Why is the City of Tucson Sending Pedestrians to Their Doom? - Part II

In Part One of this series, Southern Arizona Public Works examined a marked-but-unsignalized crosswalk crossing Speedway Boulevard at Beverly Avenue. The speed limit at that location is 35 mph, giving pedestrians a fighting chance of scurrying across all 90 feet of roadway -- seven lanes of traffic -- without disaster. 

Crosswalk to Golf N' Stuff on East Tanque Verde Road

PAG Traffic Counts for East Tanque Verde Road - Click to Enlarge

This Golf n' Stuff crosswalk (at right) is not so forgiving. Like the Speedway crosswalk, this crossing of East Tanque Verde Road is marked, but unsignalized. Traffic averages about 3,000 vehicles at peak hours (see chart at left.) Unlike the Speedway crosswalk, this hazard crosses a roadway where the posted speed limit is 40 mph. It is below a sloped, curving hill that inhibits lines-of-sight. East Tanque Verde Road is a nine-lane, 115-foot thoroughfare in this location. Most egregiously, this crosswalk is a conduit to a children's attraction.

In Part One of this series, I examined the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to see what that text said about Tucson's choice to leave the Speedway and Beverly crosswalk unsignalized, using some assumptions about daily pedestrian traffic from local studies.* How does the MUTCD feel about the Tanque Verde Road crosswalk?


Not good. Note that the results for this crosswalk are again off the chart. The chart does not even have a line indicating the decision point for a 115-foot road. The folks writing the MUTCD perhaps did not contemplate planners who would be so reckless as to slap down a striped crosswalk across such an expanse. There is some evidence to suggest that unsignalized-mid-block crosswalks like these actually are more dangerous than no marked crossing at all because such markings provide an illusion of safety.

Crosswalks like these raise safety concerns that aren't obvious at first blush. Looking even deeper at the local transportation context, one can see the social justice issue: crosswalks cater to the non-driving public, which in most cases is synonymous with the lower-income public. At whose expense is Tucson ignoring the need to take crosstown traffic off surface streets and put it onto a workable system of controlled-access expressways? And who is benefitting from the decision to ignore a solution that would involve creating such a roadway system across the northern and eastern boundaries of the city?

This is an example of the tyranny of small decisions. Each road widening makes it a bit easier to postpone the day when Tucson will have to reckon with its lack of crosstown mobility. In the meantime, crosswalks like this one are increasingly dangerous to the many people who must cross our substitute superhighways through the middle of town.

*Note that my prior discussion about pedestrian counts was not very detailed. The pedestrian counts in the study are the four-hour totals observed during morning and afternoon peak traffic periods. The MUTCD chart is expressed in pedestrians per hour (pph.) Therefore, one would need to divide the average pedestrian volume (238) by four (= about 60) to get the best estimate possible of pph at East Tanque Verde Road. I wish more detailed information were available, but the Pima Association of Governments (PAG) has not devoted the necessary resources to create such data.