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California City Solutions: Davis Creates Protected Intersection to Maintain Public Safety

December 2, 2016
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
The 2016 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. The city of Davis’ Protected Intersection was submitted in 2016 for the Public Works, Infrastructure, and Transportation award category.
Davis is a city of nearly 67,000 with a university and residential population known for its commitment to environmental awareness and active transportation principles. To encourage and promote active modes of transportation, the city built 56 miles of bike lanes and more than 60 miles of off-street shared-use paths to provide children, university students, families, and seniors with safe and inviting transportation routes to school, work and recreational activities.
Covell Boulevard is one of two major east-west arterial roadways in Davis linking to Highway 80 and State Route 113. This corridor is an important cross-town roadway for drivers, transit and people on bikes connecting to schools, community centers, parks, and shopping. Covell Boulevard serves 20,000 vehicles and 150-250 cyclists daily. The critical speed along the corridor is 42 miles per hour and the posted speed limit is 35 miles per hour.
This four-lane major arterial was a typical transportation corridor where cars were the priority and the bike and pedestrian treatments were existing, but minimal, especially at intersections along the corridor. Children living north of Covell Boulevard biking to elementary and junior high schools were forced to cross multiple vehicle lanes including two relatively high-speed channelized right turn lanes. Families utilizing the existing shared-use path on the south side of Covell Boulevard also had a difficult time crossing at intersections because of the convergence of the path with the channelized right turn lanes.
The Davis City Council approved the Cannery mixed-use Master Planned Community in 2013, which includes 547 residential units and the employment potential for up to 850 jobs. This development gave the city the ability to improve biking and walking along Covell Boulevard and to make the corridor safer and more inviting for people on bikes and pedestrians.
To better understand the impacts of the new development, the city and Cannery developers funded a corridor study along Covell Boulevard. The goal was to identify transportation improvements that would enhance safety, circulation and identify access options for all modes of transportation throughout the corridor. Key safety concerns and recommendations were identified through public input with stakeholder groups including residents, local bicycle and transit advocacy groups, developers, property management companies, business owners, school officials, and law enforcement.
A grade-separated bike and pedestrian crossing to provide residents living and working in the Cannery development a safer crossing at Covell Boulevard was one priority. Davis cyclists at all levels desired improvements to the bike facilities along Covell Boulevard. The novice riders preferred the comfort level of the shared-use path, while the more experienced riders wanted to ride with traffic to expedite their commute time. Community members advocated for the removal of the channelized right turn lanes to reduce turning vehicle speeds, and shorten pedestrian crossings.
Findings were presented to the Davis City Council in April 2014. Council members supported the overall improvements, but requested additional new and unique options. They directed staff to conduct a peer review to seek the perspective of a consultant that could offer nontraditional expert opinions and design solutions that focused on active transportation. Staff consulted with the Netherlands based Dutch Cycling Embassy. The Dutch Cycling Embassy is a public/private network promoting sustainable bicycle inclusive mobility. The Dutch Cycling Embassy referred the firm, Mobycon, based in Delft, Netherlands, and specializes in active transportation and place making for assistance with design solutions.
In September 2014, Mobycon and staff presented recommendations to the city council for Covell Boulevard. The recommendations included a roundabout or a protected intersection at Covell Boulevard and J Street. Staff had initial concerns regarding the physical space required for a roundabout, synchronization of traffic signals, and the practice of installing a multilane roundabout in a location with anticipated high bicycle and pedestrian traffic. As a result, the council approved the protected intersection treatment for both Covell Boulevard at J Street and Covell Boulevard at L Street. These two intersections would serve as pilot projects. Covell Boulevard at J Street would be funded by the Cannery development and Covell Boulevard and L Street would be a City Capital Improvement Project.
The city opened the first operational protected intersection in the United States in August 2015. This new intersection includes:
  • Corner refuge concrete islands, situated between the bike lane and the right turn lane, which separates from the right turning drivers. These refuge islands decrease the speed of right turning vehicles and increase visibility for people on bikes, and pedestrians, as drivers must “square-up” with the intersection;
  • Colored and marked bike and pedestrian intersection crossing areas, which show people on bikes and pedestrians where they should be positioned in the intersection and it lets drivers know to expect people on bikes and pedestrians. The left turning cyclist does not need to enter the left turn pocket with the vehicles. They could travel in the designated colored area around the intersection without any conflict with vehicles; and
  • A bike only traffic signal phase will provide a separate green phase for people on bikes and pedestrians to safely navigate the intersection. The bike signal will be activated once the Cannery development is built-out. 
Feedback has been positive and the city is in the next design phase to construct two additional protected intersections. Other communities in California and other states have reached out to the city to study the design and to implement similar intersections in their cities. As with all new innovative projects, there are lessons learned and as the city moves forward with more bike and pedestrian friendly intersections improvements will be made on the design.

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