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Two years ago, the City of Oakland released a study showing positive results for their new, rapidly built protected crossings around the Lake Merritt BART. Shortly thereafter, however, the city decided to stop maintaining the corner posts — that part of the protected intersections that actually forces motorists to slow down when entering the crosswalks.
“OakDOT has determined that the postal style (i.e., K71) in the photos … is unsustainable,” wrote Karen Boyd, the city’s communications director. “The posts are not selectively reinstalled based on their positions at a particular corner.”
The reason: “The posts in the apex of the corner are most likely to be hit and disappear.”
This, of course, misses the point of a protected crossing – if motorists hit those posts, it’s because they’ve found they won’t damage their cars. They do not slow down and defeat the purpose of the installation.
“At the Lake Merritt BART, a utility project where the posts were removed and never replaced was also a problem,” Bike East Bay’s Robert Prinz wrote in an email to Streetsblog. “There was a lot of impact on utility projects like this one with missing strips, posts and other elements at project completion in the Oakland area. I’ve tried to bring this to OakDOT’s attention but haven’t been able to get much movement towards solutions yet.”
One of the reasons the corner posts are hit is because OakDOT has deviated from the standard protected crossing design. As traffic expert Vignesh Swaminathan explained in a previous post, “two radii” are required; There must be an outside corner with a low curb, bumps or some other type of treatment to warn motorists that they are taking the corner too fast. This helps protect the post from being run over by all but the most egregious drivers.
But from Streetsblog’s point of view, there is a bigger problem here: there is still a prevailing opinion that when it comes to dangerous driving, the solution is to allow such driving. What OakDOT should be doing, if they’re serious about safety, is looking for ways to strengthen and protect those vertices and force drivers to slow down, even if there are occasional damage to cars. At Emeryville on Doyle Street, this was accomplished using the same category of posts but painted gray to look like concrete. Between the posts are real concrete garbage cans – in other words, if a motorist is really determined to drive at an unsafe speed and run over posts, they will collide before hitting a pedestrian or cyclist.
And to be clear: this has nothing to do with money. Concrete is cheap. And Emeryville used surplus trash cans. Unfortunately, OakDOT took the opposite approach.
Occasionally OakDOT tries to get this right, or at least make it closer to right. “The Telegraph Temescal corners were designed from the start with the rubber corner pads, not as a replacement, based on experience we’ve had on other installations like Lake Merritt BART. So far I’ve seen these spots survive much better than the spots where flex posts were installed all the way to the corner without a bumper,” added Prinz. “I think it makes sense in areas where trucks or other vehicles are making wider turns and still forcing slower turns, but without as much ongoing maintenance. I have also seen this on concrete protected intersections and roundabouts with a mountable curb section along the outside edge.”
Whatever the solution, a culture that puts safety first doesn’t respond to car accidents and reckless driving by exploiting key safety features. “As OakDOT continues to pursue the intent of these posts, it’s transitioning to more durable materials: concrete when project budgets and schedules allow, and surface-mount interlocking plastic edges when faster treatment is needed,” Boyd said. “As we learn from these pilot treatments, OakDOT is also working to develop a longer-term maintenance strategy for sites where they have been installed.”