Originally Published: May 10, 2008 9:19 p.m.
PRESCOTT - In the midst of a national "pedestrian fatality epidemic," changes are imminent on local roads that some say could alter the relationship that walkers and bicyclists have with traffic.
With six new roundabouts in the works on Prescott-area roads in coming years, as well as a number of "controlled access" interchanges on the divided portion of Highway 89A northeast of Prescott, conditions will be changing for people who walk or bike around the community.
And while the new interchanges cause concern for advocates of alternative transportation, they said the traffic-calming influence of roundabouts actually is good news for bicyclists and walkers.
The issue came up at a recent meeting of the Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization technical advisory committee, during which Arizona Department of Transportation Pedestrian and Bicycle Coordinator Michael Sanders gave a report on pedestrian safety.
According to Sanders' report, the U.S. is facing a "fatality epidemic" that has resulted in as many as 5,000 pedestrians deaths per year, and another 64,000 injuries. Most of the crashes do not occur in pedestrian-friendly areas, such as downtowns, Sanders said, but rather on higher speed roads where designers pay little attention to pedestrians.
Along with tracking the number of pedestrian deaths nationwide, Sanders' presentation emphasized that Arizona is among 15 states with the worst records for pedestrian safety.
Prior to Sanders' report, local bicycling advocate Derek Brownlee urged the CYMPO technical advisory committee to take a close look at the controlled-access interchanges on state highways, which routinely prohibit pedestrian and bike traffic.
Brownlee noted that while Highway 89A currently is not an area that would attract many bikes or walkers, he said area communities' proposed annexation of property in the area likely would bring more residential and commercial development, which, in turn, would encourage pedestrians and cyclists.
"As it gets more built up, there will be more pedestrian traffic," Brownlee said. "We have to look at the plans and check pedestrian access in advance, rather than try to catch up later."
Prescott Deputy City Manager Craig McConnell, a representative on the CYMPO technical advisory committee, suggested that the local governments look into developing parallel multi-use trails that would help pedestrians get around the busy interchanges.
ADOT Resident Engineer Alvin Stump agreed that a separate path might be the best option to deal with pedestrians in interchanges.
For example, he pointed to Interstate 70 in Colorado, where a multi-use path exists along much of the freeway. In Arizona, he said, some Interstate 17 interchanges in the Phoenix area include pedestrian overpasses.
And, when it comes to the increasing prevalence of roundabouts, most of the experts agree the new configurations will aid pedestrians and cyclists, rather than deterring them.
"As far as roundabouts go, actually we're all for them," said Lisa Barnes, executive director of the Prescott Alternative Transportation organization. "We see them as excellent traffic-calming devices."
While she noted that "it depends on the roundabout design," Barnes said the small scale of the local roundabouts helps to slow down traffic, which is safer for cyclists and walkers.
Brownlee, who regularly bicycles throughout the tri-city area, agreed that roundabouts offer an improvement over traffic signals at intersections.
While he said bicyclists might have problems with the large, fast roundabouts that are common on the East Coast, Brownlee said small-scale roundabouts such as the one at Highway 89/Willow Lake Road are comfortable for a cyclist.
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