Design changes mulled at Centennial-Fillmore, 21st and 26th at Cimarron
City hopes to alleviate recent accident problems

       Colorado Springs Traffic Engineering is considering changes for the Highway 24 intersections at 21st and 26th Street, in response to both sites making the city's top- 10 accident list for 2006.
       The work, chiefly altering how people make right turns at 21st and left turns at 26th, would be interim fixes - separate from the long-range expansion plans that the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has been talking about since 2004. But the city would still need CDOT approval, according to Scott Logan of City Traffic Engineering.
       Another Westside top-10 intersection, Fillmore Street and Centennial Boulevard (ranked third on the list), is tentatively slated to get brighter stoplights and clearer pavement markings, he said.
       Traditionally, both City Traffic Engineering and Police pay close heed to the annual accident rankings, which are based on a formula that factors in traffic volume, number of accidents and number of injuries to determine which intersections are the most dangerous. Traffic looks at the high-ranking intersections then for design changes that could improve safety, while police officers tend to step up enforcement. For example, a speed trap was implemented on the highway between 21st and 26th less than a month after the 2006 rankings were released in February.
       At 21st Street (ranked second), there have been 83 accidents in the past three years, including 34 in 2006 (with 9 of them resulting in injuries), city statistics show. Twenty-four of these accidents were rear-enders, with nine occurring in the right-turn “loop” from northbound 21st Street onto eastbound Highway 24, Logan said. This is where engineers think a design change can help. What seems to happen, is drivers “are looking back (for a break in the oncoming highway traffic) and looking forward (to see where they're going),” he said. But if a driver in the right turn queue happens to be looking back when the vehicle in front has stopped, chances are a rear-end accident will occur.
       One design improvement the city would like at 21st is a merging lane for right-turners to allow a continuous flow of traffic onto the highway (instead of the current situation where they often have to stop and wait for an opening). But this work appears unaffordable (it would probably require a new bridge over Fountain Creek, just east of the intersection), Logan said.
       So the city is looking at either of two less expensive safety-oriented plans involving a right-turn light to control eastbound access to the highway from northbound 21st Street. One alternative is putting the light at the end of the loop; another would eliminate the loop altogether, installing a right-turn arrow light at a new, 90-degree angle turn, Logan said.
       Highway 24 and 26th Street (ranked 9th this year) has had 30 accidents in the past three years. In 2006, there were 11 crashes, 5 of them resulting in injuries. The types of accidents consisted of six rear-enders, four broadside collisions and one where a car overturned, police information shows. Left turns were involved in three of the accidents, and “we had a real serious one the year before,” Logan recalled.
       The left-turn safety improvements could involve a possible median shift “so people can see the traffic better when they take turns,” he said. Another idea is to change to what is called a “protected” left turn - meaning drivers on the highway could only go left on a green arrow (unlike now, when a turn is possible anytime there's a green light).
       The problems at Fillmore and Centennial are harder to figure out because of the temporary nature of the situation. For one thing, engineers believe (but have no statistics available) that more drivers are using Fillmore - and possibly driving faster than the speed limit - as a kind of detour while the COSMIX and Cimarron bridge projects choke off the downtown area's I-25 access. Another factor, when considering design changes, is that within a couple of years the new Centennial extension south to the Fontanero/I-25 interchange may be opened, thus easing the load at the Centennial-Fillmore intersection, Logan explained.
       Over the past three years there have been 32 accidents there - 14 of them in 2006. One trend that's been noticed is a high number of “eastbound rear-enders,” he said.
       This was the first time in recent years that any of these three intersections has ranked nearly so high. One possible reason is that the accident rates dropped at last year's top intersections. For instance, 26th Street's numbers would have ranked it just 23rd last year, according to City Traffic Engineer David Krauth.
       City officials like to believe the drop had something to do with design changes and other “concentration” given to the worst intersections, as Logan phrased it. For instance, the year 2005's number one - Fountain and Academy boulevards - dropped to 17 after Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) improvements were implemented at that intersection.
       He and Eddie Orff, statistician for City Police, also emphasized that intersections are not targeted for improvements just on one year's results. “We have historical data, so we can see what the trends have been,” Orff noted. A three-year time frame often is helpful, but the idea is to err on the side of safety. “If an intersection was number 3 last year and 30 this year, we don't want it to pop back to 3 again,” he said.
       But it's also true that figuring intersection safety is not an exact science. For example, Chestnut Street and Fillmore was ranked fourth on the 2004 list, with 28 accidents (5 with injuries), and 17th on the 2005 ranking, with 16 accidents (five with injuries). This year, despite no major improvements at that intersection, Chestnut-Fillmore dipped to number 74, based on 14 accidents (two with injuries).
       Overall, the city's rankings this year take in 97 intersections. Other West-side crossings on that list are: 51 - Centennial and Garden of the Gods Road; 74 - Chestnut Street and Garden of the Gods; and 78 - Eighth Street and Highway 24.

Westside Pioneer article