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When flashing yellows and merge lanes aren’t safe

TIMING OFF AT UNSER AND WESTERN TRAILS: David Carrington emails he’d like “an answer or a resolution to the timing at the traffic light at Western Trails and Unser Blvd on the West Side.

“In the last couple months now the timing for the protected green left arrow has changed when you are turning from southbound Unser onto eastbound Western Trails. The light is now so short only about 10-12 vehicles – five to six in each lane – can make it through a complete cycle. That includes the people that blast through when the light goes from yellow to red. If you are on Unser, just where the turn lane begins, you will have to wait three cycles to make it through the intersection.”

And so David asks, “Is it possible to get one of those flashing yellow turn arrows there to help with the traffic?”

Johnny Chandler, who handles information for Albuquerque’s Department of Municipal Development, says, “DMD Traffic Engineering reviewed the timing and no changes have been made to the signal since 2017. We are not sure why the resident might think the timing has changed, but it’s possible that traffic patterns have changed due to the pandemic and that may change the driver experience though this intersection.

“Unser and Western Trail was converted from a single southbound left turn lane to a dual left to help with heavy commuting volumes. During that design process, it was discovered that a car in the northbound left turn lane would block the vision of a south-to-east left-turning driver. The signal was changed to protected-only to reduce driver conflict in the intersection. Installing a flashing yellow turn arrow, like the one at Coors and St. Joseph’s, would allow the signal to change back to protected/permitted operation, but would not change the bad sight distance, so it would no longer be safe to make a left turn without a green arrow.”

CAN UNSER/RAINBOW GET A FLASHING YELLOW? David also says, “Having a flashing yellow turn arrow on Unser and Rainbow would be great too, since they changed that, traffic backs up all the way to/past Molten Rock on Unser now in the evenings.”

Chandler says, “Unser and Rainbow was converted from a protected/permitted left turn movement to protected-only because the intersection has shown signs it could become a high-crash location. Per the federal recommendations, this should now be a protected-only left. DMD Traffic Engineering understood there would be a potential for more congestion but felt that the improved safety justified the change. As part of that project, significantly more time was added to the left-turn arrow to help with vehicle backup.”

MORE ON THAT MIA TRAMWAY MERGE LANE: Readers voiced concern in September over the new configuration on Tramway Boulevard – they loved the new pavement, but the merge lanes being removed for cyclists and pedestrians not so much.

And while NMDOT gave a prompt explanation that there is heavy bicyclist use of Tramway that needs to be part of the safety equation, we’ve got more detail.

District 3 traffic engineer Margaret L. Haynes says, “NMDOT has a goal to accommodate all modes of traffic in the safest manner possible. A pavement preservation project was completed on Tramway to give the roadway a smooth surface and an opportunity to make modifications to help increase the expectations of all its users.

“NMDOT chose to accommodate bicyclists by designating their own lane to increase expectations of where users may expect a bicyclist to be at an intersection. NMDOT also chose to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists by eliminating the acceleration lanes for eastbound and westbound vehicles merging northbound and southbound on Tramway. While acceleration lanes help with motor vehicle movement, it also leads to higher speeds and less compliance to yielding to pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Not convinced the change was needed? Know that “according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data, New Mexico is leading the nation in pedestrian fatalities for the years 2018, 2017, and 2016 and has been in the top five since 2012. The report has not been issued for 2019.”

Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858; dwestphal@abqjournal.com; or 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, N.M., 87109.

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