Photo illustrations of bicyclists taken by the safety audit team.

In a formal response to set of recommendations issued by the Arizona Department of Transportation’s safety audit team that evaluated the Fourth Avenue, Toole Avenue and Congress Street intersection in May, the City of Tucson says it will institute many of the suggestions.

ADOT’s report contains information about the intersection and observations from the field as well as short, medium and long-term recommendations.

The City’s Transportation Director, Jim Glock said the city plans to  add several improvements to the intersection.

Some immediate improvements include: pavement markings for both motorists and cyclists to help people navigate the intersection, a bike box for southbound cyclists on Fourth Avenue and a bike path on the north side of the new parking garage being built in the area.

The report notes that the intersection is the busiest intersection for bicycle traffic in downtown Tucson according to the most recent bike count. It also notes that a motorized bicycle rider was killed around this intersection when he lost control of his bike crossing the streetcar tracks.

Here is what the intersection currently looks like:

View Larger Map

Check out the more wonky details from the report and the city’s response below.

Here is an excerpt from the report:

The RSA team observed numerous violations of traffic control devices by motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists, possibly due to confusion, excessive speed, inattention, inability to directly access some destinations, excessive waits, carelessness, and willful violations.

The team included many suggestions for short-term improvements:

1. Install double solid white lane lines on Congress Street between the center and right- side lanes extending through the intersection to discourage turning right onto Toole Avenue from the center lane (single line will discourage crossing over, and a double line will legally prohibit crossing over)

2. Install word message pavement markings on the Congress Street approach indicating proper lane assignment for 4th Avenue, Congress Street and Toole Avenue. The RSA team noted that all of the street names except “Congress” can fit in one lane. “Congress” may need to be abbreviated or spread across two lanes.

3. Clean or refresh existing pavement markings periodically

4. Delineate the raised island and bulb-out with reflectorized paint and/or raised pavement markers (RPMs)

5. Prohibit right-turn on red from 4th Avenue (except for bicyclists)

6. Install a bike-box on 4th Avenue approach entering the intersection

7. Install shared lane markings and way-finding dots to help bikes navigate the intersection

8. Consider prohibiting right-turn on red from North Toole Avenue

9. Consider dropping the Congress Street right-side lane at the intersection, converting it into a right-turn only lane for 4th Avenue. Right-turns onto Toole Avenue would be made from the existing center lane.

In the city’s response, Glock writes that items 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 will be addressed when the city adds a streetcar stop at the new development and parking garage on Broadway east of Fourth Avenue.

He wrote that the city is “reluctant” to implement items 1 and 7 because the street’s configuration might change in the future and those pavement marking would be “throw away” improvements.

Here are the mid-term recommendations:

A mid-term recommendation is to widen the westbound approach to the intersection on the south side to allow for a bike lane to the south of the tracks and transit stop. This widening could be integrated into the future housing development project. Also, a bike lane facility should be considered for incorporation into the Plaza Centro project to allow access to the 4th Avenue underpass in conjunction with the Garage.

In the city’s response, Glock says this idea is being pursued when the student housing construction starts, which he notes is subject to the economy, but is scheduled to begin in 2012. He also said the developer of the shopping center and parking garage has committed to including a bike facility on the north side of the building.

Lastly, here are the long-term recommendation.

In the long-term, the city should consider the closing of Toole Avenue at this intersection to vehicular traffic. This would eliminate the sideswipe conflict that currently exists with motorists turning onto Toole Avenue from the Congress Street center lane, and would reduce conflicts between vehicles and bicyclists and pedestrians.

Glock said his response that this would have to be achieved by working with the businesses in the area and that while creating a pedestrian plaza where the road is might be attractive, the elimination of on-street parking is generally not well received. He said they were developing a computer simulation to determine what the traffic flow and parking would be like if the street were closed.

The group included a specific set of recommendations for bicycle and pedestrian improvements. They are:

1. Provide bike boxes at the intersection for 4th Avenue and for Congress Street

2. Install “Bicyclist Use Ped Signal” signs to encourage safe bicycle use of the Congress Street crosswalk at Herbert Avenue and crossing Congress Street at South Toole Avenue (depending on how bicycles are routed, this will have to be done in conjunction with signs legalizing bicycle riding on the sidewalk)

3. Provide a bicycle path (with appropriate Wayfinding signs) to/from North and South Toole Avenues with connections to northbound 4th Avenue, the pedestrian bridge, and the north side of the new parking garage. Provide a ramp cut along Toole Avenue near Maynard’s Market to provide access to the pedestrian bridge.

4. Re-install crosswalks across 4th Avenue, and adjust the raised island as necessary to allow proper crosswalk and bike lane connections. Install “accessible route” ADA signs to indicate that pedestrians may cross using the bike/ped bridge or using the other existing marked crosswalks.

5. Install a bicycle lane, when room allows, on Congress Street as previously discussed. This improvement could include shifting the lanes on Congress Street between North and South Toole Avenues to make use of the loading zone, which may provide enough width for a bike lane on the west side of the streetcar tracks. If a bike lane cannot be provided, use appropriate merge area treatments or shared lane markings (SLMs).

6. Provide a cycle track between the new transit platform and sidewalk so that westbound cyclists on Congress Street can continue to northbound Fourth Avenue and bypass the platform without having to negotiate a crossing of the tracks. Use an alternative material for the surface of the cycle track, similar to the rubberized material used on running tracks, to slow bicycles through the pedestrian conflict zone.

7. Consider the use of green bike lanes as appropriate. Proper application of green lanes and other markings to be determined by Tucson DOT.

8. Provide a two-way shared bike/pedestrian facility to/from South 4th Avenue. This may involve sidewalk widening on the south side of Congress Street. This could also make use of Herbert Avenue if it does not remain closed.

