A portion of North Limestone with a long history of traffic crashes and wrong-way drivers will move from two lanes to one lanes in an effort to slow traffic and make the area safer.
Residents and businesses between Fourth Street and Loudon Avenue have complained for years about unsafe traffic conditions in the area. The street is one-way northbound until Seventh Street, where it switches to two way. Many motorists traveling south toward downtown don’t realize the street switches to one way after Seventh Street, creating accidents and other problems.
City engineers are proposing decreasing the lanes from two to one lane with a traditional bike lane on the right side of the street and ample parking on both sides, said Grace Foley, a senior traffic engineer in the city’s traffic engineering department.
The change would begin at Fourth and go to Seventh street, or roughly three blocks.
Traffic engineers looked at traffic signal timing in the area and calculated that moving from two to one lane would slow traffic by an additional two seconds, she said.
The city hopes that by slowing traffic and improving the signage at the Seventh and North Limestone intersection, it can decrease the number of crashes in the area. It’s part of what Federal Highway Administration calls a “road diet.”
“It effectively slims down the road to vehicular traffic,” Foley said.
This isn’t the first road Lexington traffic engineers have put on a diet.
Parts of Euclid Avenue were once four lanes. Now it is one lane in each direction with wide turn lanes in the center and bike lanes, Foley said.
149 crashes in five years
After meeting with North Limestone residents in 2020 and hearing a host of concerns, the city pulled traffic accident data from December 2015 to December 2020. Residents said there was excessive speeding in the area, multiple crashes, wrong-way drivers and parked cars being side-swiped.
There were 149 crashes during that time period. Of those, 45 resulted in injuries, 49 involved parked vehicles and three involved pedestrians.
A November 2020 traffic study also showed the average speed was 33 miles per hour. The speed limit is 25 miles per hour.
Foley said traffic data showed three wrong-way collision from 2015 to 2020. But during six days in 2020, traffic crews witnessed 11 wrong-way drivers near the intersection of Seventh and North Limestone. Foley said they are looking at putting more wrong way signs directly on the pavement, which some studies have shown is more effective than signs.
Foley gave her recommendation during a Tuesday Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council Environmental Quality and Public Works Committee.
Councilman James Brown, who represents the North Limestone area, said residents have been asking for changes to the area for years.
“I know some have been frustrated that it has taken so long,” Brown said. “This is just the first step in making the whole corridor safer.”
A design study for more sidewalks and bike lanes on North Limestone from north of Loudon Avenue to New Circle Road has also recently begun, city officials said Tuesday.
Kim Green, president of the North Limestone Neighborhood Association, said she could not speak for everyone on North Limestone but said she hoped the proposal would make the entire neighborhood safer.
Green, who lives in the 600 block of North Limestone, has had one of her cars, which was parked on the street, totaled after being hit repeatedly by vehicles. “I have a friend who has had their car totaled,” Green said. “We have seen accidents where cars have flipped over. Luckily, the people were able to walk away.”
Green said some neighbors are afraid to park their cars on the street because parked cars are frequently sideswiped in that corridor.
“I think the hope is that we try this and see if this works and does not have an adverse affect on the community,” Green said.
Timeline and costs
Foley said a timeline for implementation has not been set due to funding. It will cost between $45,000 and $50,000 to make the changes — that’s largely for new paint and signs. The city hopes to use remaining funds from other accounts to pay for the changes.
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, some bicyclists raised concerns about the placement of the bike lane.
The proposed bike lane is to the right of vehicle lane and to the left of parking spots.
Alan Bartley, an avid cyclist, said New York City and other locations put bike lanes next to the curb to the right of street parking. That’s proven to be safer than having a dedicated bike lane with no barrier.
Foley said the city considered that but the switch to two-way traffic after Seventh Street would mean cyclists would have to cross or merge into traffic, which is dangerous. Putting posts between the bike lane and traffic is also problematic as emergency vehicles and garbage trucks can’t use the bike lane for essential city services, she said.