Will Stripeless Streets Improve Traffic Safety in San Clemente?
Six residential streets in San Clemente, California that are being resurfaced will now have no center strip. The decision is an attempt to make the streets safer. The streets include four that border Max Berg Plaza Park, as well as East Avenida San Gabriel and Avenida San Carlos, reported the Orange County Register.
“Studies have shown that motorists on streets with no center strip drive slower and leave more room on the sides of the streets for pedestrians and bikes,” explains Orange County car accident lawyer James Ballidis.
Tom Frank, the city’s transportation engineering manager, informed the City Council that past studies have shown streets with no center stripe can be safer. One reason is that drivers tend to go more slowly on roads without a center dividing line. Moreover, motorists tend to drive closer to the center of the street and to better share lanes with opposing traffic, leaving more room on the sides of the roads for pedestrians and bicycle riders.
San Clemente’s “Agenda Report” indicates that staff regularly receives complaints about speeding on residential streets. Without the center stripe, the appearance of the roadway is “softened.” This makes motorists behave more carefully since they no longer have the security of the center stripe.
The “Agenda Report” refers specifically to residential local streets that are 36’ to 42’ with relatively low traffic volumes. It is on these streets that the clear delineation of lanes encourages speeding. When the centerline has been removed on local streets that fit within these parameters, more cautious driving behavior has resulted.
An article titled “Removing Lines as a Traffic Calming Measure: Data Anyone?" also reported on the potential benefits of having streets without centerlines. It indicates that research done in rural English towns demonstrates that drivers tend to drive more slowly and to put more distance between themselves and opposing traffic when there are no centerlines. Further, lines may reduce thinking and vigilance on the part of drivers who tend to operate more automatically with the lines in the middle of the road.
San Clemente will soon see whether the results of these studies can be replicated. In addition to leaving off centerlines, the city will also be delineating a 10-foot wide parking lane and a 7-foot wide bike lane on each side of Calle Puente. This will have the effect of narrowing the street, which should help to urge safer driving. The streets will also have a 50-foot centerline when approaching controlled intersections with stop lines.
The City Council has also indicated that they will add the center stripes if a substantial number of residents make clear that they want them. In fact, they have already made a change due to the requests of residents: originally, the plan was to have nine stripeless streets.
Whether residents continue to support this plan and accidents are reduced remains to be seen. There are also some arguments against foregoing centerlines. A 2008 paper published by the Federal Highway Safety Administration, for example, stresses the importance of uniform pavement markings.
The FHWA reviewed information on a study of pavement markings on highways with a speed limit of at least 40 miles per hour. This study found that adding center and edge lines resulted in a significant reduction in the number of nighttime crashes. With pavement widths of 18 feet or less, there was a 46 percent decrease in low-visibility nighttime crashes when adding center and edge lines. For 20-foot pavements, there was a 13 percent decrease in nighttime crashes and for 22-foot pavements, there was a 36 percent reduction in nighttime crash rates.
Although the roadways in this study may have faster speed limits than the streets in the residential neighborhoods that San Clemente intends to leave stripeless, the principle that center lines and uniform pavement markings can help prevent nighttime or low visibility crashes may extend to these situations as well. Traffic crash patterns on the stripeless streets will thus have to be carefully monitored in order to determine if a net positive or net negative effect is achieved by the removal of the stripes.
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