The Forest Lakes Community Association held a town hall meeting at
Hollymead Elementary on July 1, 2008 to discuss the safety of the Route
29 intersection where a fatal accident occurred earlier this year. A 16
year old Albemarle High School student, Sydney Aichs, was killed on May
9, 2008 turning out of Forest Lakes South from Ashwood Boulevard onto
Route 29 South when a tractor trailer driver on Route 29 North failed
to stop at the red light. The Virginia Department of Transportation
(VDOT) has investigated the circumstances of the accident, and
presented their findings and recommendations to the community at the
meeting. Afterwards, over 20 residents asked questions about a number
of issues relating to the intersection. There were over 150 members of
the public in attendance.
July 3, 2008 Update from Allan Sumpter of VDOT
to the Albemarle County
Board of Supervisors.
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Sergeant Pete Mainzer from the Albemarle Police Department opened the meeting by stating that “traffic issues are a countywide problem.” Mainzer estimated that approximately 1,000 people are injured annually in traffic accidents in the county. Mainzer gave statistics indicating that traffic enforcement has been substantially increased in the past year, focusing on red-light violations.
Next, Allan Sumpter, VDOT Charlottesville Residency Administrator, reported receiving “a lot of calls, emails, letters of concern, about the safety of the Route 29 and Ashwood Boulevard intersection.” Dean Gustafson, VDOT Northwest Regional Operations Director, described in detail VDOT’s strategy for promoting transportation safety. Gustafson explained the Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions (STARS) program, which is focused on “taking the limited dollars we have…and targeting those to the intersections and roadways that…need the attention.” He gave Route 53 and Route 20 as examples of roads that were on the STARS list for the region.
Gustafson moved on to address the specific intersection, and presented the changes recommended by VDOT. The Ashwood Blvd.– Route 29 intersection has seen 102 crashes at the intersection between 2003 and 2007, 32 of which resulted in injuries. None of these accidents resulted in fatalities (the time period measured ended before the May 9, 2008 fatality). The intersection had the third highest rate of injury crashes in Albemarle County from 2003-2006. Contributing to this accident rate is the high amount of traffic the road sees (approximately 51,000 cars per day as of 2006).
The intersection currently meets all standard regulations, with the exception of the stopping sight distance on Route 29 Southbound, which is 20 ft less than recommended. However, the level of service provided varies depending on the time of day; at peak travel times in the mornings, the intersection achieves a “B” level of service, which VDOT defines as “Stable traffic flow with a high degree of freedom to select speed and operating conditions but with some influence from other users.” However, at peak times in the afternoon the level of service is “E”, which VDOT describes as “Unstable flow at or near capacity levels with poor levels of comfort and convenience.”
Gustafson outlined the following proposed changes, which should be completed by the end of 2008, with the exception of some vegetation control measures;
Install “signal ahead” signs on Route 29 North and South approaching the intersection, with accompanying roadway rumble strips to get drivers’ attention before the traffic signal.
VDOT will install Controller Actuated Beacons on Route 29 North and South approaching the intersection to accompany signs that will read “when flashing prepare to stop.” The beacon’s flashing will be timed to coincide with the red phase of the traffic signal in order to provide advance warning of a stop.
Local VDOT officials have recommended to the Chief Engineer and the Chief of System Operations of VDOT that the speed limit be reduced from 55 mph to 45 mph in the vicinity of the intersection. This change has been endorsed by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Albemarle Police Department, and will be implemented as soon as approval is received from Richmond. VDOT will also look to provide safe pullout areas in order to enable police officers to pull motorists over in a safe manner.
VDOT will work with the Forest Lakes Community Association to move the Forest Lakes South entrance sign in order to improve visibility when turning out of Ashwood Blvd. The stop bar line will also be moved closer to Route 29 in order to further enhance visibility.
VDOT will be trimming vegetation and brush to improve sight lines for drivers on both North and South Route 29.
A “signal ahead” sign will also be installed on Ashwood Blvd. to give drivers exiting Forest Lakes South additional notice of the traffic signal and stop bar.
VDOT will be adjusting the timing of the traffic signal at the intersection to improve safety, as well as coordinating timing with the rest of the traffic lights between Polo Grounds Road and the Airport/Proffit Road intersection.
After a short recess, the meeting resumed with a question and answer period. Charlottesville Tomorrow has summarized the citizen questions and panel responses and attached them to a timeline.
01:17- David Shifflett, President of the Forest Lakes Community Association
03:24- Sgt. Pete Mainzer, Albemarle Police Department
07:46- Allan Sumpter, VDOT Charlottesville Residency Administrator
14:18- Dean Gustafson, VDOT Northwest Regional Operations Director
: Were the statistics on the speed and frequency of use gathered when school was in session? Does stopping distance take into account the topography and conditions?
: The speed study was conducted in early June of 2008. Stopping distances required by law vary depending on the topography and speed of a given road.
: Trucks are running red lights, what is the criteria used to determine the distance between yellow light and red light? “Either they’re irresponsible, or they understand, because they’re driving every day, “I can’t safely stop this fully loaded 18 wheeler in the time that I’m given until the light turns red.”
