Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Close Scenic Drive at Wheeling?

A drug-related accident at Scenic Drive and Wheeling in December 2009 caused extensive damage to this car

The City of El Paso is now considering closing the intersection of Wheeling at Scenic Drive since the extended curb is forcing vehicles to make unsafe wider turns.

Representative Susie Byrd has sent out this message regarding the intersection of Wheeling and Scenic Drive:

In response to high speed coming off of Scenic Drive onto Wheeling, the City added an extended curb that forces a sharper turn and as result slows down traffic making a right turn off of Scenic onto Wheeling. We did before and after speed studies and determined that the fix was working in terms of the goal of slowing down traffic. We also found that fewer people were making this turn after the curb extension was installed.

But the neighbors and the users of that street alerted us that they felt the curb extension created a new hazard that warranted us reconsidering the curb extension. Several neighbors and users of the street pointed out that cars were often turning too wide off of Scenic and into Wheeling and into the other lane, creating a possibility where one car going down in a too wide turn might hit a car going up. The potential hazard is made worse because of the steep grades which make it difficult to see traffic in the other lane until you are right up on them.

Based on these concerns, the Traffic Department went out and did a visual audit of the street conditions and the turning movements. In traffic design, they try to build a road where 85% of drivers are going to behave in ways that create a safe street condition. We all know that no matter how you design a street or how many speed humps you put in, it won’t account for the 16 year old with a new car or a driver with a six pack in him. That is why traffic engineers use 85%. The visual audit revealed that 50% of the time people making the right turn off of Scenic into wheeling were staying within their lane and 50% of the time people were veering into the other lane of oncoming traffic. This means that the curb extension is only creating a safe condition 50% of the time, which is well below their threshold for safe street design. Some of this concern is mitigated by the fact that there are very few people who drive down Wheeling but it is still a concern.

Based on the Traffic Department’s review of current conditions and conditions prior to the curb extension, the Traffic Department is going back to their original approach to solving the speeding. As many of you remember, their original recommendation was to close off Wheeling from Scenic by extending the rock wall across the street. In response to neighborhood concerns about blocking an area of connection in the street network, they went with the curb extension instead.

After many traffic studies and after having tried an alternative solution, I think we need to consider closing the street. We would leave open access for bikes and walkers. My question for the neighborhood is this: we have had several meetings on the issue where we have shared traffic counts and traffic speeds and looked at the various options. Everyone knows how the street works both pre and post curb extension.

Do you think we should have one more meeting before they implement the closure? If so, let me know and we will work on it as soon as possible.


You can contact Representative Byrd by emailing her or calling her office at 541-4416.

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