Monday, May 17, 2010

Traffic Squeeze In North Ogden

Every city has transportation issues, and North Ogden is no exception. While there are a variety of problems, there is one that impacts my family on a daily basis. As with other towns that started out as small settlements, erstwhile farm lanes have developed into heavily used collector roads. This is the case with 2600 North.

Until just a few years ago, the west end of 2600 North terminated at 400 East, which is also known as Washington Blvd and is one of the main north-south routes through Weber County. Since long before I was a kid, the area around the intersection of 2600 North and Washington was part of North Ogden’s business district.

That area used to be mostly small family run businesses mixed with residential use. There has been a bank on one corner for more than half a century. There was a gas station for decades across the way. A 7-11 replaced some small shops years ago. One supermarket and another bank went up in the 1980s. Another supermarket went up in the late 90s. The last residence in the immediate vicinity of the intersection was torn down late last year.

You still don’t have to go very far east of Washington on 2600 North before it turns into a residential zone. But that’s part of the problem. North Ogden has grown significantly throughout my life. Much of the growth has been to the north and east of the intersection in question.

Since the middle of the last century, North Ogden has been chiefly a suburban bedroom community. Most of the people that live here don’t work here. Despite business growth, that is simply not going to change.

All of those homes that have been built to the east and northeast of 2600 North and Washington make for a vast amount of traffic passing through the intersection. Traffic on 2600 North is very heavy during high commute times each day. (You can cruise along the road on Sunday morning at 6:30 without encountering another vehicle.)

A few years ago, the old gas station was torn down and a 5-lane road was put in that connects 2600 North all the way out to the interstate exchange (and much further west). The result has been even more traffic passing through the intersection.

While the intersection has been improved, 2600 North is inadequate to handle its current traffic load. The first few blocks east of Washington were among the first residentialized parts of North Ogden. Projects over the years have widened 2600 North to the point that the road is quite close to the front porches of some of the homes in this stretch.

When cities face heavier traffic loads, they widen and improve roads where possible. They seek to spread traffic flow to other collector roads. All of this has been done with 2600 North, and yet the problem is still dire. It will only continue to get worse.

The only real solution to problem is to significantly widen 2600 North from two lanes with shoulders to five lanes with shoulders — matching the segment of the road west of Washington. The problem with this is that it would cost too much. The city would have to condemn property on at least one side of the road, and perhaps on both sides. The road would probably even end up consuming the current parking lot for the city building, library, and police station.

North Ogden is apparently making no plans for this type of road widening, since new construction has recently been approved and completed close to both sides of the road in recent years. Since widening is not likely to happen anytime soon, stopgap measures must be undertaken.

Last year the city added a concrete median on 2600 North between the west entrances to 7-11 and Wells Fargo Bank. Preventing left turns in and out of those driveways has improved safety, but it’s not enough.

UTA used to have its bus stop next to 7-11. Moving the stop half a block east has helped, but the stop still creates a huge traffic hazard. It is right in a squeeze zone where the road goes from two lanes to three without being any wider. (Shoulders are eliminated.) There are driveway approaches to businesses on both sides of the road in this stretch. Since it is an end-of-route stop, busses park there for long periods, often obstructing traffic and creating a visibility hazard.

The city needs to work with UTA to achieve a safer solution. While it is convenient for drivers and passengers to have a long stop near this intersection, the traffic hazard is unacceptable. This stop should become a quick stop only. Busses should remain there for less than a minute.

The city needs to consider extending the current concrete median to prevent left turns in and out of the east 7-11 and west Smith’s driveways. In fact, it might be reasonable to eliminate the west Smith’s driveway completely. Traffic would be funneled through the east driveway and through the driveways on Washington. When traffic is heavy, it is not even safe for vehicles to make right turns in and out of Smith’s west driveway on 2600 North, since no real shoulder exists and the driveway approach is too narrow to permit a turn close to the curb.

I invite our city’s legislators and executive to consider the worsening situation in this heavily used stretch of 2600 North. Planners need to prepare for eventual widening of the road. In the meantime, additional measures are needed to improve safety in the short term.

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