: There doesn’t appear to be a disproportionate number of trucks on the road, but the signal timings will be looked at this fall as previously mentioned.
: Why is there a suggestion of 35 mph, but a legal limit of 55. “If you would advise 35 mph, why would you set a speed limit of 55, that difference is reckless.”
: The 35 mph sign is to alert motorists to unanticipated road developments/conditions, not an actual regulation on speed.
: “What about people turning left from Ashwood onto 29 Southbound, who wait in the intersection to ensure that there are no vehicles running the red light on Route 29 Southbound?
: The trimming of the vegetation will help, evaluating possibility of trimming the hill.
: “Why can you turn left without an arrow from 29 Southbound onto Ashwood Blvd.? Cars pile up in median, the light turns red, you have no way of knowing that.”
: We’ll consider recommending making the left turn on the green arrow only.
: The main issue here is semis. The sight line is awful for the intersection. “Maybe what we need is something that says “semis, right lane. Semis, maximum speed 40.” “Forest Lakes is partly responsible.” Can’t we devise stopping distances specific to this intersection? “We have a problem, a major problem, we don’t want another little girl killed.”
: “Two days from now, I will expect to see those signs saying 45 (mph), not 55 (mph).”
: What about a strobe light that goes off at yellow or red to grab drivers’ attention?
: Studies done by National Highway Administration indicate that there is no safety benefit.
1:00:49- We should just get rid of the topography that exists, that should have been changed when the road was originally being improved. Phase three of the Route 29 development should have fixed that. We need to take action already.
: Looking at crashes per million entering vehicles, this intersection is 1.096, average for this size intersection is 0.25, more than 4 times more dangerous than average intersection of this type.
: “If you clock somebody at 40, can’t you give them a ticket for reckless driving?” Also, will the installation of pullouts make it easier for police to place radar cars?
: No, 40 mph in a 55 mph is not cause for ticketing. The 35 mph is an advisory, not a law. As for the pullouts, there is not an issue with finding room to place radar cars, the issue is with safe spots to pull over motorists.
1:07:41- The change in speed limit needs to happen as soon as possible. “What can we do to add the extra pressure to whoever you need to seek approval from so we can see it in 2 days?”
: “The study is in the hands of the proper individuals to make the appropriate change to the speed limit.” We’ve briefed them that this is a critical, time sensitive matter.
: Can the FLCA pay for continued off-duty police presence at the intersection?
: David Shifflett- That is budgeted for, we are currently employing off duty security for the Forest Lakes entrance. Difficulties exist because the intersection is outside of Forest Lakes jurisdiction. I compliment Albemarle PD for their enforcement at the intersection.
: There is a significant amount of stop sign running going on within the development.
: How and when will you be measuring the effectiveness of the changes? What about other parts of 29 between Polo Grounds and Proffit Road?
: We will do followup, but it takes time to measure effectiveness. We need to check on the schedule to review what is planned for other parts of 29.
: 51,000 cars per year probably has increased since 2006. 51,000 is capacity, where is the leadership on this?
: The current six year plan calls for a preliminary engineering study on this area of Route 29 in the near future.
: Controller actuated beacon seems counterproductive, if a driver sees there’s no red light, they’ll keep going, and then run into backed up traffic from previous red light.
: That is an issue that we take into consideration, but studies indicate it works.
: Were tests conducted to measure speed limit compliance?
: Yes, a speed study was conducted in early June.
: I’m confused as to why there’s a delay in changing the speed limit from 55 to 45. “If you all are making that recommendation, presumably the people in Richmond would accept your recommendation. Why does it take so long?”
:The study has to be reviewed to make sure the correct methodology is used, and work is done to ensure support from local law enforcement and local government. “In many cases that’s where some of the delays are, in having that conversation with Boards of Supervisors and others.” Board of Supervisors Chair Ken Boyd replied, “that’s not the delay here,” and explained that the Board had endorsed the change the day they found out about the recommendation.
: The brush and vegetation is a big impediment to visibility.
: We agree, we’re going to be trimming trees and vegetation in the area.
: “Let’s ask our local leadership, our politicians, to…get on the phone and say “make this happen as soon as you can, like now.””
: Won’t light coordination encourage people to speed up in order to make one light so they make all of them?
: The coordinated system takes into account the speed of the traffic, and research shows that coordinated systems reduce the number of stops and the number of red light runs.
: The location of the signs on the diagram provided looks impractical.
: These are approximate locations, actual locations will be determined in the field.
: How many of the 102 crashes for the intersection involved tractor trailers?
: Not sure, but it doesn’t appear disproportionate to the 4% of traffic that is tractor trailers.
: Going south on 29 from Timberwood (Forest Lakes North), why does the left lane end at the next light? Couldn’t that be turned into a left-turn only lane, and end before the light? As of now people stay going straight, change over at the last minute.
: We are looking at the situation.
: Why is the Forest Lakes sign still there, blocking visibility? Couldn’t the community have taken action already?
1:36:20- Allan Sumpter ended the meeting by thanking the community for their active engagement and interest, and for their feedback. “It is good to see the community’s engaged in transportation issues, and we appreciate you doing that.”