slowing drivers have the right-of-way). To make matters worse, about 1/10 of a mile from there, many of the cars turn left from Route 18 onto a different side street, so the traffic backs up again as these cars yield to oncoming traffic.

I want to complain to the town about this intersection and advocate for the solution that would most benefit me. So what should I advocate for: a stoplight, a traffic cop, a rotary, or something else? And should I advocate for two stoplights/traffic cops, one at the first side street and another at the street where all the cars turn left? If a rotary is the best solution, I figure both intersections could be included – but I kind of hate rotaries.
posted by acridrabbit to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
With all due respect, you're not a traffic planner. It may be in your best interest to just dump the problem in the laps of the town council (or whomever) and let them find a professional to deal with it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:38 AM on October 12, 2006

at a problem intersection, what traffic solution would most benefit me

A traffic planner's first concern is safety. Unless you can demonstrate that the situation is dangerous, your inconvenience is not reason to change the flow of traffic, even if it is less than ideal.
posted by peeedro at 6:46 AM on October 12, 2006

Seconded. There are so many vectors to take into consideration in situations like this—cars per hour, busiest times, existing level of service, number of accidents (potential or otherwise)—that this is a problem for a traffic planner.

Also, be aware that studies to ascertain a particular solution take a long ass time, usually in terms of months or years. There was always grumbling in my hometown that traffic signs wouldn't be installed until a certain number of accidents had occurred at said intersection.
posted by timetoevolve at 6:46 AM on October 12, 2006

Best answer: I agree Faint of Butt - Dont worry about the solution, when it comes to traffic planners, you just have to make your problem THEIR problem.. Or better yet, find out who the immediate elected boss over this kind of stuff is and make it THEIR problem

As a community organizer I've worked on very similar issues. I recommend you take a couple days off work, go to the most congested place and hold up a large sign that says something like.. "Late? Call ELECTED OFFICIAL at 555-5555 and tell him to fix this mess"

If you can generate a few phone calls, and make this an election time liability then the problem will get solved regardless of what safety issues their may or may not be.

Make sure you are naming someone by name though.. "Call the county commission" isnt good enough. You need "Call John Doe" My usual steps to winning on stuff like this is..

#1 Research - find out who the target is, i.e. who can give you want you want, and where is this person's weaknesses.

#2 Isolate - It may be unfair, but paint this issue as SOLELY this particular guys problem. (I dont care how the system really works.. tell people it's this guys fault)

#3 Polarize - Make this issue a referendum on the individuals competence. It doesnt matter what else he has done. Clearly someone who allows this isn't doing their job.

#4 Attack - Generate pressure until he gives you what you want. Stand on his toes until he pays you to go away.

Just think about it this way.. The world doesnt work based on what is right or wrong. It lives and breathes in terms of power. Right now, those with the potential to solve your problem have no need to listen to you. or as Fredrick Douglas said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will."

It seems to me that several miles of backed-up, pissed-off, drivers is a lot of power waiting to be harnessed.
posted by jlowen at 7:18 AM on October 12, 2006 [5 favorites]

New area? If it is, they will probably start improvements soon - something even more fun to look forward to. I'd enjoy the simplicity of a five minute delay for as long as I could. Not really an answer...
posted by chupwalla at 7:54 AM on October 12, 2006

For the left turns off Route 18, a dedicated lane for left turns is obviously what you want if it is possible to slightly widen the road there.

For the turns on to Route 18 it's more compliated. It depends on the volume of traffic, its speed, and the extent to which people slow down. Only way a "rotary" (I assume that's what I'd call roundabout) would help is if it somehow makes traffic merge more smoothly. I see no reason to think it would unless some large proportion of the traffic turning onto the road is turning left, thus impeding two directions of traffic instead of one. Otherwise, maybe a merge lane for right turns there would help a little, but I think they don't typically use those unless they're also putting in a light, since it doesn't make much difference at the first intersection if there isn't a light, and it's a very much overly-complicated way to improve the second. A traffic light might help speed things up, but only if there's quite a lot of volume from both directions, or if there's so little traffic from the side street that it doesn't need to change very often. Otherwise it could just as easily make things worse.

