No ‘silver bullet’ for fixing Fairview Avenue

Medians might be next, despite disagreements over their effectiveness.

cmsewell@idahostatesman.comFebruary 7, 2014 

Fairview Avenue is one of the busiest roads in the Treasure Valley. Plans to add medians and other crash- and congestion-reducing traffic controls are being met with mixed emotions. In this Statesman file photo, traffic moves through the intersection of Fairview Avenue and Five Mile Road.

CHRIS BUTLER/FILE PHOTO

  • COMPARING ACCIDENTS ON BUSY AREA ROADS

    Crashes per mile, per year, 2007 to 2011

    Fairview, Orchard to Linder: 39

    State Street, Veterans Memorial Parkway to Glenwood Street: 35

    Overland Road, Cole Road to Idaho 69/Meridian Road: 24

    Chinden Boulevard, Orchard to Kent Street: 22

    ParkCenter Boulevard, Beacon Street to Bown Way: 6

    Note: Eagle Road is not included in this tally because it is under ITD jurisdiction, not ACHD.

  • Roads with the most bad intersections

    When it comes to Ada County’s 100 worst intersections, the very busy Eagle Road and Fairview Avenue lead the pack. Eagle Road has 15 of the worst, and Fairview has 13.

  • HAVE YOUR SAY

    The ACHD Commission will hold a public hearing on its draft improvement plan, which includes adding raised medians, updating signal timing, installing bus pullouts, reducing driveways and more. The hearing will be 6 p.m. Feb. 26, at ACHD, 3775 Adams St., Garden City.

Fairview Avenue has the dubious honor of being the second-worst road in Ada County when it comes to crashes.

Eagle Road is the worst.

Sections of Fairview from Orchard Street to Linder Road see from 13,000 to 35,000 vehicles daily. Nearly 400 crashes occur annually in that 8.5-mile stretch, with five fatalities reported from 2007 to 2013.

Its plentiful problems — congestion, crashes, gaps in bike lanes and sidewalks and trouble with access — have long frustrated drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, business owners and traffic engineers.

The Ada County Highway District and the cities of Meridian and Boise are exploring changes on the Orchard-to-Linder segment.

The public and business owners are most skeptical about a proposal to replace center turn lanes with medians, which limit across-traffic left turns to intersections. The proposal to install medians has prompted a business group to form in opposition.

But with a proven track record of reducing crashes, medians have become a central part of road agencies’ safety and management plans. Last year, the Idaho Transportation Department installed raised medians on Eagle Road within Meridian, reducing crashes without major effects on businesses.

ACHD is proposing plenty of other solutions for Fairview, too: consolidating and reducing the number of driveways; updating signal timing; installing bus pullouts; adding pedestrian crossings; and closing the gaps in bike lanes and sidewalks.

“There is not a silver bullet to repair the safety issues; it requires a combination of elements,” ACHD senior transportation planner Jeff Lowe told officials from Boise, Meridian, Ada County and ACHD on Thursday.

The Orchard-to-Five Mile segment has the “most significant need,” Lowe said, and will get tackled first. The agency plans to design the project this year and next, with construction in 2016 and 2017.

City officials on Wednesday supported making improvements but wanted to know more details. They encouraged ACHD to work with the business owners and the public, who will get a chance to voice their opinions at a public hearing later this month.

BUSINESSES ON BOARD, SORT OF

Peterson Auto Group owner Mark Peterson serves with other Fairview business owners on ACHD’s Fairview Avenue stakeholder committee.

“We liked a lot of the ideas that were proposed,” he said. “The medians are the problem.”

Of 1,270 comments received in an online ACHD survey from April to July, 782 opposed the medians and only 23 supported them.

“There are already medians on Fairview. They are just located near the intersections, where they should be,” Peterson said. Placing medians midblock will limit left turns and U-turns, making it difficult for customers to get to businesses, he said. And if access is too onerous, people go elsewhere.

About two dozen businesses have formed the Fairview Business Coalition to communicate their vision and concerns.

“We are gaining new members every day," said Peterson, who represents the group.

The coalition wants ACHD to implement other improvements first, including driveway consolidation, sidewalks, bike lanes and signal timing. If those improvements don’t improve safety and access, then medians should be discussed.

“We all know that we have got to come up with something. We just want to make sure it is done right,” Peterson said. “Whatever time it takes to do that, we need to take that time.”

Craig Bruneel of Bruneel Tire Factory, which has a store at Mitchell and Fairview, fears that ACHD’s plan is a solution in search of problem.

He worries that ACHD wants to transform Fairview Avenue from an urban business corridor into a commuter corridor, dedicated to getting people from one end of the county to the other.

“If they turn it into a corridor just to let people go through, then the businesses will just dwindle,” Bruneel said. “The challenge is will (the changes) make it a bad place to go?”

MORE MEDIANS TO COME

Last fall, the Idaho Transportation Department installed 6-inch-tall concrete medians on Eagle Road from Franklin Road to Oakhampton Drive, just north of Chinden Boulevard. ITD didn’t install medians on the northern section, which runs through Eagle, because the city and business owners didn’t want them.

ACHD has talked to many of the businesses along the section with new medians and the consensus is medians have “not killed any businesses,” said ACHD spokesman Craig Quintana.

The medians have not been in place long enough for ITD to record meaningful crash data. But crash results from medians ITD installed in 2006 and 2007 on Eagle Road between Franklin Road and Interstate 84 show that turning crashes in that segment dropped from 27 in the five years prior to three in the five years after medians.

“Fairview is very different than Eagle Road,” Peterson said. “That is a high-speed highway. The accidents there were dangerous accidents. Eighty-five percent of accidents on Fairview were zero to minor damage. They are not high-speed crashes.”

For decades, Boise’s Broadway Avenue (also U.S. 20/26) and ParkCenter Boulevard have been the only other major streets in Ada County with long stretches of continuous medians and limited left-turn access. But that might be changing as ACHD sees crash-reduction benefits.

Last fall, ACHD installed an extended median on Overland Road west of Cole Road. State Street’s plan calls for medians over the next 20 years. Franklin Road between Ten Mile and Black Cat roads is getting medians, too.

“The industry standard, encouraged by the Federal Highway Administration, is to put them in on all major arterial roads expected to move large volumes of traffic in the near future,” said Quintana.

Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell

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