Thursday, October 24, 2013
Pawleys Island, SC — One of the criticisms of the opponents of the plan to close the U.S. Highway 17 median in Pawleys Island was that they just wanted to stop the project and didn't offer any alternatives.
So the group fighting the plan, the Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway, came up with an alternative and presented parts of it at a public meeting last week.
The major difference in the plans is that the coalition one contains landscaped islands with many areas for drivers to make left turns. The S.C. Department of Transportation plan has fewer areas for left turns, instead forcing drivers to travel past their destination to find a spot to make a U-turn.
Steve Goggans, one of the founders of the Citizens Coalition, believes the SCDOT plan will kill business, make traffic more complicated, and frustrate tourists and older drivers.
“When people are having to get on the highway and travel that much and make that many turns to get through the various destinations of [Pawleys Island], is that improving traffic flow?” he said.
Both plans deal with a recurring problem: people driving in the painted median.
“I think what people object to who don't like the existing median, is the fact that people race up and down it. And the fact that people use it as an [acceleration] lane.”
When designing the median project for SCDOT, Stantec used summary accident data that showed there were hundreds of accidents along that 1.8-mile stretch of Highway 17.
Goggans said the “crash data was misrepresented and misapplied.”
The coalition has been trying to get the actual accident reports, which they believe will show the safety issue is with the sides of the road, not the median.
“In particular, since we've got a fairly unorganized system of ingress/egress along the highway, [our traffic engineer] said that's almost for sure the problem with accidents on 17,” Goggans said. “We think that [the SCDOT] design, which is predicated on improving safety, is misdirected, because it's really not treating the problem.”
The coalition believes safety can be improved by dealing with the right hand side of the road, keeping everybody's ingress and egress and fixing places like the Hammock Shops, which has multiple entrance/exit points.
Goggans said another improvement could be more businesses sharing driveways, which would decrease the number of ingress/egress points.
“The biggest problem is the U-turn concept, the limited access, the lack of landscaping, the closing off of some of the connector streets, no attempt to do anything for pedestrians,” Goggans said. “We think all that can be done 10 times better.”
The coalition believes businesses are beginning to cluster around the Hammock Shops area and closing the median there will endanger them.
“We're beginning to form a little bit of a town center here. We're beginning to develop a bit of a nucleus that kind of takes us away from strip development,” Goggans said. “Places like the Hammock Shops that are iconic and a significant part of our community, I think are already struggling. Businesses like that may fail.”
Although the coalition has not completed its median plan, Goggans is confident that it will be much less expensive than the SCDOT plan and doesn't believe it is too late to make changes.
“It's not uncommon for changes to be made and for things to be modified on the fly,” Goggans said. “A little bit of money, a little bit of time. For the scope of the project, it's not that big of a deal.”
Second thoughts in Jersey
The New Jersey Department of Transportation has been designing roads with U-turns for many years, but in some cases is going back and removing them.
On Route 22 in Bridgewater Township, closing the U-turns was part of project to improve safety.
According to the Hillsborough Patch newspaper, Tom Forsythe, who was Bridgewater's assistant engineer, said at a December meeting that the township had been trying to have the U-turns eliminated for some time.
“They have been dangerous for a while,” Forsythe said in the Patch story. “We have been pushing to get them done for years. The U-turns are responsible for so many accidents, rear end and side to side.”
According to Timothy Greeley of the NJDOT press office, department engineers believe in urban/local settings, a center shared left-turn lane can “free up traffic to operate much more efficiently and improve safety by removing the burden of live traffic stacking up in the left-lane as they seek to make a turn.”
In more high volume areas, like Route 22, which carries about 105,000 vehicles a day, Greeley said engineers prefer “some type of raised median to divide the highway with available cut-throughs or dedicated turn lanes for turning movements.” The focus, he added, was long deceleration lanes.
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