9. Identify safe crossover points for bicyclists to cross the streetcar tracks and provide appropriate pavement markings and signs, with consideration given to green lanes

10. Consider installation of a raised pedestrian crosswalk on Congress Street at South Toole Avenue (this should help decrease speeds entering this area), pending approval by the Fire Department. If North Toole Avenue is not closed, a raised pedestrian crosswalk is also recommended across North Toole Avenue at the intersection.

11. Revise the traffic signal operation to allow the pedestrian crossing phase to come up without activating the pedestrian push button

12. Consider a scramble pedestrian/bicyclist phase at the Congress Street/4th Avenue/Toole Avenue intersection

13. Pima County DOT should follow through on plans to conduct a 1-hour seminar for incoming freshmen at the University of Arizona to provide safety awareness of sharing the road with streetcars, learning where to properly position themselves in the travel lanes, and learning how to cross tracks safely

Glock said it was clear that the city needed to provide better way-finding signage and regulatory signage allowing sidewalk riding. He said a plan would be developed by the Tucson Transportation Department to improve the bicycle and pedestrian flow in the area. He said both items 3 and 7 should be implemented in the future.

Glock said both a bike box and a cycle track around the future streetcar stops will be implemented immediately.

He said the bike lane in Item 5 could be done in the near future by the property developer.

Many of the other recommendations will be evaluated as the short term improvements are made.

Lastly, here is an illustration provided by the city showing the improvements they intend to make.

Click the image for a larger version.
7 thoughts on “Update on improvements to Fourth Avenue underpass and intersection”
  1. “9. Identify safe crossover points for bicyclists to cross the streetcar
    tracks and provide appropriate pavement markings and signs, with
    consideration given to green lanes”

    YES! I’ve only been through this intersection (from going east on broadway to north on 4th) a handful of times, but I don’t know how to safely cross the tracks. So I actively avoid it.

  2. Avoidance is the best policy. However, turning north on 5th Ave. to Toole, right  to Congress, then the swooping left onto 4th Ave (during the flashing yellow right-turn arrow) is the safest way track-wise. Is it legal? No one knows. The flashing right-turn arrow for Toole traffic onto Congress serves as a de facto scramble for bikes to do this  maneuver although it doesn’t occur every time.

    The point was brought up at the BAC Downtown Subcommittee meeting this week as to weather cycling downtown has gotten less safe over the past 4-5 years. There has been the death and the creation of infrastructure that lends itself to the increase of poor choices being made by all users. The narrowing of the popular 7th Ave.  downtown access route for car parking and bump-outs protruding into bike travel sections of the lane were specifically mentioned. Little bicycle access routes have been eliminated when their numbers should have been on the increase. Parking garages everywhere you look, yet the suggestion to close a section of Toole and loose a few next-to-the-door parking spaces is the immediate alert. I was ‘gassed-out’ of Second Saturday last weekend when I rode there. Piecemeal regressions offset by piecemeal improvements seems to indicate the lack of a plan. Or at least one that incorporates cycling as much as it should.

  3. I hear you on 2nd Saturdays, zz. Seems like it’s still one of those “drive the Mercedes to Downtown, be seen, then head back to the Foothills” events.

    And don’t get me started on those 7th Avenue parking spaces. I understand that the businesses in the area need parking for those who need their mechanized wheelchairs (cars) to go anywhere and everywhere, but hey, we go out and spend money too.

  4. The last time we were talking about this, everyone said the obvious, the new 4th Ave. underpass is very poorly designed.  How something so expensive and touching so many people could be botched up so badly is beyond me.   We now have a mess and need to make it work as best we can.  The bike path planned to go on the North side of the new parking garage is a bright ray of sunshine.  The list of proposals above doesn’t mention connecting that path to the eastside sidewalk thru the underpass.  That would require tearing out some trees by the elevator.  That East sidewalk under the tracks  is very wide and capable of carrying bikes along with pedestrians.  The new path by the garage will allow cyclists to go from South Toole (on the East) to North Toole without going thru the intersection at all.  That is excellent.  My idea tags onto that and allows cyclists to go from either of those places and get to 4th Av. on the North side of the tracks and avoid going on a road.

  5. The last time we talked about this we talked about some of the problems that were created by a design trying to serve many conflicting needs and wants.

      I would disagree that it’s currently a mess.  I see it as a work in progress.  As a pedestrian I adore the new underpass.  Sure it’s tough to cross Toole or Congress but I have faith that the signal problems will get sorted out.  I love it to ride through too.  I’ll ride through the 6th Ave Tunnel, I wouldn’t ride through the 4th.  The constant construction has made things difficult.  Re-opening the bridge from the east to the west is going to help a lot. Adding a connection from N4th to S 4th will also solve a lot of problems.  Overall I view this underpass as progress and money well spent.  Burrowing under twin railroad tracks while not once disrupting train traffic is no mean feat.  Changing the road alignment to create the space in the middle was worth the delay and cost.  Maybe I missed something and I’m in the minority on this but I will say it for the record, I like the new underpass I think that overall it is an excellent design and I use multi-modally on a daily basis.

  6. Do you mean that last little section of 7th Ave across the tracks next to the new Dinnerware Gallery location or all of it including the piece between 4th St and 5th St?  OSVS not parking.  On street vehicle storage.  Let’s call it what it is.  No grass, no trees, it ain’t a park.  

  7. Yeah, that last section between the tracks and Toole was narrowed considerably for back-in parking. The spaces are set out from the street edge, too, making it look strange. They had to do that because there is no sidewalk. We can now welcome, what, six more cars to downtown now.

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