Two left turn lanes better than one at Bay, Mission, city says

Dear Street Smarts, Q: I live near Bay and Mission streets. As you are probably aware, there is often a large backup on Bay. I believe the backup could be largely fixed for the cost of some paint and perhaps a small change of signal timing. I have tried to discuss this with the city and they point me to Caltrans. Caltrans says the city is responsible for the light and they can do nothing. When Bay View Elementary School has heavy foot traffic, people headed southeast on Bay seeking turn right on Mission can't do so -- except for a few seconds each cycle. Because the right lane is shared by left turn, right turn and straight going traffic, a single blocked right turner can block many people going straight. The left turners have their own lane and can travel freely until the right turners and those seeking to go straight backup to the point where even the left turners are jammed. This often backs up to King Street and people begin to cut through the neighborhood. Right turners can go at other times during the cycle, like when northeast bound Mission Street traffic has a protected left, but they share the lane with people going straight. When a car going straight reaches the intersection, any right turners behind them must wait for the signal. Because right turners and straight-goers are mixed, usually after only one or two cars right turners have to halt for a go-straighter during the times they could be going right on red under the protection of northeast Mission's left turn signal. The solution to this is very simple. The right lane should only be for right turns and the left lane should only be for left turns and people going straight. If this were true, the right turners would be able to go when north east bound Mission has a protected left. This is usually just before southeast bound Bay Street has its green, which would clear a lot of space for people going straight and left. The straight- and left-goers would be able to flow freely with the green. A side effect of this change would be less pedestrian conflict with people crossing Mission. Lengthening the green for southeast bound Bay would also help, even if it were only by 10 seconds. Thanks, Aidan Hosler, Santa Cruz A: The high traffic volume in this area is the reason Bay Street has the current lane configuration -- a left turn only lane and one lane in which motorists can go left, straight or right at Mission Street, said Chris Schneiter, assistant director of the city's public works department. The sheer number of vehicles using Bay make it impossible to put all the left turning traffic into one lane, he said citing the most recent traffic volume report released a few years ago. "The width of the intersection is insufficient to add lanes for the time being, though we do have long term plans to widen the intersection," he explained. "The current striping was done to best accommodate existing traffic movements. That was some years ago, so patterns may have changed. Changing the striping to accommodate the readers suggestion will take new traffic counts and analysis to see if any improvements can be achieved through the restriping. The time and resources to do so are not currently available, but we will keep it on our list of things to do." Caltrans plans to study the traffic volume there in mid-January and share those numbers with the city so it can decide how to proceed, while keeping your suggestion in mind. For the record, "this is a 'Caltrans' managed intersection and they manage the traffic signal timing," said Schneiter. "As far as the striping on city streets connecting to Mission Street, we can make changes though they do require coordination and Caltrans concurrence and/or permit."
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