Editor: In January our Judi Curry warned readers that the City was no longer allowing right turns on red at the intersection of Voltaire Street and Catalina Boulevard. Her post attracted a lot of attention and many comments. Geoff Page – a former member of the Peninsula Community Planning Board – vowed to get to the bottom of it. So, here is his the result of his research and analysis.
‘No Right Turn On Red’ Signs at Busy Intersection Should Be Removed
By Geoff Page / Special to the OB Rag
It has taken longer than I hoped but I do have the story about the No Right Turn On Red sign installed at Catalina/Famosa and Voltaire last September.
The road to this information was much longer than it should have been, considering the subject matter, and it required patience and aggressive persistence. The shame of it is that this isn’t a scandalous expose; this is information about placement of traffic signs. The signs are on southbound Famosa at Voltaire. Famosa becomes Catalina once you cross Voltaire. The turn restriction is from southbound Famosa to westbound Voltaire.
I made contact with the city – then had to fill out a form and eventually I was sent some documents. It appears this began with an August 2, 2013, email request from an organization called the District 2 Bike/Ped Advisory Committee. I later learned this is a community cycling advocacy group, not actually a part of city government as the name indicated to me. The request was for No Right Turn signs on all four corners, the motivation for the request being enhanced safety for cyclists. The copy of the email was redacted, the name and email of the sign requester and a large block of cc: addresses was blocked out.
The next document was an August 19 email back to the sign requester from a city assistant traffic engineer reporting what had been done since the August 2 request. I can say what had been done in just two weeks was kind of odd to me for this City because quite a bit had been done. The engineer had already made a site visit, evaluated the intersection for sight distance, checked the accident history, and issued a work order to place the signs, the ones that are there now. The email from the city explained that the other three corners did not warrant signs. The work order to place the signs went out on September 4 and they were placed on September 10. This was record time for the city.
This is where I began asking questions and things got a little sticky.
My first question was about the redacted documents they sent me. The response was that the city did not reveal the names of private individuals in these kinds of matters. I disagreed – and we had some back and forth as I pressed them for written authority to withhold the information. One person finally said they were checking with the City Attorney when another person gave me the unredacted information. I have no interest in mentioning the name of the person who requested the signs; I just wanted to make sure the city gave me everything a private citizen is entitled to have. Never take no for an answer when dealing with the city. I believe the sign request was made with good intentions so whoever requested the signs does not need to be named here.
I then began to question what the city had done and wound up in another series of emails with the city traffic engineers.
One of the documents the city sent me titled “Traffic Request” was the document the traffic engineer filled out the two days she visited the intersection, August 13 and 14. The engineer noted checking sight distances, reviewing accident reports for the intersection and finding none involving right hand turn violations for the last three years, ordering signs to be placed, and emailing the sign requester.
So two things caught my eye, the first was the lack of accidents for at least the last three years involving right turns at this spot.
The second thing that caught my attention was the speed with which a decision was made to place a sign at an intersection that has operated quite well without a No Turn On Red sign for at least the 27 years I’ve lived in the area. And, the decision to place a sign that definitely affects traffic flow seemed to be made with no serious study.
I asked the city engineer if they had conducted a traffic flow analysis to see what effect such a sign would have on traffic. We went back and forth on this because they did not seem to want to admit that they did nothing more than those two site visits and some accident research.
For some background, several years ago, I spent a considerable amount of time at this intersection taking photographs during the morning rush, at noon, when school let out, and during the evening rush. I was on the Peninsula Community Planning Board and we were attempting to stop a proposed development project where Coconut Pete’s and the old Domino’s Pizza building sits.
I also read what was called a “traffic report” by the applicant but the authors stated, “This letter report has been prepared, in lieu of a forma traffic impact study.” The letter report used the City’s traffic records current at the time instead of taking new counts. But, the existing information was very interesting. According to the document Catalina Blvd from “Voltaire to Nimitz” carried 21,060 cars per day in 2002 but the road has a design capacity of only 10,000 cars per day. Catalina changes to Famosa either at the intersection or somewhere a bit north of the intersection; the report did not make this clear.
There is a street grading system for what is called “Level of Service” (LOS). In one traffic letter report table titled “Peak Intersection Conditions,” Whittier at Famosa in the morning received an “E,” Voltaire at Catalina in the evening received a “D,” and Wittier at Famosa in the evening received and “E & D.” The letter report predicted these three streets would all go to an “F” rating if the project we were opposing was built. A second table titled “Daily Roadway Segment Conditions,” “Catalina South of Voltaire” and “Catalina/Famosa” had “F” ratings before the project was built.
This was eight years ago with information that is now 12 years old. How could a professional traffic engineer decide to plop a sign that affects the flow of traffic on a street this badly rated, an intersection that has operated safely without this sign for a very long time, without performing any kind of study?
I pointed this information out to the city and asked them, several times, if they had done a traffic study and they finally said no. Here is the last message I received:
As we have previously stated this turn restriction was required due to a traffic safety issue. A request came to our office to evaluate for “No Turn on Red” restrictions for all directions, however our evaluation determined that only the southbound movement had a sight visibility issue.
Therefore, the NTOR restriction was placed for the s/b right turns only. Although we may also evaluate the traffic flow impact, in this case the restriction was due to a safety related issue, which in this case makes the analysis of traffic flow irrelevant.
No traffic counts were ordered for this investigation before or after our analysis.
We consider this matter closed pertaining to the NTOR issue.
I have to say that I do get a trifle irritated when people who are supposed to be working for me, a citizen of the City of San Diego, decide they are not going to cooperate any longer. But, it is not an unusual response when someone has been backed into a corner.
The city threw this sign up too quickly without an adequate investigation as to how it would impact traffic. The city is now saying that an email from a private citizen, who is not a traffic engineer, alerted the people in the city who are entrusted with maintaining and caring for our streets, that one of the oldest and busiest intersections in Pt. Loma has a safety problem? Words escape me.
The city’s decision that a traffic flow analysis is irrelevant defies understanding. There are two major flaws in what the city has done.
The first flaw is to assume the only solution to the sight line problem is to install a No Right Turn sign. If there truly is a sight line problem, it could be due to cars parked on the north side of westbound Voltaire.
The second flaw is that this sign does not allow traffic to turn right on west bound Volatire from Famosa while cars are turning north on Famosa from eastbound Voltaire. This makes no sense.
So what to do?
I did write back and demand that they remove the sign and carry out a proper traffic study. I also said that they certainly need to, at the very least, modify the signal so that when cars are turning north on Famosa from eastbound Voltaire, the cars wanting to turn west on Voltaire from northbound Famosa can turn. That the city made no provision for this is an illustration of how little thought went into placing the sign. I have had no response so I will be pursuing this more formally.
If you want to help out, send an e-mail or call one or both of these people and tell them they need to remove the signs, perform an adequate traffic study, then make a recommendation based on facts. And if the study warrants a sign, modify the signal to allow turns on westbound Voltaire when eastbound Voltaire is turning north:
Mariana Sadek – Assistant Engineer – Traffic – 619-533-3002 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Fred Goossens – Sadek’s Supervisor – email@example.com