I've never been shy about admitting that I'm not the brightest man in town. And so I'm not ashamed to tell you that, for years, I avoided Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street pretty much all the time, because I could see myself whipping my car into one of the reverse-traffic lanes that run along those streets and ending my life in a fiery crash, simply because I'd forgotten it was 10 minutes after four. So I learned to drive a little out of my way, to take Central Avenue, instead.
And then, about a decade ago, I bought a house that sides on Seventh Avenue, and avoiding the so-called "suicide lanes" suddenly became nearly impossible. It took me a while to remember to check my watch before pulling onto Seventh Avenue, and to make sure that, if I was planning to go either east or west off of Seventh, it wasn't between the hours of 6 and 9 a.m. or 4 and 6 p.m. But I finally — and quite recently — got the hang of it.
I needn't have bothered. Last Monday, the city of Phoenix changed the whole reverse lanes thing around. And they're just getting started.
Perhaps because of dim-bulb drivers like myself, there are new signs posted all up and down Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue, featuring a big red X through the don't-drive-in-this-lane hours of 6 to 9 a.m. The new signage, approved by the city council in June, also reveals a new rule: It's okay to make a left-hand turn from the reverse lane between 4 and 6.
That's probably because so many drivers were doing that anyway, stopping traffic during peak rush hours by trying to make a turn from a lane that, at least at that moment, wasn't a turn lane.
Still more new rules include the sanctioning of left-hand turns onto Camelback Road during reverse-lane hours. And there are more changes to come, later next year, when the city will add flashing beacons and more new signage, and will launch a new ad campaign to help us understand how to make sense of an outmoded system that was put in place 30 years ago, before State Route 51 was completed and before I-10 was linked up to I-17 — changes that made rush-hour use of surface roads obsolete.
Confused and annoyed (because all these mash-ups are costing the city $6.8 million), I called the Department of Transportation to do a little whining. What problem, I wanted to know, are these expenditures solving?
"There was no real consensus from the city council about whether we should do away with the reverse lanes or improve them," deputy of street transportation Thomas Goodbee tells me. "So these changes — the new signage, the flashers, the Camelback turn — are a compromise."
I assumed that there was some concern about the number of automobile accidents that must take place because of improper use of the reverse lanes, but Goodbee apparently knows otherwise.
"Our statistics show that we don't really have a high rate of collisions on reverse lane streets compared to other, similar streets," he says.
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Determined to find a silver lining in all this nonsense, I asked Goodbee if maybe these changes — particularly the one about making left turns from the reverse lanes — would, perhaps, keep rush-hour commuters from using my residential street to cut through heavy traffic.
"I think that no matter what rules the city makes, people will continue to take the route to and from work that they're most comfortable with," he says.
In that case, dear reader, I'd like to recommend the comfort and safety of Central Avenue. Its lanes go north and south, no matter the hour. The turn lane is clearly marked, and although Central occasionally becomes a one-way street and sometimes turns into First Avenue, it never, ever switches directions during any time of the day.