One of Tucson’s most complicated intersections will be the subject of extreme scrutiny for the next two days.

Officials from the Arizona Department of Transportation are in Tucson performing a “Road Safety Assessment” of the intersection downtown where 4th Avenue, Toole Avenue and Congress Street meet.

The assessment is designed to be an inexpensive way for cities to get feedback on complicated stretches of road.

The collection of planners, engineers and light rail experts were invited by the City of Tucson to help determine what, if any, fixes could be made to the intersection to make it work better.

“It could be really good news for bicyclists,” said Ian Johnson, the chair of the downtown subcommittee of the Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee. “It is sort of a free way for a city to get an outside opinion about an intersection and hopefully fix it.”

Tucson’s bike and pedestrian program manager Tom Thivener said he hopes the group will be able to help improve the intersection.

“I think everybody across the region agrees that this is an intersection worthy of improvement,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll get too much resistance.”

A motorized bike rider was killed riding through this intersection, last summer.

Gabe Thum, a senior planner with Pima Association of Governments, is heading up the safety assessment.

Three lanes of traffic and three different streets make for a complicated mix.

He said the group will spend Tuesday and Wednesday observing the intersection and how people use it. The group will walk the entire section, take measurements, and video tape the area while driving through it. He said he didn’t think the group would ride bicycles through the area, but will pay special attention to issues facing bicycles and pedestrians.

On Thursday, they will make recommendations to the city about various improvements the city could make.

“Typically the recommendations are inexpensive fixes,” Thum said. “They could say no to all of them or they could say yes to all of them. The truth is, they will probably do something in the middle.”

After the recommendations are made, the city can seek funding though the state’s safety fund to help implement the changes.

Thum said the safety assessments have a good track record.

“They have been shown to be very, very effective for reducing crashes where they are performed and where the recommendations are implemented,” he said.

Check back with Tucson Velo to learn what the group recommends. In the meantime, do you have any thoughts about the intersection?

10 thoughts on “Officials performing safety assessment of Congress/4th Ave. intersection”
  1. They should try to ride their bikes through it both ways. It’s pretty hard not to kill yourself or break the law.

    There’s a back way around it that’s pretty nice. Say you’re riding up 4th northbound from the southside, make a right on 12th and go to the end and you will connect to toole which you can ride over Broadway. The street lets you out near the big parking lot being constructed and then you ride up the street and make a right on 4th Ave without ever having to cross the trolley tracks or break the law.

    However, you can’t use that trick on the way back without breaking the law or your neck. You have to risk doing both to get to the alley next to the Rialto Theater.

  2. I participate in the weekly Meet Me at Maynards walk. The scariest part of my ride to the walk is getting out of that underpass on the Congress Street side.

    In addition to having to wait at a light on a steep incline, it’s hard to stake out enough space to wait. Cars really crowd into that bike lane at 4th/Congress/Toole.

    IMHO, this intersection needs an overhaul.

  3. SO glad this is being addressed. Riding home from work with my son on the trail-a-bike is really scary. There’s no safe place tp wait for the light to change at the top of the underpass, heading south. And merging onto Congress is really difficult with all the cars backed up at the light. And heading north on the underpass is really bad right now–we come from Toole and there is no shoulder b/c of the construction. On the days that I walk, it’s a giant pain because the east side of the underpass is closed (and has been for a LONG time). Every time I’m stopped at the top of the underpass on my bike I feel like I’m about to witness a car crash. When we finally get a green light, it’s still not safe to proceed because there are always several cars heading west that were past the stoplight when it turned red–it takes a while for them to get past the crosswalk since it’s a long intersection and with traffic often backed up, things get hairy.

  4. It would be nice if there was a crosswalk for pedestrians on 4th Av @ Congress. If I am downtown and want to head north on 4th Av underneath the overpass, you are stuck on the west side of the sidewalk. It is also way too congested in front of the Congress Hotel & Rialto areas….cars don’t yield…very difficult to cross the street.

  5. The sad part is that this is a new intersection. The complete confusion of traffic and the grade is too steep for the trolly. Who made these plans? On top of that we can now expect more traffic confusion with the addition of a new and poorly placed parking ramp. This would have been a lot easier to fix on paper than it will be now. Doesn’t anyone look over these plans before they build problem areas like these. Don’t get me wrong, the new underpass looks great but it just does not work very well.

  6. I’ve traveled through (and back) the intersection on three trips for a total of six passes on Tuesday, including trips at 8:00am, 9:00am, and noon. I took a long look around for evidence of any video taping equipment anywhere. I could not spot a thing. At no point during these trips did I see any group or individual studying the intersection or taking any measurements, which makes me wonder if anything is actually taking place today.

  7. I agree with everyone above – there are some flaws with the current set-up.

    Here are my suggestions:

    A) Provide a ramped connection on the pedestrian path on the abutment on east side of 4th Ave. That would allow cyclists to cut thru Maynard’s parking lot, take the pedestrian bridge over 4th, and then loop south and turn north onto the ped/cycle path in the 4th Ave. underpass’ east side.

    B) Create a bicycle path thru or just north of the new parking garage so west bound cyclists can avoid the intersection. Leaving 1st Ave. you would ride west on Broadway under the tracks then turn north on Toole and immediately turn west into the garage or just north of it, you would continue west over 4th Ave. and into Maynard’s parking lot.

    C) If A and B are implemented, then you could also take the first part of route B but navigate into the ped/cycle path going north on 4th Ave.

    I know there are ways to avoid the whole area altogether, but I find myself getting jambed into that mess a couple times a year and kicking myself for not taking a better route. Then I immediately ponder why it’s a mess at all.

  8. What I saw while watching that intersection for 15 minutes at 4:00 this afternoon was 13 lane errors….drivers either going onto Toole from the center lane or onto Congress from the right lane. It is still confusing as heck after all this time. It’s the most I’ve seen, even from just after the completion. I’m surprised there aren’t more crashes. People seem to be muddling through OK; however I don’t believe that is an engineering-design goal. It’s the kind of thing we end up with. I would say it’s still a very high-risk area for cyclists with all the driver uncertainty that was evidenced.
    Would like to see the professional’s report.

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