My Turn: Avoid bridge changes that disenfranchise bicyclists

Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2002

The following comments relate to the proposed project to eliminate the bike lanes on the Douglas Bridge and to construct a roundabout at the Douglas-North Douglas intersection.

The concept of using the existing bridge deck for three motor vehicle lanes by eliminating the bicycle lanes was presented to the Juneau Transportation Steering Committee during development of the Area Wide Transportation Plan (AWTP) and rejected. In addition, the AWTP and federal law require the state highway agency, in this case the DOT&PF, to provide for bicycles and pedestrians as well as motor vehicles on any project which is funded using federal highway funds. DOT&PF does not have any significant design and road construction funds except federal highway funds.

Theoretically one could design the existing roadway with three 10-foot motor vehicle lanes and two 3-foot bike lanes. However, Juneau residents may remember the old Douglas Bridge with its 9.5-foot lanes and realize how uncomfortable drivers would feel with narrow lanes. Bicyclists find 3-foot lanes uncomfortable as well.

The major problem with the bridge and the Douglas-North Douglas intersection is the fact that the 10th and Egan intersection is inadequate for the demand. This causes the backup that clogs the bridge and blocks the intersection. It may be that the intersection widening proposed for the 10th and Egan intersection will eliminate the backup on the bridge such that a third lane would not be needed.

The analysis done for the city in the development of the Area Wide Transportation Plan indicated that there was not a capacity problem with the bridge itself, only at the intersections at each end. Therefore, it appears that the third lane essentially will be a storage lane for traffic backed up from the adjacent intersections.

If additional motor vehicle lanes are needed now, or in the future, sacrificing the bicycle facility should not be the answer for additional auto capacity. Furthermore, relegating the bicyclists to pedestrian status to accommodate autos is not a reasonable solution.

The proposed roundabout at Douglas-North Douglas is problematical. One of the basic tenants of roundabout design and operations is that traffic must be free flowing at all times; i.e., no backup into the roundabout from adjacent intersections. If the backup from Egan persists after the roundabout is in operation, the roundabout will not function properly. The traffic control at a roundabout gives priority to the traffic on the roundabout and requires traffic entering the roundabout to yield. If a backup from Egan occurs in the morning peak, as it does now, traffic from Douglas will have to yield to North Douglas traffic! North Douglas traffic will be on the roundabout while Douglas traffic will be trying to enter.

In short, the proposal to make three lanes on the existing Douglas Bridge by eliminating or drastically minimizing the bike lanes may or may not work to eliminate the traffic congestion in this area and it will certainly disenfranchise the bicyclists who use this facility. The city has rejected this proposal once and they should do so again.

The consultant hired by DOT&PF to develop concepts for this area did develop one that would solve a lot of the problems. That concept is a mini interchange at 10th and Egan. So far, DOT&PF has failed to truly examine this alternative. If DOT&PF refuses to seriously examine this concept, perhaps the city should do so.

Roger Allington lives in Bellevue, Wash. He is certified as a professional traffic operations engineer. He served on the Juneau Planning Commission, the Juneau Transportation Steering Committee and the Juneau Assembly.

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