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Infrastructure & Services

Origins of the traffic trial

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The barricades and signs along Short, South Walnut and Limestone streets were taken down earlier this week as a three-week temporary transportation project downtown came to an end.

The Village of Yellow Springs is now gathering opinions and observations of the traffic trial in hopes of deciding on a permanent solution for the area. An online survey closes after Nov. 23.

But how did this specific project come about? What traffic problems were the proposed street changes attempting to solve? And what other alternatives have been examined?

Shelly Blackman listing, 1415 Pagosa Way, Yellow Springs, OH

In articles over the next two weeks, the News will look at the origins of the project and other options under consideration.

This week’s article focuses on the roots of the project in the Village Active Transportation Plan and looks at publicly available traffic crash data. Next week, the YS school district’s involvement and several alternative proposals will be explored.

Project summary

The new traffic pattern the Village tested from Oct. 21 through Nov. 9 had three core elements: South Walnut Street was made one way southbound, Short Street one way westbound and left turns were prohibited from South Walnut onto Limestone Street.

Parking was also impacted by the plan, although the number of spots was not changed — there were 39 parking spots along Short and South Walnut streets both before and during the trial. During the trial there was one less space on Short Street, which fell from 13 to 12 spaces, and one more on South Walnut, which increased from 26 to 27 spaces. The biggest parking change was to the type of parking — angle parking replaced parallel parking on both streets. Bike parking was also added along Short Street.

No accidents in this area took place during the trial, according to YSPD Chief Brian Carlson. However, five drivers were cited for not obeying temporary traffic signs in the area, driving the wrong way on one of the one-way streets or making U-turns around the Limestone Street barricade.

A full cost estimate for the project has not yet been released. While the Village spent $4,200 on equipment, staff costs, Village Manager Josué Salmerón said, will “easily outweigh that.”

Salmerón estimates that he and Village Public Works Director Johnnie Burns each spent at least 20 hours to manage the project. At an estimated $70/hour with benefits, that cost comes to $2,800. Staff time was also used to set up and take down the temporary signage and parking stripes and to observe the experiment, according to Salmerón. The Village did not incur any additional costs for police enforcement, Salmerón added.

Community feedback leads to project
According to Village leaders, the goal of the street changes was to ease traffic congestion and improve pedestrian safety in the area — especially connected with school drop-off and pickup at Mills Lawn.

“For us it was a combination of improving the traffic in the area and safety for the schools,” Salmerón said of the plan.

Increasing vehicle parking and adding bicycle parking were also mentioned as rationales for the trial. A bike corral was added to Short Street during the trial, however, no additional vehicle spaces were created by the plan.

Reflecting on the origins of the proposal in a recent interview, Village Council President Brian Housh pointed to feedback received during the development of the Active Transportation Plan, or ATP.

That 2018 planning document was completed by Toole Design Group of Columbus using a $65,000 grant the Village received from the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Ohio Department of Health.

The village was one of five Ohio communities to receive the grant to produce such a plan, aimed at facilitating more “active transportation,” human-powered transit modes such as walking, biking or using mobility devices.

“How do we make sure bicyclists and pedestrians and those with mobility devices are prioritized?” Housh said of the plan’s goal.

According to Housh, during the public outreach phase of the plan, more feedback was received on safety concerns along South Walnut Street near the school than any other issue, which is why those recommendations were prioritized for a temporary transportation project.

Housh added that during the course of the plan’s development, the ATP advisory team heard from more than 300 people.

A comprehensive list of community feedback received during the plan is not included in the ATP, nor is a figure given for the number of people who gave input. An Appendix on Public Outreach Materials includes one bicyclist’s comment from a community event concerned about the intersection of South Walnut Street and Limestone Street, with a suggestion for “a safe crossing/signage, etc.”

According to Chris Bongorno, a local urban planner who served on the Active Transportation Plan committee, most of the community feedback was gathered in front of Mills Lawn School during the semi-annual bike and walk to school days.

Bongorno said soliciting feedback at the schools made sense because it represented a “good cross section of the community.” That much of the response reflected concerns around the school commute was helpful, he added.

“It was helpful in getting direct feedback from people who just made the trip,” Bongorno said.

