- See more at: http://www.bloggerhow.com/2012/07/implement-twitter-cards-blogger-blogspot.html/#sthash.DO2JBejM.dpuf

Friday, July 4, 2014

Conflicted Crosswalks: Hudson St and Christopher Columbus Dr

The intersection of Hudson Street and Christopher Columbus Drive in Jersey City has real potential to someday become a great public space at a lively, multimodal intersection. For now, it is a fragmented set of residual spaces with a traffic design that is inconvenient and uncomfortable for pedestrians and bus passengers. This is a case where excess concern about pedestrian-vehicle conflicts, combined with decisions to prioritize motor vehicles and a failure to realize that vehicular volumes never materialized, has resulted in a compromised pedestrian network that simply does not work properly. Let's look at how we can put it on a path toward realizing its potential.

This irregular intersection has only modest conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles. That is largely because the vehicular volumes are really quite light. Nevertheless, at this set of intersecting roadways, pedestrians are instructed to follow an extraordinary detour across several different crossings to avoid the potential conflicts with turning vehicles. To further the inconvenience, one of the crosswalks on that detour route has an unusually short pedestrian signal time.

This poor treatment of all the pedestrians who walk through the area is unnecessary, and it sets the wrong priorities by favoring motor vehicles. The whole confluence of intersecting streets should be reevaluated, and in the process it should be possible to create a whole new public space.

The crazy detour really is unnecessary. The conflict this whole situation was designed to avoid is so minor, it really seems unusual that the crossing was prohibited at all. Typical intersections throughout Jersey City and just about everywhere else have worse turning conflicts than this. With a close review of the signage that has been installed, the motivation can be discerned, but the aspect of the design that raised the concern is not only unnecessary, it creates a risk of vehicular collisions.

The pedestrian crossing is prohibited at this location because southbound Hudson Street has two right turn lanes.

The vehicles turning from the second lane would pose a real threat to pedestrians crossing the street, so in an attempt to maintain safe conditions for the pedestrians, the engineers attempted to remove them from the mix.

Despite the efforts of the engineers, the pedestrians who frequent this location exert their independence and continue to cross illicitly. By and large, they have little difficulty. Nevertheless, the apparent conflicts should be resolved, and can be resolved in a way that is much more satisfactory.
The volume of vehicles turning right from Hudson are consistently quite low. The second turning lane is simply not necessary. The threat from the second lane could be removed, and pedestrians should be able to cross normally at this location. A review of the signal timing may even allow for a leading pedestrian interval, given the low traffic volumes through the intersection.

Although crossing is prohibited, pedestrians
still continue to follow the more direct path,
with little problem
Westbound Columbus only has one effective
receiving lane. The second turning lane creates a
risk of crashes when two vehicles both try to turn
into the same lane

Moreover, the operation of two turning lanes creates a risk that vehicles turning simultaneously will collide, since they are both ultimately forced to turn into the same lane. Although the original design anticipated two through lanes on westbound Christopher Columbus Drive, in practice there is only one effective lane. This capacity proves sufficient to meet the traffic demand, so the elimination of the second turning lane emerges as a simple and effective solution to clean up this whole portion of the intersection.

For people heading along the west side of Hudson Street who want to cross Christopher Columbus Drive, the nonsensical detour requires crossing to the east side of Hudson Street on the south side of Christopher Columbus Drive. As part of this detour, pedestrians are also subjected to a crosswalk with a crossing time that does not meet minimum standards. After being pushed out of the way, they're forced to hurry if they have any hope of getting across the street before the light changes.

The pedestrian phase to cross Hudson on the south side of 
Columbus begins with a ten second countdown, which is explicitly 
prohibited by engineering standards
As soon as pedestrians are cleared to proceed, the countdown is already approaching zero. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) typically specifies a walk interval of at least seven seconds, but does allow it to be shortened to as little as four seconds. This location strips pedestrians down to this minimum - and less. The MUTCD is explicit that the countdown shall not begin during the walk interval. Moreover, there is no way that the intersection provides adequate clearance time for pedestrians. I don't have exact measurements, but based on the number and configuration of the lanes, Hudson Street looks to be at least 35 feet wide and (likely a little more). At 3.5 feet per second, a 35-foot long crosswalk would require a clearance time of ten seconds, yet the entire combined walk and clearance time barely provides ten seconds. The only fortunate factor is that the vehicular volumes are so low, pedestrians usually have a decent chance of getting the occasional driver to wait while they finish crossing, if there are any drivers at all.

After taking care of the basics - restoring the pedestrian connections that have been improperly severed and providing adequate crossing time - this location provides some real opportunities for urban design improvements. In terms of priorities, improvements for the bus stops is important. Beyond getting people where they want to go in a reasonable manner, we should take the opportunity to provide them with a place where they will want to stay and spend some time.

There are very busy bus stops on the south side of Christopher Columbus Drive, where passengers wait in long lines on the sidewalk with only the barest of amenities. There is a little shelter, although its size is entirely inadequate for the lines of the evening commute. The sidewalk width is sufficient for safe circulation, but at its narrower locations on a busy day leaves little room for comfort. Trees and other design features are entirely absent. A reconfiguration and the capture of excess roadway space would allow for more adequate shelter, better circulation patterns, and perhaps even a little visual appeal.

Opposite the bus stop, on the north side of Christopher Columbus Drive, there is a wide, leftover space that houses some bicycle parking. It wants to be a plaza. Just look around the intersection on Google Street View:

View Larger Map

The consistent use of the bicycle parking is noteworthy. This spot isn't particularly close to the front door of anything. Instead, it is a convenient place for cyclists to convert to walking before they get into the busier sidewalks at Harborside, and it is a very visible location that helps keep the bicycles secure when they are parked here.

Given the low vehicular volumes, there are almost certainly opportunities to reduce the number of lanes through this intersection. This could allow for widening some sidewalk locations and consolidating some of the space to enlarge a true urban plaza at this location. Recapturing a lane with the elimination of the second turn lane on southbound Hudson Street is one potential area to capture additional space.

With additional space, a little public art and some seating could be added. Combined with the food trucks that line the north curb of Christopher Columbus Drive at lunch time, seating would pull together activities that are already trying to create a sense of public life.

Getting your lunch from the truck and sitting down to eat it while watching the pedestrians walk by and the Hudson Bergen Light Rail glide through would be a truly enjoyable experience, unlike the current tour of fragmented spaces made necessary by the current traffic arrangements.

No comments:

Post a Comment