City explores car-first changes on 37th
In 2017, the City Council wisely removed a South Hill project known as the Ray-Freya Crossover from the city's 6-year Arterial Street Plan and the Comprehensive Plan. The project, which was sharply criticized by the community, would have created a new arterial connecting Ray and Freya through Ferris High School, and had been proposed in various forms since the 1980s.
In a compromise with City traffic engineers, the City Council funded a project analyzing car-oriented traffic alternatives to the project. That study is now underway, and we have our first look at the suggestions.
The first option adds traffic signals at 37/Ray and 37th/Freya, with additional changes to lane widths, striping, and sidewalks. The project would add two-way unprotected bike lanes on 37th and Freya (south of 37th), plus a north-south multi-use trail along the Ray-Freya Crossover right-of-way.
At 37th/Ray, plans call for as many as four vehicle lanes, including problematic "slip" turn lanes from westbound 37th to southbound Ray. This configuration can create unnecessary and unsafe conflicts between drivers and bicyclists. At 37th/Freya, this alternative calls for no protected bike lane in the eastbound direction. In fact, it proposes "sharrows," which in many cases are less safe than no bicycle infrastructure at all. This configuration is likely to lead drivers to make unsafe, high-speed right turns onto southbound Freya.
The second option adds a roundabout at 37th/Ray and a traffic signal at 37th/Freya, with additional changes to lane widths, striping, and sidewalks. The project would add two-way unprotected bike lanes on 37th and Freya (south of 37th), plus a north-south multi-use trail along the Ray-Freya Crossover right-of-way.
At 37th/Ray, plans call for a sizable roundabout with as many as three lanes in/out. Most concerningly, the plan calls for an unsafe "slip" turn lane from westbound 37th to southbound Ray. At this slip lane, the bike infrastructure completely disappears without reappearing until the other side of the intersection; no protection would be given to bicyclists turning right onto Ray. It also includes only minimal merging space for vehicles on northbound Ray. The whole configuration leaves a lot to be desired for pedestrian and bicyclist safety, and it would require evicting at least one housing unit. At 37th/Freya, the configuration is essentially the same as the in Alternative 1, "sharrows" and all.
Original Concept (Alternative 3)
The third option is the original concept, the Ray-Freya Crossover. It is a dramatic change, evicting at least five and possibly as many as ten housing units. The project would add a multi-use trail along the south side of the crossover right-of-way, and a cul-de-sac on the former Ray alignment between 36th and 37th.
At 37th and Ray, this alternative creates something akin to a highway interchange, with unsafe "slip" turn lanes onto 37th in both directions. At these "slip" lanes, no provisions are made for bicyclist safety as users cross the intersection. The "crossover" connects directly with Freya north of 44th, where a new three-way stop is created. In this scenario, Ray becomes the primary arterial off of the Moran Prairie, unless you explicitly turn right onto Freya. At present, Freya acts more or less as a minor arterial for these users connecting to I-90 and points further north.
This proposal has significant problems. It cuts through the Ferris softball field (which would presumably require relocation), includes highway-style infrastructure, evicts as many as ten families, and would be by far the most expensive. It is not worthy of further consideration.
Recommendations and Sharing Feedback
We recommend suggesting the following improvements:
Explore protected bike lanes on 37th. The current setup is completely unprotected, which is less safe for bicyclists and drivers, and is unlikely to attract occasional riders. It also includes street parking on the south side of 37th, indicating that dedicating additional space for protected bike lanes may be possible. Especially adjacent to a high school, along a route which teenagers are likely to bike or walk to school, bicycling and walking should be prime concerns.
Eliminate "slip" turn lanes. The proposed turns onto Ray in Alternative 1 and Alternative 2 are unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists, and are likely to lead to drivers taking them at unnecessarily high speeds. "Slip" turn lanes should be eliminated in favor of curb bulb-outs or other pedestrian-safe improvements.
Eliminate the Ray-Freya Crossover from contention. I can't believe this project is back from the dead again. It's unnecessary, costly, and it evicts families from their homes. It's a highway-style, driver-first approach which doesn't fit in a residential neighborhood.
Improve bicyclist safety at 37th/Freya. In either of the first alternatives, bicycle infrastructure completely disappears at 37th/Freya in favor of "sharrows." These "share-the-road" symbols don't make the street any safer, and they shouldn't be proposed in 2021. A protected bike lane with proper intersection investments would be ideal, but in the absence of that, there are better ways to make the intersection safe for bicyclists.
City staff will be holding an online public meeting to discuss this project on Wednesday, February 17 at 5:30pm. Find more details and join the meeting here. And again, don't forget to complete the survey here.