Pilot project reduced speeds on ‘hostile’ Richfield road

 

A pilot project on 69th Street between Penn and Xerxes Avenues in Richfield cordoned off 10 feet of road for a pedestrian and bike path. (Photo courtesy city of Richfield)

Following numerous complaints about speeding on a portion 69th Street in Richfield, a pilot project slowed vehicles down, but resulted in other safety concerns along the stretch.

The Richfield City Council voted unanimously Aug. 8 to continue the new road configuration, with some alterations to address new worries of residents along the corridor, which is seeing increased traffic as it is used as a detour route during the reconstruction of 66th Street.

The portion of 69th Street between Penn and Xerxes Avenues was reconfigured last fall to establish a 10-foot-wide on-street path for pedestrians and bicyclists on the north side of the road.

“The reason we took on this project was because it was coming up on our radar often,” Transportation Engineer Jack Broz said during a study session last month. “ … It was a very hostile environment, and I would say that is truly unsafe.”

A study conducted last fall showed most vehicle traffic was traveling 35-38 mph in a 30 mph zone. With the new configuration, those speeds were reduced to 33-35 mph as vehicle slowed in a more constricted setting. The stretch saw an average of 5,000 vehicles per day due to the detour, compared to 3,000 at the beginning of the pilot study.

While decreased speeds were observed with the new configuration in place, at least one resident in the area of the pilot project noticed an adverse side effect.

A graph illustrates the harm reduction in relation to speed observed during a study of 69th Street. (Graphic courtesy city of Richfield)

“Traffic is just way too close to our side of the street,” said Kevin Watts, speaking during the council meeting.

Watts lives on the south side of 69th Street, where traffic is now forced closer to front yards – too close for his comfort when conducting tasks such as mowing the lawn or shoveling snow.

“It is very, very frightening to do simple tasks on that street with the way it is designed,” said Watts, who identified himself as an avid bicyclist despite his opposition to the bike- and pedestrian-friendly pilot project.

“Love the idea, poorly planned. It is a bad design, and it’s confusing,” he concluded.

Councilmember Simon Trautmann, whose ward includes the area in question, called Watts’ concerns “entirely valid.”

City staff members have addressed Watts’ point by proposing a painted line that would create a 4.5-foot buffer on the south side of the street, further tightening traffic lanes. Broz noted the lanes would still meet the new 10-foot standard for the width of roads such as 69th Street.

Elliott questioned the need to shrink the lanes to accommodate such a wide bike-pedestrian path. Many bicyclists aren’t likely to use the prescribed path in the first place, he noted during the study session.

The bikers headed eastbound can feel uncomfortable traveling on the left side of the road, even if they have a dedicated lane, Elliott contended. Additionally, orange vertical delineators down the middle of the path have proven to create problems for some bikers with depth perception trouble, causing more reason for bikers to ride in the vehicle lane anyway, Simon said.

Elliott suggested reducing the width of the path to 6 feet, which Public Works Director Kristin Asher said would prevent a street sweeper from clearing it. If the path were reduced to that width, it would be limited to pedestrians, she added.

However, it can’t be argued that the new configuration got the results the project aimed for – reduced speed and increased pedestrian safety, Councilmember Michael Howard said.

The data showing a safer road is “compelling” Howard observed. “This isn’t just conjecture.”

As liaison to the Richfield Transportation Commission, he noted that five residents in attendance at the commission’s June meeting supported the pilot project, while one opposed it.

As soon as a solution to the remaining concerns – width of the pedestrian-bike path and proximity of traffic to houses – is reached, the city will re-stripe the road between Penn and Xerxes avenues, according to Asher.

“We would like to get it done before winter comes,” she said.

Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @RISunCurrent.