Traffic study on 25th St. will help, but ...
by By RICK NORTON Associate Editor
Jun 24, 2013 | 2266 views | 0 0 comments | 63 63 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Traffic flow along the beleaguered 25th Street should improve once recommendations from a two-month Cannon & Cannon Inc. study are implemented, but Cleveland Utilities officials warn motorists not to expect the kind of breakthroughs that a comparable corridor project brought to Paul Huff Parkway.

That’s because several traffic signal adjustments already made on 25th Street by local technicians helped to ease some of the congestion pain prior to the start of the Knoxville-based consultant’s work; and, 25th Street has a problem — actually, two problems — that Huff Parkway didn’t.

It’s called “volume-to-capacity ratio,” which is a traffic engineer’s term for “... too many cars, too little roadway.” While capacity was not an issue at any Huff Parkway intersections when Cannon & Cannon conducted signal studies there, it is a significant headache on two major 25th Street junctions: Ocoee Street and Westside Drive/Georgetown Road.

“We’re not comparing apples to apples,” according to Bart Borden, vice president of CU’s Electric Division which inherited traffic coordination from the Cleveland City Council a couple of years ago.

Some of the problems experienced along the Huff Parkway and 25th Street corridors are similar, but others bear a sharp contrast. Says Tad Bacon, CU traffic signal coordinator who reports to Borden, the biggest differences lie in capacity. Being a newer, five-lane artery, Huff Parkway — though troubled by rush-hour congestion — still had room for more vehicles because of adequate lanes. This allowed traffic flow improvements by re-synchronizing traffic signals and adding new program cycles, and then closely monitoring the results for subsequent tweaking.

The same luxury doesn’t exist on 25th Street. An older artery with an open median and limited lanes, 25th Street has exceeded traffic volume capacity at the busy Georgetown/Westside Drive and Ocoee Street intersections, Borden and Bacon pointed out.

“[Cannon & Cannon] didn’t have capacity issues on Huff Parkway like they do now on 25th Street,” Bacon said.

That’s not to mean the ongoing corridor study won’t bring some improvement to 25th Street flow. But it does mean only so much can be done by realigning traffic signal cycles.

In Borden’s words, the study’s recommendations — expected to be made to CU in about six weeks and followed by three to four weeks of evaluation by the utility’s engineers — won’t be the ultimate fix area motorists might have hoped.

“[The study] will not cure all the traffic problems on 25th Street,” Borden said.

The ultimate answer lies in intersection and roadway improvements; in other words, more lanes, and that costs money which a cash-strapped municipal government doesn’t have a lot of right now, they agreed.

“We’ve said this before, but we need to say it again to help people to understand,” Borden said. “... Traffic signals are not a cure-all to a traffic problem. You have to have turn lanes. You have to have storage. You have to have additional lanes.”

He added, “With the volume of traffic that Cleveland is seeing, we need more intersection and roadway improvements. Of course, that takes funding.”

Such funding comes from local taxpayers as well as state coffers if the projects fall within the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Department of Transportation. These are the types of decisions that plague Cleveland City Council members and City Manager Janice Casteel in developing future budgets.

Although Cleveland Utilities, and its consultants or contractors, are tasked with coordinating the city’s traffic signal network, decisions on funding costly improvements rest with the city.

“When we’re talking about these projects, like Ocoee and 25th, we’re talking about millions of dollars of investment in tax dollars,” Borden said. He said CU understands the city is faced with striking a balance on what is affordable and what must be delayed.

Borden said he can’t speak for the City Council nor for the Department of Public Works, which handles some of the city’s street projects, but he did point out, “It’s not that the city is unwilling to do these [projects] ... they do want to do them, but ... ”

That “but” is money.

Although a major, multilane intersection makeover for 25th and Ocoee was in the news recently, it was eventually shelved by the City Council due to the local share in cost and potential impact on area businesses. In its last action, the Council handed over the project to TDOT for inclusion in the state’s roadway priority program.

Once CU receives the results of the Cannon & Cannon study, traffic engineers will evaluate the findings before implementing recommendations. The process could begin by the time schools are back in session, but a timetable is not definite.

But what is definite is the hoped-for outcome: traffic flow improvement, even if it’s just a little.

“The goal is to try to move traffic from one end of the corridor to the other end of the corridor as smoothly as possible with the least amount of interruptions,” Borden said. “But you get into situations within the corridor that can conflict with that.”

Such conflicts include intersections with capacity issues and an array of driveways, entrances, businesses and schools. Cannon & Cannon engineers and CU completed most of the preliminary traffic counts along 25th Street in April and May so the impact of school traffic at peak periods will be taken into account in the study’s recommendations. The 25th Street corridor study includes 11 intersections, stretching from Candies Lane all the way east to the Spring Creek development.

Bacon said the Knoxville consultant has already given him some preliminary information that indicates 25th Street improvements won’t be as noticeable as those on Huff Parkway because — in part — of traffic signal changes already made by CU shortly after assuming control of the city’s traffic signal network. He said the most conspicuous traffic flow improvements should come during off-peak periods like weekends and on weekdays from about 9 to 11 a.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.

Although Borden’s time is split heading up CU’s Electric Division, Bacon’s role is dedicated full time to traffic flow and signal programming.

“... This (traffic) is not just a side piece we’re doing at Cleveland Utilities,” Borden said. “It carries a very high priority. It’s an important piece of what we do. We take it very seriously.”

Borden and Bacon encouraged area residents to remain vigilant in contacting the utility about problems they are observing in the city’s traffic pattern.

“We get a lot of feedback from the public that they see from traveling areas regularly that we don’t,” Borden noted. “It’s more than just complaints they’re bringing to us, it’s information.”

Bacon said to determine if a traffic problem truly exists, or whether it is just perceived, he needs to know whether it is a recurring issue, the time of day and which day of the week it is most evident.

“Input from the public is vital to help us know where and when problems are existing,” Bacon said.