Preston Center Task Force Results: Part 2, Nothing a Pot of Paint Won’t Fix

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My previous two posts covered the parking issues being raised (and how much the perception varies from reality) and St. Michael’s prayers to upzone one of their Frederick Square properties to accommodate a 250,000-square-foot office high-rise. Well, it ain’t over yet!

The other side of the complaint coin is traffic, or more specifically how much time does it take to get from Point A to Point B on Preston Road or Northwest Highway. Existing speeds for both roadways are 35 miles per hour. For example, that should translate into roughly six minutes to travel the 3.4 miles from Inwood to Shady Brook Lane along Northwest Highway without hitting a single traffic signal or slow-down. Unfortunately, you are almost guaranteed to hit a majority of the 11 traffic signals on this route, spaced on average one every 1,631 feet or 0.3 of a mile. Good luck with that!

Let’s continue the example.

For the sake of argument, let’s say there’s an average of 30 seconds per signal rotation. If you hit them all, that’s an additional 5.5 minutes. For the sake of argument, let’s say you hit 75 percent of the red lights. That adds about four minutes on to what in a perfect world would be a six minute journey. It’s not perfect, but let’s use 10 minutes as a baseline (achievable at 4am on a Tuesday).

The Task Force’s data measured traffic speeds at multiple points, in both directions on Preston Road and Northwest Highway. The data was collected at 15-minute intervals, 24-hours a day, covering three calendar months during a year (October 2014/15 and May 2015). From 6:00am to 7:00pm there were 450 data points collected per month (averaging each collection point’s data). Suffice it to say, there is a lot of data.

(Spoiler alert: from October 2014 to October 2015, overall daytime speeds increased, meaning less traffic allowed drivers to go faster.)

Using a giant brush, eastbound traffic is slightly slower than westbound overall. Data shows during this daytime window, there’s <10% chance you’ll be traveling <5 miles per hour. “Gridlock” equates to a 41 minute journey.  And according to the newest October 2015 data, a slowdown of this magnitude only lasted more than 15 minutes once (once!), meaning no journey lasted 45 minutes (including signal waiting). Yippee, right?

From sunup to sundown, drivers are most likely to be traveling 15-25 miles per hour and only slightly less likely to be hitting 25-35 MPH (remember, 35 is the posted speed). Our exemplar 3.4 mile trip will take ~10 minutes if drivers are going 20 MPH and ~7 minutes for those averaging 30 MPH it’s (plus 4 minutes of signal time).

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Is there a possibility you’ll go slower? Of course, we’re just dealing with averages here. Accidents, weather and road-crossing chickens will all impact traffic speeds. To pinpoint extraneous influences someone at NCTCOG should cross-reference speeds against said accidents, weather and chicken-related hindrances. (Notice I said NCTCOG and not me.)

Also, my theoretical work is fine, but I’ve also spent 20 minutes trying to get from Pickwick Lane to the Tollway on Northwest Highway (3/4 of a mile and 4 traffic signals). What’s also missing is how long is spent waiting at signals, specifically how many cycles must be endured to cross each intersection.

But for a six-lane, cross-town cut-through midway between LBJ and Woodall Rodgers that is dammed-up with 11 traffic signals on a measly 3.4 mile route, the time to traverse Northwest Highway isn’t half bad. Yes, it’s a far cry from the 5.5 minutes you’d get with no traffic or traffic signals, but from a “lonely road at 4 a.m. pace” of 10 minutes, a rush hour rate between 11-14 minutes is surprisingly good. The unknown element is the real-world time-suck of rush hour signals

I suspect what’s also going on perception-wise is the underlying, unsaid, dirty little secret that many of us feel stifled going 35 mph on a six-lane “highway.” For us, Northwest Highway is always going to feel slooooooow … and nobody’s going to magic-up a fix for that.

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Traffic Signal Coordination

Back in October, I reported that the Task Force was regaled with tales from TXDoT about what fixes were currently in the pipeline for Northwest Highway. TXDoT was in the process of fiddling with the medians on Northwest Highway that would also replace the old signals and update their programming for better synchronization. The goals were to also add an extra turn lane from westbound Northwest Highway onto southbound Preston Road and another right-turn lane from southbound Hillcrest to westbound Northwest Highway.

The median work appears to be done but I can’t say as I’ve noticed traffic signal synchronization getting universally better … To me, the Preston Center end has gotten worse while the North Park area got better. The biggest culprit continues to be the signal at Douglas being out of whack with its neighbors.

Tunnel Vision Leaves Douglas Out

One reason for that is because while Northwest Highway’s signals got attention, the 2 signals immediately south of Northwest Highway on Douglas didn’t. These signals are located at the two busiest intersections feeding traffic to/from Douglas from neighboring office towers (Will St. Michael’s be praying for workers in their planned office tower?)

Berkshire / Villanova Signal Must GO

What’s also not getting attention is the signal fandango on south Preston Road between Preston Center East and West (they’re controlled by University Park, who for whatever reason isn’t part of the Task Force). I harp on this because it’s a critical problem I included in my own Preston Center traffic plan posted last July. Without this stretch of Preston Road part of the solution, the efficiency of the whole area will suffer.

Everyone heading onto Preston Road south of Northwest Highway hates the traffic signal at Berkshire Lane / Villanova Road located 18 car lengths south of Northwest Highway. In daily rush-hour traffic it’s a cramped bottleneck that should be removed and relocated south to Sherry and Wentwood. And so what’s TXDoT doing for this already cramped space? Why they’re dumping double the amount of cars into it from westbound Northwest Highway. (If I had more faith in such matters, I’d think TXDoT was forcing their hand.)

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What’s Next?

Aside from the (partial) signal replacements and two added turning lanes … there’s paint!

Yes siree Bob, the Northwest Highway intersections at Caruth Haven/Boedecker, Hillcrest, Thackery, Preston, Tollway and Inwood will all be getting new crosswalk striping (and a pinch of sidewalk curbing). I assume that will all be done with the general restriping of Northwest Highway.

In Conclusion

I think what TXDoT is doing is good but it’s a coincidental accident, divorced from the recommendations generated by the Task Force’s research. Next year when the Task Force is trying to squeeze cash out of the City and TXDoT, can’t we all hear them saying, “What’d you do with the money we gave you last year?”

 

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