Slip lanes near schools are a terrible idea

Just north of downtown Scottsbluff — adjacent to Pioneer Park, Frank Park, Bluffs Middle School, and Scottsbluff High School, at a border between residential and commercial areas — Broadway intersects with 27th Street in a T.

Once upon a time, Broadway was part of the state highway system going straight through town. As a result, Broadway was engineered to highway standards back in the day. This accounts for Broadway being built . . . broad . . . with four wide travel lanes, as well as the existence of slip lanes at that T intersection of Broadway and 27th Street.

The fact that these vestiges of highway infrastructure remain in a pedestrian-heavy area near schools and parks, even after a bypass rerouted highway traffic away from the core of our community, make less than zero sense. It’s nonsensical, and it’s dangerous.

Why are wide, multi-lane roads and slip lanes at an intersection such bad ideas from a pedestrian safety standpoint?

  1. Wider lanes encourage higher driving speeds and expose people walking across the street to a wider “danger zone” in the street. Driving speeds above 20 miles per hour exponentially increase pedestrian deaths and serious injuries.
  2. Multiple lanes create “double jeopardy” for pedestrians crossing the street, requiring multiple drivers to see and stop for them.
  3. Slip lanes do not require drivers to slow or even stop, so they may be less attentive to pedestrians in the area if they don’t have to watch for car traffic in the intersection, and slip lanes may lengthen a driver’s reaction time to pedestrians in the roadway, because of that higher speed.
  4. In Scottsbluff’s case in particular, there are no pedestrian facilities at all on the south side of 27th Street at Broadway, which forces pedestrians to either take a detour several blocks out of their way simply to cross the street, or to take their chances with a dangerous crossing without the benefit of pedestrian infrastructure.

On a recent winter morning, I happened to notice evidence of pedestrians opting for the dangerous crossing option — a reasonable action, especially when it’s cold and windy. Here’s a quick video I filmed of that evidence – footprints in the snow-covered grassy area where there is no sidewalk.

The choice the City of Scottsbluff made to leave the highway-level engineering in place on the north end of Broadway has had life-impacting consequences.

The combination of the slip lane enabling a speedy entrance onto the north end of Broadway and the wide double lanes has made that section of Broadway an attractive place for people choosing to break the law by drag racing. On the evening of September 18, 2019, a driver who was drag racing on Broadway hit a young teen at an estimated speed of 56-91 miles per hour in an already-too-high 30-mile-per-hour zone. (The young man survived, but with devastating injuries.)

As a police officer pointed out in a newspaper column, in response to a resident complaining about the ongoing problem of excessive speeding on Broadway, it’s the City of Scottsbluff that has ultimate responsibility for the environment that enables unsafe behavior from drivers.

I have some suggestions for the city in a zine I wrote last year:

I continue to hold out hope that one day, city leaders will pay as much attention to the ways in which people get around our community OUTSIDE of cars as they do to those INSIDE of cars.

For further reading on slip lanes:
“Slip Lanes Would Never Exist if We Prioritized Safety Over Speed” on the Strong Towns blog
Cities Are Replacing Dangerous Slip Lanes With Space for People” on Streetsblog USA

Copyright 2021 by Katie Bradshaw

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