January 25, 2013

Red Line FEIS - Part 3

Red Line FEIS "Traffic and parking technical report" - Utter failure


The Red Line corridor's assumed gigantic share of regional population growth pumps up the Final Environmental Impact Statement ridership numbers (discussed in Part 1 of this analysis), but to an even greater extent, it pumps up auto traffic volume numbers. At the same time, Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue would be narrowed with no viable place for the excess traffic to go.

As a result, Boston Street would be forced to attempt to carry almost twice as much peak traffic on a per-lane basis as other major roadways in the corridor such as President Street and MLK Boulevard.

The huge population and traffic volume projection for this narrow corridor is assumed whether the Red Line is built or not - far more growth than for the rest of the city and five-county metropolitan area combined. As previously discussed, this growth and congestion is used to increase estimated traffic delays for autos and buses to make the Red Line appear better.

But despite the improbable focus of all this population, travel growth and delays in the two mile wide Red Line corridor, only a small amount of it would actually be captured by the Red Line itself. The rest would only translate to the increased automobile traffic. And as Part 2 explains, the Red Line itself would not have the passenger capacity to handle this growth anyway.

Traffic in Canton

The FEIS "Traffic and Parking Technical Report", Section 5.1.3, breaks down the Red Line's future year 2035 peak hour single-direction traffic volume impact on Boston Street in Canton as follows:

Total diversion away from Boston St. due to Red Line = 2000 "No Build" - 1300 with Red Line = 700
Diversion to Red Line stations = 150 to 200
Diversion to Fleet Street and Eastern Avenue = 400
Diversion to other traffic routes = 100 to 150

Percent travel volume growth = 2000/1500 = 33%
Percent of future Boston Street travel demand captured by Red Line = 150 to 200/2000 = 7.5% to 10%
Share of growth accommodated by Red Line = 150 to 200/(2000-1500) = 30% to 40%
Share of growth not accommodated by Red Line = 300 to 350/(2000-1500) = 60% to 70% 

This greatly understates the amount of growth which would not be accommodated by the Red Line, because it does not include traffic diverted away from Boston Street by the increased traffic congestion which would occur anyway even without the narrowing to one lane for the Red Line. It also does not consider the fact that the farther away from Boston Street and the Red Line, the less likely it is for people to use the Red Line, so the greater the proportion of the traffic growth that would be non-Red Line travel.

The bottom line is that creating a better overall transit system, not just one transit line, is what could actually enable population growth to be accommodated. The vast majority of any increase in population and travel would not be absorbed by the Red Line. On a systemwide basis, the Red Line would be a failure.
Huge new First Mariner Bank parking garage illustrates how Canton developers are banking on cars rather than the Red Line for their access needs.

Traffic congestion in Canton

The FEIS uses the "Synchro" computer model to evaluate the traffic congestion impact of the Red line and the assumed growth in traffic demand in the corridor. However, the FEIS "Traffic and Parking Technical Report" begins with a non-technical overview, stating: "These arterials tend to experience congestion at numerous signalized intersections due to the increase in regional developmental growth."

In simplified empirical terms, traffic congestion is a function of peak traffic volume per lane, signal timing and traffic conflicts due to cross-traffic, turns, pedestrians, other urban street friction. Of these factors, the FEIS consistently documents only traffic volumes and lanes, but since they are the most important and most variable factors, they will suffice to summarize the results.

Boston Street's peak hour traffic volume from Table 16.1 is:

Current traffic volume in two lanes = 1545 = 770 per lane
Future "no build" traffic volume = 2305 = 1150 per lane
Future volume with Red Line and only one lane = 1575 per lane

The FEIS thus asserts that Boston Street with the Red Line would carry more traffic in one lane than it now carries in two lanes. It would thus carry more than double its current per-lane traffic volume.

To gain perspective on this claim, compare Boston Street's future 1575 vehicle per lane peak volume with the current peak hour traffic volumes per lane on the other streets shown in the FEIS tables:

AM Peak Hour - Current per lane traffic volumes (derived from Table 16.1)

Security Boulevard, from Rolling Road to I-695  1,940 (WB)/3 = 650
Rolling Road, south of Security Blvd. 1,295 (NB)/2 = 650
Security Boulevard, from I-695 to Woodlawn Drive 1,865 (EB)/3 = 620
Cooks Lane, east of Forest Park Ave. 955 (EB)/1 = 955
US 40, from Winters Lane to Cooks Lane 2,600 (EB)/3 = 870
Edmondson Avenue, from Cooks Lane to Franklin Street 2,625 (EB)/3 = 875
Franklin Street, from Edmondson Avenue to Pulaski Street 2,585 (EB)/3 = 860
Fleet Street, from Wolfe Street to Boston Street 855 (WB)/1 = 855
Boston Street, from Aliceanna Street to Conkling Street 1,510 (NB)/2 = 755
President Street Lombard St. to Fleet Street 2,225 (NB)/3 = 740
Lombard St., from MLK Jr. Blvd. to President St. 2,085 (WB)/4 = 520
MLK Jr. Blvd., from Mulberry St. to Lombard St. 2,555 (SB)/3 = 850
Bayview Boulevard, from Lombard St. to Eastern Ave. 280 (SB)/2 = 140

PM Peak Hour - Current per lane volumes (from Table 16.2)

