PHOENIX – Drivers confused by the reverse lanes on Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street in Central Phoenix now have new signs to help them out.
Over the past several day, six work crews have installed more than 400 new signs along Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street, wrapping up over the weekend. Those new signs are meant to clarify how the lanes work.
The reverse lanes run from McDowell Road to Northern Avenue on Seventh Avenue, and McDowell Road to Dunlap Avenue on Seventh Street. During rush hour, the middle lane, which is usually a traditional two-way left-turn lane, opens to through traffic.
Monday-Friday between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., the traffic flows south toward downtown; between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., it flows north.
During reverse-lane hours, left turns are not permitted at the major intersections.
There is now one exception to that at Seventh Avenue and Camelback Road. A new left-arrow signal and a new yellow sign are in place at that one intersection to alert drivers to the change. That yellow sign is flanked by orange flags to catch drivers’ attention. Those flags will remain in place for 30 days.
Only drivers headed in the direction of the reverse lane – south in the morning and north in the evening – will be able to make left turns from Seventh Avenue to Camelback Road. At this point, that is the only intersection where left turns are allowed. The city will be keeping a close eye on that intersection to see how allowing left turns there affects traffic and safety.
Depending on how well it works, left turns could be allowed at more major intersections in the future. That, however, has not been determined.
The reverse lanes, dubbed "suicide lanes," have been a contentious issue since they were introduced in 1979. The goal at the time -- years before the building of State Route 51 -- was to ease traffic into and out of downtown Phoenix.
“One of the things we kept hearing again and again is that the signs are confusing or people didn’t know when the reverse lanes are in effect,” said Kerry Wilcoxon, a traffic engineer for the city of Phoenix. "The new signs ... are depicting the same rules that have been in place for 30 years. The only difference is these signs are a little more symbolic.
"The old signs ... were pure wording. They were getting the same message across, but unfortunately, people don't do as well with wording signs as opposed to symbolized signs."
The new reverse-lane signs feature large universal traffic symbols and are designed to be easy to understand. A large red X marks the times when the reverse lanes cannot be used in a particular direction.
You can expect an increased police presence along the reverse lanes while drivers get used to the new signage and the new left-turn signal at Seventh Avenue and Camelback Road.
The new signage is only the first part of the project.
By next spring, there will be flashing beacons to indicate when the reverse lanes are in effect.
For the past several years, the City Council has debated whether to get rid of the lanes. While North Valley commuters heading into downtown like the reverse lanes, businesses and those who live along Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street are not fans. They say the limits on left turns keep people from patronizing businesses and create dangerous cut-through traffic in residential areas. Residents of affected neighborhood have been demanding that the lanes be removed for more than 20 years.
In an effort to make things safer and clearer, the council decided last December to install the new signs and the left-turn new signal at Seventh Avenue and Camelback Road.
The authorized budget for the entire project is about $6.8 million.
According to the Street Transportation Department's project update the first week of August, the estimated expenditures prior to the installation of the signs and the flashing beacons were less than $100,000 or about 1 percent of that budget.
The installation of the new signs and the addition of the lights and beacons are the most expensive elements of the reverse-lane project and are thus the two largest items in the budget. In fact, those two items together actually account for about $6.56 million or more than 96 percent of the money set aside for this venture.
The final numbers will be put together next year once the entire project is complete.
For more information on reverse lanes, visit www.phoenix.gov/streets or call 602-262-6284.