Saturday, March 29, 2014

Five Corners futility

Y'all know how I love writing trilogies.  This post completes my first and second on the subject of the notorious Five Corners traffic intersection in #LeagueCityTX, the so-called third worst intersection in the Houston-Galveston area.  (Update April 3, 2014:  I spoke too soon and have since added a new blog category called Five Corners because it's becoming more apparent that this issue is going to persist).

Here's the biggest issue that I have with the modifications that are being done thus far:  I simply don't think they'll improve traffic flow at this intersection.  I suspect they'll make it worse, and I explain why below.    
Just for openers, they ain't even finished yet, and they're already broke.  The end of this curb was sheared off sometime around March 23, and I noticed yesterday afternoon (March 28) that another one seems to have been snapped off maybe within the past 24 to 48 hours.  
Close-up.  What's going to happen here is that drivers are going to hit these things over and over and over until they're worn down to not very much.  There's going to be a lot of people upset over damaged tires and ruined alignment.  Have you paid for an alignment  job recently?  I have.  It sucks.  
So there's the breakage problem just for openers, but for another thing, I don't think that FM 518 was ever originally designed to take these kinds of improvements.  That's why they're being built with such a thin, tire-disrupting configuration - there's so little room available here.
Look at this poor guy in the dually.  He's in the EB FM 518 left turn lane waiting to head north on FM 270, and he's barely got any room at all on each side of him.  There's little margin for error.

This is just a dually - this is not a full-sized bus or a delivery truck.  I personally do not think that we can afford to sacrifice a couple of feet of right of way to a concrete barrier here.  
And speaking of which, why is that particular concrete barrier so wonky in the first place??
It bumps out unnecessarily into the turn lane, and to this unexplained wander we lose about another precious foot of space.  You can already see that this hump is covered with black tire marks from folks who have hit it, and it's only been there a couple of weeks.

It's like a shallow S-curve when it should instead be a nice smooth curve that follows the expected lane trajectory.  I believe this causes a degree of visual confusion among drivers.  They expect to see a regular curve and instead they see this obstacle that they need to be mindful not to hit.  And when they're paying attention to that little inconvenience, they're paying less attention to the rest of the intersection.

This is a subtle distraction, sure, but every bit of attention counts when you're navigating Five Corners.  I got distracted by the thing enough to take this phone pic and draw a curve to suggest what it should look like instead.  My point being, it's noticeable to drivers.  
I'm not a traffic engineer, but I do have 31 years of accident-free driving to my credit and I do have an energetic obsession with details of all kinds.  I don't always agree with what @TxDOTHoustonPIO does.  I tend to look at right-of-way segments not the way they should be driven, but the way they actually are driven, and I think I know how people drive through Five Corners, having done it about three billion times myself.  One of the biggest challenges with Five Corners has always been that there are too many mental transactions that need to take place within a frighteningly short period of time.  On top of that existing burden, we have now overlain an absolute maze of new concrete lane restrictions.  What I already see happening in response is that a lot of drivers' eyeballs are pointing down when they should be pointing up.  They're looking twenty feet ahead of themselves trying not to hit concrete barriers in overly-narrow spaces when they should instead be taking holistic stock of the massive intersection that confronts them.  Either that or they are looking up and some of them are smacking the barriers as a result.

I think I understand why the engineers decided to try adding these barriers (for brevity, I won't go into that in this post), but I'm not so sure that what we'll gain from the restrictions outstrips what we're losing.

I guess we'll have to see the whole picture before the full story makes itself apparent.  Unfortunately, the degree of public outreach has been so poor that the whole thing might end up being built before any of us really become aware of what it consists of.
This is a partial screengrab from this map which was published on this undated LC webpage as of March 2014. The map itself is dated 2011 (three years old) and if I'm understanding this correctly, it doesn't appear to show the same improvements as are actually being built right now.  For instance, left-turning onto FM 518 from the Kroger parking lot has been eliminated via the questionable concrete improvements shown in pictures farther up in my post, but I don't see anything drawn on the left side of this map to indicate them.

Furthermore, the LC page states that "TxDOT eliminated the bypass".  So what does this whole present-day picture actually consist of??    

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