Security Boulevard, from Rolling Road to I-695  2,250 (EB)/3 = 750
Rolling Road, south of Security Boulevard 1,335 (NB)/2 = 670
Security Boulevard, from I-695 to Woodlawn Drive 1,905(WB)/3 = 635
Cooks Lane, east of Forest Park Avenue 1,200 (WB)/1 = 1200
US 40, from Winters Lane to Cooks Lane 2,475 (WB)/3 = 825
Edmondson Avenue, from Cooks Lane to Franklin Street 2,535 (WB)/3 = 845
Franklin Street, from Edmondson Avenue to Pulaski Street 1,885 (WB)/3 = 630
Fleet Street, from Wolfe Street to Boston Street 810 (EB)/1 = 810
Boston Street, from Aliceanna Street to Conkling Street 1,195 (SB)/2 = 600
President Street, from Lombard Street to Fleet Street 2,545 (NB)/3 = 850
Lombard St., from MLK Jr. Blvd. to President St. 2,345 (WB)/4 = 585
MLK Jr. Blvd., from Mulberry St. to Lombard St. 2,585 (NB)/3 = 860
Bayview Boulevard, from Lombard St. to Eastern Ave. 280 (SB)/2 = 140

Bottom line: With the Red Line, the FEIS claims that Boston Street would carry nearly twice the volume per lane as virtually any other street in the corridor currently carries, notably including primary regional arterials, MLK Boulevard, President Street, and Edmondson Avenue (US 40) all with less than 900 per lane in the peak hour.

Cooks Lane would come closest to Boston Street at 1200, due to its almost constant free-flow right turn flow off US 40 and lack of conflicts. 

But Boston Street's projected 1575 per lane volume leaves all comparisons in the dust.

Traffic on Edmondson Avenue

The FEIS does not furnish a breakdown of diversions from Edmondson Avenue as it does from Boston Street. Here are Edmondson Avenue's westbound peak hour traffic volumes per lane:

Current traffic volume = 2535 in 3 lanes = 845 per lane
Future no-build = 3120 in 3 lanes = 1040 per lane
Future with Red Line = 2535 in 2 lanes = 1270 per lane

Future diversion to Red Line and other routes = 3120 - 2535 = 585

As with Boston Street, the diversion volume is probably much higher than this because it does not include traffic that would divert regardless of whether the Red Line is built.

The future per lane volume with the Red Line, at 1270 per hour, would still be far higher than currently on any other comparable urban street such as the 860 per lane currently on MLK Boulevard or President Street, though not as stratospheric as the future 1575 per lane on Boston Street. 

The impacts could be even worse, however, because there are absolutely no other divertable through routes anywhere near Edmondson Avenue. The closest ones are Frederick Avenue to the south and Franklintown Road, Windsor Mill Road, Clifton Avenue and Gwynns Falls Parkway to the north - all in totally separate corridors. But there would have to be a huge amount of congestion to induce motorists to divert that far away.

Common Red Line factors on Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue

To attempt to accommodate vehicular and Red Line traffic on both Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue, there would have to be extremely long green traffic signal phases. Signal phases to stop through traffic and allow pedestrian crossings and conflicting cross traffic would need to be few and far between. All cross movements would be consolidated only at signalized median openings, which will further concentrate conflicts and increase their inconvenience and impact. Many local motorists and pedestrians would have to take very roundabout ways to get from one side of the street to the other. On-street parking would be greatly reduced and heavy full-time traffic lanes would be pushed up against the sidewalks.

All of the same traffic engineering measures which would facilitate the Red Line would also promote through traffic on the adjacent lanes. While through traffic would be very congested due to its extreme volume during peak periods, through traffic would fly along both Boston Street and Edmondson Avenue in off-peak periods, making the overall street environment even worse. And while the MTA would be able to force Red Line operators to observe the speed limit, little can be done to prevent the rest of the off-peak traffic from whizzing by them.

Red Line stations would be isolated in the median strips sandwiched between through traffic in both directions. In sum, there would be nothing "transit friendly" about the Red Line on Edmondson Avenue or Boston Street.

In sum, the traffic data provide yet another reason why the Red Line simply would not work.


  1. I'm a Canton resident, and I am already cringing over the Boston Street model. Reducing peak travel lanes from 2 to 1 is definitely going to snarl things. Currently, parking is allowed on the westbound portion during off peak hours. Occasionally, someone will forget to move their car, reducing the through lanes from 2 to 1, and it does create some backups. I don't expect the Red Line to radically change people's commuting habits, so I suspect the traffic demand along that corridor will continue to grow. I want to believe in the Red Line, but I'm worried about the local effects to Canton.

    Gerald, do you think the gov might just expect drivers to abandoned Boston Street as an arterial, and switch to Eastern Ave or something?

  2. Elliott, perhaps your eyes glossed over the numbers I quoted above: According to the FEIS, 400 vehicles in the peak hour would divert to Eastern and Fleet, and 100-150 to other routes, with 1300 remaining. But Boston Street would function as much as an arterial as ever, because it would be full of traffic and the signals would have to be timed to push them and Red Line trains through as much as possible, to the detriment of pedestrians.

    The MTA then pointed out to me that their numbers are actually for the wider two-lane portion near Clinton Street, although it makes no sense to do an analysis that is not at the bottleneck point. In any case, if the numbers vary much, that means turning movements are heavy which creates even more problems.

    It reminds me of Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, where the new Bus Rapid Transit "Health Line" occupies the median. More than ever, the street now seems to function like an auto-dominated arterial. But Boston Street would be more congested.