My ideas and initiatives sometimes seem unconventional to many, but I have never been so vilified as when I first proposed a new streetscape redesign in the City of Burbank, California, back on September 21st, 2009. One member of the City Council actually accused me of being part of a United Nations conspiracy to rob US citizens of their rights! Thankfully, the party responsible for that particular point of view is no longer in a position of municipal authority.
I spent nearly 2 years vociferously campaigning for this redesign, supported by my fellow City Commissioners. It was an uphill battle, greatly aided by smart advice from my friend Janette Sadik-Khan, during her tenure as commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation.
A number of city residents, reliable members of the NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) constituency, enthusiastically sought to paint (if you’ll forgive the pun) my initiative as an unrealistic and socialist land grab (I’m not making this up!). Groups such as the hard-working Walk Bike Burbank got involved, working diligently to educate citizens on the potential health, safety, and community benefits of our initiative.
Nearly 8 years later, we are vindicated, in the excellent article below. One street. 8 years. At this rate, a fully multimodal transportation infrastructure is still a long way off. I will, however, not surrender my firm belief that our cities need to be more accessible, inclusive, diverse, and community-oriented than they presently are. With more than 82% of citizens living in urban areas, it is more important than ever to ensure that we make our cities more livable, walkable, bikeable, workable, breathable, and affordable.
After 7 years of study, the new Verdugo Avenue redesign proves safer for everyone
By Patrick Dickson|Apr. 24th, 2017
Back in 2010, the City of Burbank began a pilot transportation safety-study by reconfiguring some of the traffic lanes on Verdugo Avenue to include a center turn lane and bicycle lanes. Prior to this, Verdugo was a solid four-lane street with two lanes in each direction. Verdugo was chosen because of its lower vehicle traffic relative to other parallel streets, its residential character, and because the street serves a number of locations attractive to bicyclists and pedestrians. Indeed, the Downtown Burbank Metrolink station, the Olive Recreation Center, John Burroughs High School, Lincoln Park, the Buena Vista Library, the Mary Alice O’ Connor Family Center, and the Verdugo Recreation Center are all accessible and connected by Verdugo.
The new lane-reconfiguration was initially installed March 2010 and since then, every conceivable aspect of its new operations has been closely studied and monitored by the City. Originally a four-lane arterial street with no center turn lane, Verdugo Avenue was reconfigured into a three-lane roadway that added a center turn lane, maintained two motor vehicle through lanes, and added bicycle lanes between Olive Avenue and Hollywood Way. The purpose of this reconfiguration was to reorient the street to match the two-lane segments on each side of the corridor, improve motor vehicle and pedestrian crossing safety, calm traffic, and add bicycle lanes as identified in the City’s Bicycle Master Plan.
Immediately after the new configuration was implemented, the City did not see a significant impact on travel times, but did see slightly reduced the number of collisions.
Then, after a prescribed 18-month review of this new lane configuration, further analysis confirmed the results of the first six-month review and further demonstrated the reconfiguration did not impact travel times, yet continued to reduce the number of collisions occurring there. In order to expand the scope of this study to include further statistics on Verdugo – the City began collecting additional vehicle counts, bicycle counts, vehicle travel times, and safety statistics.
What has been revealed by this safety program is that westbound Verdugo travel times remain relatively constant, but eastbound travel times have increased slightly by a little less than two minutes overall. It has also been shown that vehicle queue lengths increase at the peak hour at Buena Vista and Hollywood Way.
Yet, average daily traffic volumes on Verdugo Avenue continue to be consistent with the data collected in 2010 and 2011, and continue to support the observation that Verdugo carries the same number of cars with three lanes that it did previously with four lanes. Burbank’s observation supports the theory developed from many other cities where these reconfigurations have been done that reducing through lanes and adding a center turn lane does not affect roadway capacity on streets with volumes of 18,000 cars per day or less. Without a center turn lane, the innermost lanes of four lane streets must be used by both left turning and through vehicles; thus removing two inefficient through lanes and replacing them with a dedicated turn lane achieves a similar level of roadway capacity.
According to a recent Burbank public staff report, counts taken in March 2017 by the City confirm that cyclists indeed use the bicycle lanes on Verdugo Avenue, though the volumes continue to be lower than initially counted when the bicycle lanes were installed in March 2010. Bicycle count variability is due to a variety of factors including weather, time of year, and the activity of nearby schools and parks. Bicycle surveys for all periods were conducted while school was in session and weather was not inclement.
