My Turn: Narrow the bridge lanes?

Posted: Monday, August 25, 2003

I just replaced a deck on my house. The new deck is a substantial improvement as the existing structure did not meet current code and was obviously a hazard. If I had built the new structure 25 percent below code, it would have cost much less, yet I would be placing my family under extreme risk.

The current solution to the congestion at 10th and Egan proposes to reconfigure the Douglas Bridge with "sidewalk" specifications that are 25 percent below the standards set by city code. Planners argue that because building a structure to code would cost too much, and code citation allows such standards can be ignored. The current solution also does not conform to the city's Non-Motorized Transportation Plan. The solution does not conform to the NMTP because the dimensions of proposed lanes for both vehicles and pedestrians-bicycles are below city code and federal standards.

The improved sidewalk will be at the expense of narrowing vehicle lanes so that vehicles are traveling in lanes that are 14 percent and 18 percent under code for their defined use. This entire proposal stretches the limits of roadway design by narrowing the lanes, slowing the speed limit, and allowing one more lane for cars traveling over the bridge. The direction of travel in the middle lane will change in the northern half of the bridge (Juneau side) during morning rush hour, adding potential for accidents.

The current proposal suggests this is the most viable solution to intersection traffic problems. Comments have been made that this is the better solution until a second bridge can be built. According to traffic planners, it is not the best solution to the problem.

One particular safety concern in the current design is "shy distance." This is the distance faster moving vehicles naturally seek to avoid large fixed barriers. The barriers are necessary to prevent vehicles leaving the bridge and pedestrians from interacting with cars. Most vehicles, bicycle or motorized, find it extremely uncomfortable riding closer than one foot to the guardrail or a concrete barrier. Yet for all types of vehicles the crowding, or narrowing, of lanes will bring these conditions. You might consider trying to drive as close to the guardrail as possible (at your own risk) and see how weird and unsafe this feels.

The proposal will definitely decrease safety for pedestrians and cyclists. It eliminates the closest legal crosswalk to Harris Harbor across Egan Drive. It assumes that encouraging the current 50 percent of cyclists who use the one bridge "bike lane" to use the sidewalk will continue the excellent safety record of the current bridge. This ignores the fact the speed of many cyclists is proportionally much closer to the speed of motorists than to the speed of pedestrians.

Of course the design is concerned with decreasing the congestion and delay at 10th and Egan during peak travel times. There will be changes for Douglas that may result in vehicles probably getting to that intersection more quickly and easily. But the changes to the intersection itself, the root of the problem, are minimal.

I'm not saying there is an easy answer, but the answer should be one that really benefits all users and truly solves the problem. Most of the answers I've researched and sought have required more money than is being proposed for this action. The current proposal before the Assembly raises questions. What are the liabilities for cutting corners? When does narrow become too narrow? I'm sure that my kids on my deck are not in danger. The structure is plenty big and was built without cutting corners. I hope I will be able to say the same when, in a few years, my kids are driving and biking to Douglas.

• Dave Ringle is vice president-advocacy of Juneau Freewheelers.



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