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Skeptical on Rio Grande lane changes

RIO GRANDE STAYING ON A DIET: North Valley resident John Young says now that the Rio Grande Boulevard Road Diet – Before and After Summary report has been published (at using the Council, District 2, projects planning and Rio Grande test project tabs), what does the city plan to do about the lane configuration on Rio Grande Boulevard?

You can guess where John is going.

He says “I have personally found the lane reduction re-striping of Rio Grande to a three-lane configuration – one lane in each direction with a center turn lane – from Matthew Avenue to Griegos has made my commute less safe than the previous five-lane configuration. In particular, I have seen frustrated drivers use the newly expanded bike lanes to illegally pass cars that are driving at or below the speed limit. This use of the bike lane creates not only a hazard for motorists not expecting a car there but could be catastrophic for bicyclists.”

John’s other concerns include, “it is now very difficult to get onto Rio Grande from a driveway or a side street. The only option is to pull out into the bicycle/striped section, either blocking that lane and making a right-angle merge, or using that lane as an acceleration lane. Both of these are accidents waiting to happen. During rush hour the steady stream of cars in a single lane northbound makes turns from Rio Grande southbound onto Matthew road at the traffic light problematic. Cars are forced to either wait multiple light cycles or turn after the signal is red.”

Throw in “significantly more tailgating again from frustrated drivers again following motorists that are driving at or below the speed limit” as well as “when motorists slow to turn off Rio Grande this leads to an accordion of following traffic that has resulted in hard braking to avoid collisions.”

John is less than convinced by the report, which found small improvements in speeding with the road diet but traffic still traveling 5 to 10 mph over the posted speed limit. “This extremely low improvement of speed does not seem to offset the multitude of additional hazards created by the re-striping.”

And the transfer of traffic from Rio Grande to Fourth, with more speeding on Fourth, prompts John to say “pushing a problem over a few streets to another area of the North Valley is a bit disingenuous.”

John says “I believe Rio Grande to be less safe in the three-lane test and needs to revert to the original 5 lane configuration.”

It bears noting the report also found that even with fewer lanes, morning and afternoon peak travel times decreased – on Rio Grande as well as on Fourth and Second.

Diane Dolan, policy analyst for City Councilor Isaac Benton, says in response to John’s criticisms of the report looking at the wrong things that “the scope of the work was approved by the Department of Municipal Development. Eighty-fifth percentile speed data is a national standard used in traffic engineering.”

To the concern that Benton had his mind made up to keep the new configuration before the results were in, so he had the report cherry-pick data, Dolan responded: “Councilor Benton did not see any of the data prior to being provided the report. His prediction that new configuration would function well was based on experience with other re-striping projects, including along Central Avenue between Eighth and San Pasquale, which has at least twice the volume of vehicles compared to this section of Rio Grande Boulevard.”

And Dolan explains that “the data indicates that the restriping slightly reduced speed and traffic volume without significantly impacting traffic operations. The increase of the 85th percentile speed on Fourth Street was about 1 mph – the report notes that the 4.7 mph increase north of Candelaria appears to be an outlier – while the reduction on Rio Grande Boulevard was 1.6 — 3.4 mph.”

And while the diet stays, some changes are on the way.

Dolan says ” ‘tweaks’ to the existing configuration will be made based on observations and comments from the public, the city’s traffic engineers and the consultant. Options for reducing vehicle usage of the bike lanes – which, unfortunately is a problem throughout the city – are being considered. We will not have a cost estimate until the design is complete but expect that it will be similar to that of the test project since it involves only paint.”

Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858;; or P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, N.M. 87103.



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