Tables were also set up during the opening day for the bike trail, at Street Fair and during two farmers markets. But an open house event at the Bryan Center was “sparsely attended,” Bongorno said. Overall, he characterized the public engagement of the ATP as “strong in certain respects and otherwise not so much.”

In the end, the ATP’s recommendations were drawn from community feedback, existing local plans, three days of field work and discussions with an advisory team that included 20 local residents and officials and four outside experts, according to the plan.

Looking back, Housh said the process of coming up with recommendations in the ATP was more “community-driven,” rather than centered on traffic studies.

“This was not a process about heavy data as much as anecdotal feedback from the community,” Housh said.

Housh defended the idea that the Village help with a solution for the schools.

“I disagree with the argument that it’s a school-only issue,” he said. “I think that the Village and all of the entities need to collaborate.”

Bongorno agreed that an initial project in the area of the schools made sense.

“The highest priority should be the safety of moving kids to and from school.”

The Short Street change, Bongorno explained, was “more of an opportunity.” He recalled that feedback centered around making the street a “festival street” without vehicles, but only on certain occasions and not permanently.

Safety issues: A review of crashes

To further explore the issues of safety in the area, the News looked at data on local traffic accidents. However, data on traffic congestion in the area is not available as no traffic counts have been conducted on the streets in question.

According to records obtained from the Ohio Department of Transportation, from 2014–2019 there were five crashes on Short Street and one crash on South Walnut Street.

The accidents on Short Street were mostly related to parked cars re-entering the travel lane, while the incident on South Walnut Street involved a school-age child being struck.

On Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, at 8:16 a.m., a Mills Lawn Elementary School student was hit by a pickup truck while crossing South Walnut Street. The youth’s parent had driven north on South Walnut Street, stopping near the cross walk at Short Street, according to the official traffic crash report. The youth exited the vehicle, walked behind their parent’s car and was then struck by a truck that was driving southbound.

The youth was obstructed from the view of the pickup driver until he was in the driver’s travel lane, according to the report. The driver, a Yellow Springs resident, was determined to be traveling about five miles per hour and was not cited in the crash. The student was checked by Miami Township Fire and Rescue EMS, found to be uninjured and then went to school.

A separate YSPD review of crashes over the same time period did not indicate any other accident occurring on South Walnut Street near the school.

Of the five accidents along Short Street, three involved vehicles that were attempting to re-enter the travel lane from a parked position. In two others, the drivers struck parked cars while trying to parallel park. In a final case, a semi-truck hit a parked car.

There were no documented accidents in the intersection of South Walnut and Limestone streets. An accident did occur at the Limestone Street and Xenia Avenue intersection, when a driver traveling westbound on Limestone ran a red light and struck a motorist driving southbound on Xenia Avenue.

In total, there were 303 crashes in Yellow Springs over the last five years, with 63% of all accidents taking place on US-68/Xenia Avenue (137 crashes) and Dayton-Yellow Springs Road/Dayton Street (53 crashes).

Specific to concerns over pedestrian safety, in the four years between 2014–2018, there were 17 local crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists.

The majority of those, 10, took place along Xenia Avenue, three were on Dayton Street, two occurred on Polecat Road and there was one each on Livermore Street and South Walnut Street (the above mentioned incident involving the student).

ATP recommendations, amended

Along with policy and programming recommendations, the ATP makes 39 infrastructure recommendations, which include traffic calming measures, new sidewalks, new trails, improved crossings, intersection designs and more. Each recommendation was assigned a priority of short-term (1–2 years), medium-term (3–5 years) or long-term (6–10 years).

Three recommendations are closely connected with the changes made as part of the recent temporary transportation project.

On Walnut Street from Short Street to Limestone Street, a “new shared use path and circulation changes” are recommended, and noted as a short-term priority. It reads:

“This shared use path on the western side of Walnut Street helps complete an accessible perimeter around Mills Lawn School. It is also recommended to convert Walnut Street to one-way traffic southbound. This change would improve circulation during pick-up and drop-off times.”

Bongorno explained that turning Walnut into a one-way street was a safety measure aimed at “simplifying the movements of vehicles.”

“If you can take one element of risk out, it helps,” he said.

The item also recommends back-in angled parking, which the report said is preferable because “it improves driver sight lines, directs vehicle occupants away from the street when they open their doors, and makes loading/unloading safer.”

