MIG's contractual requirements

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How public impacted N.M. 502 corridor design recommendations

By Khalil J. Spencer

In July 2010, based on its qualifications and experience with designing roadways, MIG, Inc. was awarded a project to study the N.M. 502 corridor from Los Alamos County’s east boundary to Diamond Drive and to develop a design recommendation conforming to several requirements for modern roadways.  
This corridor includes all of Trinity Drive.
The purpose of this viewpoint column is to discuss MIG’s contractual requirements, summarize what the current design recommendations are and how public input affected these, and explain what remains to be done during the design process.  
We are particularly concerned with correcting misconceptions held by some of those who oppose the current design alternatives proposed by MIG and endorsed by two county boards.
One of the requirements given to MIG is to design a roadway that accommodates current and projected future traffic loads, including a generous 1 percent per year increase in these loads for the next 20 years.  
Thus, there is no basis for assuming a substantial diversion of traffic from Trinity to Central Avenue (or for that matter onto East Jemez Road); it is speculative at best to opine that traffic loads and crash rates will increase on Central Avenue as a result of the new Trinity design.
Of course, motorists select routes based on their perception of what is the most convenient way to travel to their destinations; new roadway designs can seem daunting to some.  This appears to be particularly true for roadways that use roundabouts rather than traditional signalized intersections.  
In a survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (ITE Journal 72:30-32, 37), 69 percent of drivers opposed roundabouts before they were installed because they were perceived to be inconvenient.  
This same survey showed, however, that shortly after construction, 63 percent supported the roundabouts.  Other public opinion surveys have shown similar results.
A second requirement given to MIG is that a redesign of Trinity Drive should conform to the policy on the design of the  public streets adopted by the County Council last Oct. 9.  
This policy requires that new designs should accommodate, as much as possible, a diverse mix of users, including motorists, transit users, pedestrians and bicyclists, and provide for traffic safety in the context of surrounding land uses.  
Among various options considered by MIG, the ones that did this best are the so-called Option A designs.  
The Option A designs have in common the use of two vehicle lanes, widened bicycle lanes that could serve as emergency vehicle lanes, and roundabouts at several intersections.  
They also have dedicated pullouts for buses.  Other design options considered by MIG were deemed less acceptable because they eliminated bicycle lanes and bus pullouts, and made pedestrian crossing of Trinity less safe and less convenient.
The selection of the Option A designs was on the basis of traffic survey and preliminary modeling results performed by MIG and the views expressed by the public in three public meetings held on Oct. 6, Nov. 16 and Jan. 11.  
Public input was also obtained at meetings of the Transportation Board, the Sustainability Board and the County Council.  
At these meetings, those present overwhelmingly expressed the preference that, if possible, all traffic corridor users, including motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, should be accommodated.
It is a misconception on the part of some that a small fraction of the public with a narrow range of interests is “pushing” for the adoption of the Option A designs on Trinity in opposition to a so-called “silent majority.
Approximately 2 percent of the public attended MIG’s public meetings: attendance is rarely overwhelming at public meetings for roadway projects.  
These attendees were not only drivers on Trinity Drive, but expressed broader interests in convenient and safe walking, biking, and transit along Trinity.  
Many who spoke were residents along Trinity.  The public meetings were extensively advertised in the newspaper, in flyers posted around town and on the county website.
Everyone in the community had, and will have (see below), the opportunity to attend and express their opinions at one of the meetings or to communicate to council via letters or e-mail.
Furthermore, MIG is proposing the use of roundabouts at some intersections because, where roundabouts can be used, they have a number of benefits for the public, including a well-known reduction in maintenance costs by eliminating signal maintenance and electrical costs and the elimination of “platooning,” which occurs when traffic backs up at a red light.  
One of the greatest benefits of roundabout use, however, is traffic safety, as discussed by the Federal Highway Administration
When roundabouts are used in place of traffic signals or stop signs, consistent reductions of 40-80 percent in serious crash rates and injury causing crashes are reported by studies cited on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website (www.iihs.org/research/qanda/roundabouts.html#cite7).
Because of the many positive features of the Option A designs, the County Transportation and Sustainability Boards voted unanimously to support, and the County Council voted 5-2 to approve, having MIG proceed with a more detailed, high level design and analysis of the Option A alternatives.  
These votes did not approve the design, but in fact demand that further analysis be done, which will hopefully answer some of the questions raised by the Transportation Board, individual councilors and some in the public.
The results of this high level analysis will be presented at a public meeting from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at Fuller Lodge on April 7.  
Later this spring, a draft of the final Transportation Corridor Study and Plan will be released to the Transportation Board and to the public.
Copies of the draft will be on the project website (www.losalamosnm.us/projects/publicworks/Pages/NM502TrinityDriveCorridorS...) and hard copies will be in the library.
The public will have two weeks to comment on the draft. The final study will go to the Transportation Board and the Sustainability Board in May or June; these will be public meetings.
County staff will request a recommendation from the boards before MIG presents the Final Transportation Corridor Study and Plan to council in the summer.
Thus, there is much time left in the planning process, and there remain many opportunities for public input.  
We hope that more of the public will attend future meetings and thus ensure that a representative sample of public opinion is heard.

Khalil J. Spencer,
Los Alamos Bikes
Peter J. O’Rourke,
David Collins,
Janie O’Rourke and Wendy Swanson,
L A Walks