Biggest benefit proves to be dramatic drop in severe collisions
While decreasing travel times naturally appeals to motorists; decreasing serious injuries caused by collisions is every motorists’ need. Now that the Verdugo Avenue reconfiguration has been in place for over six years, and because the facility has been operating for so long, the city has been able to take a comprehensive look at accident data that occurred six years before and six years after the reconfiguration. It becomes obvious to all residents that the changes in accidents are the most compelling reason for maintaining Verdugo Avenue in its current configuration. The number of accidents that occurred before and after the reconfiguration declined by about six percent. However, the types of crashes that occurred changed dramatically. The most severe crash types – head-on crashes, broadsides, and overturned vehicles – declined substantially. In particular, head-on collisions were reduced from nine collisions to zero, and broadsides were reduced 24 percent according to a recent Burbank staff report .
The City report also suggests the dramatic reduction in severe crashes may also be attributed to the installation of the two-way left turn lane and the reduction in travel lanes, which reduces the number of vehicle conflicts at each intersection along the corridor. While severe collision types decreased, rear-end and sideswipe collisions increased after the installation of the reconfiguration. Upon first glance, the reconfiguration should have decreased rear-end collisions due to the new center turn lane. The increase in these collisions is not believed to be directly related to the reconfiguration; instead, many experts believe these crashes could be due to the increase in distracted driving due to smartphone use. In 2010, it was estimated that 20% of people had smart phones. In 2016, this has climbed to 77%. The rise in rear-end and sideswipe collisions is likely attributed to distracted driving. If rear-end collisions are removed from the analysis, there were 62 crashes in the six years prior to the reconfiguration and 43 crashes after the reconfiguration, or a reduction of 31 percent.
Accomplished using previously approved Measure R funding
The City of Burbank is now poised to extend the bicycle and pedestrian friendly improvements on Verdugo Avenue. Previously approved funding sources for this nearly $900,000 effort comes from a combination of grant funds, local match, Measure R Highway funds, and Transportation Development Act (TDA) Article 3 funds, if required, to construct the project without using any City General Fund dollars. This project is eligible for all of these funding sources, and will provide the following improvements:
- Install left turn arrows at Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Way to reduce conflicts with pedestrians, including those walking to the Buena Vista Library, Lincoln Park, and the Mary Alice O’ Connor Family Center. This will also decrease left turn delays at the two busiest intersections on Verdugo Avenue. The left turn arrows will only be triggered when there are four or more vehicles waiting in the left turn lane.
- Upgrade the flasher at Virginia Avenue: to use button actuated rapid flashing beacons to enhance safety for pedestrians walking to Jordan Middle School and the Olive Recreation Center.
- Upgrade signals at Buena Vista Street, California Street, and Catalina Street: with new traffic poles, bicycle detection, countdown pedestrian signals, and pedestrian buttons to enhance safety for pedestrians.
- Install traffic cameras at California Street and Victory Boulevard: to monitor traffic congestion and operations.
- Install striped bicycle lanes between Clybourn Avenue and Cordova Street and between Virginia Avenue and Victory Boulevard.
- Install striped bicycle lanes between Olive Avenue and Victory Boulevard to connect to existing bicycle lanes at Main Street. A small four-block segment of this stretch will be marked as a signed bicycle route (no separate lanes) in the eastbound direction because the street here is narrower than the rest of Verdugo.
New Verdugo Avenue proven safer for everyone
Verdugo Avenue has been one of the most extensively monitored streets in the City, and updated data shows that the street continues to efficiently accommodate motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians without substantially increasing congestion or delay. More importantly, the reconfigured Verdugo Avenue has reduced collisions and increased the safety for all roadway users, particularly by significantly reducing severe crashes like head-on collisions and broadsides.
Given that the street continues to operate safely and efficiently for everyone, and is demonstrably much safer for motorists, Human-City Burbank recommends further expansion and increased application of these low-cost proven safety and humanizing-type transportation improvements throughout Burbank by adopting this successful, proven and time-tested, “Verdugo Avenue Reconfiguration Model” for many additional appropriate Burbank locations using new Measure M local return revenues as required. This type of roadway reconfiguration has been thoroughly proven to dramatically improve safety by providing more inclusive and complete streets that more equitably benefit everyone in Burbank.
Director of Policy & Planning for Walk Bike Burbank, local chapter of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Patrick is also a member of the Burbank Transportation Commission representing active transportation interests for the benefit of everyone.