Housh said back-in parking was not selected for the temporary transportation project because it may have caused additional pushback.

Bongorno said that the type of parking depends upon the street but that, in general, angle parking is better for visibility, while parallel parking can be better where there is limited width on a street.

As for the shared-use path noted in the plan, Housh said it would have been too difficult to achieve during a temporary trial.

In the ATP, traffic calming at the intersection of Walnut Street and Limestone Street was noted as a long-term priority. That reads:

“Curb extensions should be used at the northwest and northeast corners to tighten this intersection to reduce crossing distance for pedestrians and slow turning vehicles. The yield condition for southbound road users on Walnut Street should also be converted to a stop condition, which should increase pedestrian confidence when crossing at this location.”
Another long-term priority was making Short Street a “shared street.”

“Open Short Street to people by prohibiting cars other than delivery vehicles. Program the space with tables and chairs and consider other place-making features. Bicycle parking, especially dimensioned for bicycles with trailers or cargo bikes, should be provided. … Closing this street to cars would also improve the safety of arrival and dismissal at Mills Lawn School by changing local circulation patterns.”

Village staff decided to add the change to Short Street as part the temporary transportation project, which one crew member said was an effort to “save Short Street” from being closed to traffic altogether.

Asked why the plan’s recommendations featured more significant changes to local roadways, Housh said that was done to get more out of the plan.

“We wanted to capture the community’s concerns and interests but we wanted to get more value out of the plan,” he said.

Thoughts from ATP planners

In recent phone interviews, two planners involved with the ATP responded to several questions on the plan and the traffic trial that have been raised by community members in the past few weeks.

Transportation planner David Shipps of Toole Design, who has 20 years of experience in the field, was the project manager of the Yellow Springs ATP. In response to a question about why the plan included larger infrastructure changes instead of incremental strategies such as stop signs, Shipps said the “high-level recommendations” that came out of the plan were due to the advisory team’s insistence.

“They wanted the plan to be aspirational to some extent,” he said. “There are lower-cost ways of doing these things, but they wanted their plan to shoot high.”

Asked about the use of data vs. opinion in crafting recommendations, Shipps described the ATP as a “planning-level document” and said that traffic counts and other data are typically not collected in their development.

Shipps added that once transportation recommendations are to be implemented, they should be “vetted with available data.” In some instances, “user comments” are most appropriate, he said.

While Yellow Springs was the smallest of the five Ohio communities given the grant for an ATP, Shipps doesn’t believe the solutions chosen were inappropriate for the area, another critique of the plan.

No matter the size of the community, according to Shipps, there are ways to improve safety and congestion.

“Every community, no matter how big or small it is or how infrequent the traffic, there will still be high-stress locations,” he said.

Shipps added that the recommendations in the ATP are not aimed at inconveniencing cars, but adding more, safer options for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“Some people say you’re looking to increase the bike network at the detriment of the vehicle network,” he said. “This is about providing transportation options for everyone.”

Looking at his work, Shipps said he stands behind the plan, which was based on a lot of “thought, discussion and public feedback,” but added that it is meant to be tweaked based upon “local preferences.” He gave a nod to the Village for its recent temporary transportation initiative.

“I give the Village a lot of credit for going ahead and doing [the trial], knowing they are setting themselves up for feedback,” he said. “It takes a lot of courage to do it.”

Matthew Lindsay, a planner with Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission and member of the ATP advisory team, also shared his thoughts on the local plan, and the recent traffic trial.

Lindsay said he wasn’t surprised that changes involving the area around the school were prioritized as part of the recent trial.

“They are typically easier sells because you are protecting vulnerable road users and less mature road user,” Lindsay said.

On the implementation of the plan Lindsay said that there is “no one formula” for how transportation initiatives get implemented, as they are all “context sensitive.”

But studies — such as street audits in which vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists are counted at different times of the day and seasons — can be helpful, Lindsay said.

“Any of those [recommendations] being pursued should require additional study and public engagement,” he said.

“If there comes a time when the Village decides to address a particular situation,” Lindsay added, “I would assume the Village would start from the beginning and engage those business owners and residents as part of a full project development process.”

An upcoming article will look at the involvement of YS schools in transportation solutions and some alternative proposals under consideration.

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