Also, be sure you've identified the problem correctly. Changes to the intersections won't make much difference to you unless traffic really is always moving fast for many miles beyond them.

I would necessarily trust the town council (or whomever) to get it right. I've seen them make some pretty obviously bad decisions about such things in more than one town. However, I wouldn't really trust anything you read on AskMe, either.
posted by sfenders at 8:01 AM on October 12, 2006

It sounds like what you really want is for Route 18 to be widened by one lane but only between the two intersections. Adding an extra lane on the right will give people at the first intersection someplace to turn into, and if that extra lane begins at the intersection it won't already be full of traffic. At the second intersection, the leftmost lane can be used as a turn lane; after that, the road can narrow back down again.

But I'm just another amateur, and bringing the problem to a professional's attention will probably get you a better solution.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:42 AM on October 12, 2006

There are lots of rural areas that get built up too fast with subdivisions and the they don't increase the capacity of the roads to keep pace. This is poor planning. Developers should bear the costs of road improvements when they are obviously increasing the traffic volume.

Chances are there is something in the works. Major road widening projects especially for designated state highways take a few years of planning and fund allocation. You can check with the DPW in the town or maybe the county to see if there is anything in the works.

Otherwise start writing to your state representatives if the road is definitely a state trunk highway.
posted by JJ86 at 9:56 AM on October 12, 2006

Response by poster: JJ86 and chupwalla: this is in Massachusetts - the houses are mostly 100+ years old. The traffic has probably been like this for years.

Jlowen: thanks for the practical advice - that sounds like an excellent approach!
posted by acridrabbit at 10:30 AM on October 12, 2006

Yeah, Jlowen, that's a rather brilliant distillation of how to affect change in this area. Is this boilerplate activism stuff? If it isn't, it should be.

My comparison would be to Hawaii, specifically the highway on the Kona coast. It's a long, sparse two-lane road where people get going about 60 or 70 miles an hour, with a turn-in for hotels every, oh, maybe two miles or so. It's designed quite well, with lanes for turns off the highway, both left and right, as well as lanes for people turning on to the highway, again both left and right turns. Basically, they built in a merge lane. At a particularly popular resort, there's the lone stop light, which it sounds like you might need at that first intersection. This is all just for curiousity's sake, though -- everyone else is right in that this really isn't your problem.

And if we're talking Massachusetts, then JLowen's suggestions become even more spot-on. If there's any place in the world that is built on who has power and what they can do with it, it's Massachusetts. And maybe Chicago.
posted by incessant at 2:44 PM on October 12, 2006

Thanks everyone..

Incessant - The theory is fairly standard community organizing stuff in the Saul Alinsky vein. The strategy and tactics are widely used, but the particular R.I.P.A. steps is something I came up with as part of a new organizer training through the National Training and Information Center

I've had the privilege of being part of their national training team for a couple years now, and have throughly enjoyed training the underdog on how to stand up, fight and win.

Community organizing though is markedly different though than straight up "activism". Organizers tend to work on more direct issues affecting quality of life, in mostly urban areas. (although there is one kick ass rural organizing group in Iowa).

I tend to associate activism more with "free tibet" or "end the war" stuff. All thats cool, but I think real empowerment happens when normal people take on the issues that directly affect them, and through winning, realize that they do have dignity and power.

Activists protest, organizers storm the board room. There isnt much "granola" in our breed. We are more likely to feel at home in a bar fight than a peace march.

Plus I get paid to do this stuff. Its a great job. I run a video blog where I share tons of stories about this kind of work, but I know better than to self link in metafilter.
posted by jlowen at 4:38 PM on October 12, 2006

You can self-link in comments, as long as the link is on-topic, and I think here you'd definitely be on-topic, jlowen. Please link us.
posted by cgc373 at 8:46 PM on October 12, 2006

Cool - my site is here.
posted by jlowen at 11:27 AM on October 13, 2006

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