“Rethinking the Lone Tree Road railroad overpass to reduce carbon emissions, promote biking and walking, and increase safety” By Paul Beier.
Coconino Voices. Arizona Daily Sun, December 13, 2021
In the 2018 bond referendum (Propositions 419 and 420), I voted for the Lone Tree Corridor project, which includes a railroad overpass. On October 30 2021 I attended the City’s clear and helpful presentation on the preliminary design for one crucial part of the 2-mile long project, namely the 0.3-mile railroad overpass. Most disturbingly, I realized that as currently designed, the project will promote use of motor vehicles in Flagstaff, and thus will not support the Flagstaff Carbon Neutral Plan (scheduled for approval by Council on Dec 7). Our Carbon Neutral plan calls for a “big shift” away from motor vehicles. For public safety we do need a safe crossing structure, but if we want this project to be consistent with our Carbon Neutral commitment, and with our near-final Active Transportation Management Plan (our plan to promote walking and biking), big changes are needed. Fortunately, we are still early in the design, so we can make big changes. Here I provide several suggestions. I hope other residents and the design engineers will improve on these ideas.
To reduce the impact on our Carbon emissions, and better support the Pedestrian and Bikeways Plan, there should be only one (not two) motor vehicles lanes in each direction. This will reduce costs, and could create space for a median to improve safety and facilitate snow removal. Unfortunately, at its October 19 meeting, City Council did not ask the City Manager to develop a design with fewer lanes. I implore City Council to request this at once. A reduced-lane design cannot possibly be part of the final design unless it immediately becomes an option in the preliminary design.
To promote use by pedestrians and bikes, the design should include windbreaks and partial overhead cover on the pedestrian-bike lanes, especially on the elevated sections where wind and weather can be severe for people on foot or bikes. New design features might enable snow removal equipment to get snow off the overpass entirely. I have no idea what these design features would look like, but the City has a fine team of engineers. Perhaps they can invent “snow chutes” that the world has not yet seen. It is crucial that snow removal equipment should not leave any snow in the pedestrian and bike lanes. If “snow chutes” can’t be built, then snow should be piled in a median between the motor vehicle lanes. The preliminary design already calls for low walls (concrete k-rails or jersey barriers) between the motor and non-motor lanes; engineers should upgrade these walls to minimize splash of traffic noise and water.
The Lone Tree project approved in the 2018 bond election included redesigning Lone Tree Road all the way to I-40. Although the current plans address only the overpass, now is the time to start designing southern Lone Tree Road to promote safety and non-motorized travel. Specifically, Lone Tree Road from Butler to I-40 should have only one vehicle lane in each direction. Doubling up lanes always increases pedestrian fatalities – let’s not do that.
In addition, every one of the 6 intersections on Lone Tree Road from Butler to I-40 should be a roundabout. An article in the New York Times on November 20 explained that roundabouts almost eliminate fatal accidents, substantially reduce vehicle emissions, avoid the cost and electric consumption of traffic lights, are friendlier to walkers and bikers, and make people in adjoining neighborhoods (like the people in my Brannen Homes neighborhood) feel that we are not subservient to through-traffic. To see this for yourself, go drive SR-179 from Tlaquepaque in Sedona to the village of Oak Creek and appreciate how well heavy traffic moves on this one-lane-each-way state highway. It is beautiful, friendly for bikes and walkers, and has exactly zero traffic lights along its 6.7 miles.
Finally, the design of southern Lone Tree Road should consider splitting Lone Tree Road from Woodland Drive southward past Pine Knoll Drive, with the southbound lane looping to the west of Kinsey School and the northbound lane along the current alignment. Kinsey School would be in the wide green island between the lanes, with safe pedestrian undercrossings for schoolkids. This idea might not be in the final design, but now is the time to think about creative ways to advance multiple goals. The City’s Lone Tree Road Corridor Final Report (March 2006) considered each alignment as a feasible option (see Figure A from that report below). My proposal tweaks that slightly by proposing one lane along each alignment.
The Lone Tree Road project may provide the best opportunity for Flagstaff to add a safe crossing of the rail lines. It also provides an opportunity to think wholistically about how the project can best advance our goals to eliminate carbon emissions, promote safety, and advance year-round non-motorized travel. In 2018 I pitched all these ideas to City capital improvements engineer Bret Petersen (who suddenly passed away last month – we will miss him) and he was excited to explore them. He was entirely upbeat about splitting the lanes around Kinsey School.
This is an exciting time to live in Flagstaff. In the last year our City has embarked on a 10-year housing plan, a plan to achieve carbon neutrality, a plan to advance pedestrian and bicycle transportation, and a proactive plan to shape development of 2,000 acres of private land in the southwest quarter of town. I thank City council for these initiatives, and our dedicated and underpaid city staff for moving them forward. But these broad plans can only be implemented in specific projects – such as this railroad overpass and the Lone Tree Road corridor. This is a job for all of us. To play your part, please email firstname.lastname@example.org today. Ask them to design the Lone Tree Corridor to promote biking and walking, reduce carbon emissions, promote public safety, and promote equity among neighborhoods.
Figure A from City’s Lone Tree Road Corridor Final Report (March 2006)