Phoenix Spends $6.8 Million to Make Changes in Reverse Lane Signage That Aren't Really Needed

The city of Phoenix is spending $6.8 million to add flashing beacons and alter signs to its reverse lane program -- even though stats show the so-called "suicide lanes" aren't really dangerous.

True, we usually avoid the darned things out of fear of using them incorrectly. The program, begun 30 years ago, utilizes turn lanes in the middle of the 7th Street and 7th Avenue to carry an extra load of rush-hour traffic. The signs can be a bit confusing, stating verbosely that they're to be used only for through-traffic in certain directions during certain times.

Some of the new signs that use pictures and flashing lights to help advise motorists will be in place by August 15 in the intersection of 7th Avenue and Camelback Road. In another major change, motorists for the first time will be able to make left turns from the turn lane during reverse lane hours in that intersection. The other signs will be added in 2012, city officials say.

Phoenix has received lots of complaints about the reverse lane program over the years, and especially about the signage, says city spokeswoman Sina Matthes.

"They complained it wasn't clear," Matthes says. "And there is a perception that reverse lanes aren't safe."

To our surprise, she followed that statement up with, "But the data doesn't support that."

Matthes says a traffic study commissioned by Phoenix shows that reverse lanes are no more of a cause for collisions than other lanes.

Now that's a classic example of bureaucracy: Fixing something that isn't broke.

So the new signs aren't really needed? we ask Matthes. She pauses. "The city council directed us to do this," she says. "The new signage does improve safety."

Well, make that might improve safety, if there's any on which to be improved. The real problem with the program, as we see it, is that it makes motorists confused and a little crazy as they try to defeat it by making U-turns, cutting into side-streets, etc.

The Phoenix City Council voted 7-1 in June to make the changes to the reverse-lane program, following input from a citizens commission.

Clearly, the investment in reverse-lane signage means the program is here to stay. But that's a good thing, since the same Phoenix traffic study also showed that without them, travel times on 7th Street and 7th Ave during rush hour would increase by 50 to 90 percent.