Are Blue Star lights warranted?
BY SCOTT SULLIVAN EDITOR
A traffic analysis conducted by Allegan County Road Commission consultants shows traffic volumes may warrant signal lights at corners of Blue Star Highway and Old Allegan Road, aka “Crash Corner,” and further south at Lake Street — but crash volumes don’t.
This may surprise some given the former saw seven wrecks in the first nine months of last year. But two of them came less than two weeks after Hubbell, Roth and Clark consulting engineers had conducted traffic studies at both sites Sept. 8.
The Road Commission, per a Dec. 28, 2016 county commission policy, adheres to the Michigan Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices — an 816-page document — in determining if and where to place lights, signs and other safety measures.
Consultants weigh factors such as average traffic speed and accident history at chosen sites. What type of accidents matter in any type of control too.
HRC findings were included in Monday’s Saugatuck City Council meeting agenda packet. Blue Star at Lake are within city limits, Blue Star and Old Allegan lie in Saugatuck Township not faraway. (See map nearby.)
HRC conducted traffic counts Sept. 8 at both sites and assessed accident reports over the last five years.
Blue Star at Lake
Traffic volumes were high where eastbound Lake Street T’s at Blue Star, whose speed limits slow to 35 mph north of the bridge. Crash numbers were less so and most often minor rear-end collisions, not enough to warrant signalization there per data gathered.
Although such a light there could provide more safety for pedestrians and bicyclists once multi-modal recommendations, listed below, are completed, the study suggests that first:
• Upgrading paving and installing 24-inch stop bars,
• Installing high-emphasis crosswalk markings,
• Investigating continuing bike lanes north of the Blue Star Bridge, for which a tri-community committee working with Friends of the Blue Star Trail is pursuing grants,
• Installing green bicycle conflict pavement markings, and
• Installing green bike boxes to allow opportunities for safe wayfinding to existing and future bicycle routes.
At Blue Star and Old Allegan, per TIA standards, a minimum of five crashes must occur within 12 months to meet Warrant 7 light-installing criteria. Although the corner had just fallen shy of that by Sept. 8, two more accidents occurred there Sept. 17 and 18.
A left-turn lane exists on Blue Star northbound but not southbound. There is a 50-mph speed limit on the highway there.
Based on that and projected increased traffic volumes, HRC recommends installing:
• A traffic signal there,
• Pedestrian signals on the intersection’s west leg depending on how the proposed Blue Star Trail connection is configured,
• High-emphasis crosswalk marking to improve pedestrian safety,
• Green bicycle conflict pavement markings, and
• Green bike boxes to allow opportunities for safe wayfinding to existing and future bicycle routes. “Crash Corner” alternativeslisted include installing:
• 36-inch stop signs,
• Stop ahead signs in appropriate locations, and
• An overhead flasher if crashes continue and/or increase, and with consideration of potential bicycle volumes.
HRC’s study also notes installing a roundabout, unlike at Lake Street where unoccupied property is scarce, might be a viable option there.
“The Federal Highway Administration,” it says, “notes lower speeds, reduce conflict points and are proven safety countermeasures.
“There is forest and little development surrounding this intersection, reducing the likelihood of major right-of-way conflicts to constructing a roundabout.”
With the lower speeds (Blue Star’s) elevated horizontal curve might be redesigned for a lower-design speed. This may allow the county to take advantage of existing grades when building the new facility,” it said.
Before dismissing TIA standards as too rigid, anecdotal evidence shows citizens calling for slower speed limits in their neighborhoods but resenting and possibly violating artificially-slow ones elsewhere.
“It is in the best interest of the road commission and public,” says county policy, “to prevent the excessive use of signs on the roadway system. Traffic sign effectiveness can be severely diminished by improper or overuse.
“Regulatory and warning signs are installed because of need and in some cases by warranted conditions,” it goes on. “A conservative use of traffic signs reduces maintenance costs and improves the effectiveness of those remaining signs.
“Eliminating unnecessary signage reduces sign clutter/pollution, lowers maintenance costs, standardizes implementation, and improves traffic safety for the traveling public,” it says.