August 26, 2007

Rock Island street's potentially fatal design flaw

Well, it happened again today.

While driving on Rock Island's 17th street between 31st Avenue just south of Trinity West (the old Franscican Hospital) and Black Hawk Road, I nearly witnessed a head on collision.

And this is the THIRD time I've had this happen, with a couple almost involving myself. This is particularly alarming considering that I rarely drive that stretch of road at all.

The problem is that the city decided it would be a nice idea to block off an entire lane on the east side of the street and add a bicycle lane on the west. What this did was create a two lane road where there used to be a more or less 4 lane street.

But the way they decided to design and mark this off has probably lead to some accidents already, and I'm all but certain that sooner or later, it will lead to a very serious accident, possibly fatal.

The road tricks people, apparently. The wide lane on the east side is marked by a wide white stripe, as is the bike lane on the west. The middle two lanes are separated by a dashed yellow line, as is proper. (But obviously people don't notice the distinction between dashed yellow and dashed white lines.)

The problem occurs when people pull out onto the road, or are simply driving down the curving and winding road and get the impression that there's two lanes heading south.

I have been driving north and encountered not one, but two cars barreling around a curve straight at me in my lane, one following the other.

Today I witnessed a car full of teens coming flying around the curve about to pass me on my right, oblivious to the fact that they were in the opposing lane. A car was approaching coming the other way from Blackhawk road and I laid on the horn to try to get the kid's attention. The car with the teens had to hit the brakes and actually pulled over to the left into the unused lane of the road while the oncoming car squeezed between us in the other direction. Not a good situation.

On one other occasion I also witnessed a car driving serenely in the oncoming lane, not realizing they were in the wrong.

Even I was momentarily fooled one time and almost pulled out into the wrong lane. It's clear that the way it's laid out invites drivers to mistakenly drive into oncoming traffic.

This simply has to be changed or fixed. As I said, perhaps a solid yellow center line rather than dashed would do the trick. I don't know.

When I've driven that stretch of road perhaps 5 times since they've made the change and on three of those occasions I've seen people driving directly into oncoming traffic, something's wrong.

Not only is it obviously confusing to motorists, but to make the situation more dangerous, the road is winding, making for short sight distances, and the speed limit is 40, which leads to speeds up to 50 mph or more, plenty fast enough to make the likelyhood of a head-on higher.

The only grim "positive" about the situation is that at least there's a trauma center nearby.

Here's a rinky-dink diagram to help you visualize the situation if you're not familiar with the road. (click to enlarge)

I guess some drivers heading south mistakenly think that the big unused lane on the east side is for traffic going north towards the hospital, (and the white stripe there is the center line,) while the other two lanes separated by dashed lines are for southbound traffic. Perhaps they simply don't realize that yellow dashed lines means don't cross unless you're passing. I'm not sure how to explain it, but trust me, it tricks a lot of people.

I write this in the sincere hope that someone from the city is aware of this problem and does something about this before anyone loses their lives. I hate to say it, but it's simply inevitable that someone is going to have a head-on collision there.

And if any of you ever find yourself driving along this stretch of 17th Street, just be ready to take some quick evasive action.

I know there's been an amazing amount of close calls, because I see one almost every time I drive there.

Anyone else had this experience?


At 8/26/2007 9:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you can not figure this out then you may want to persue an advanced degree.
You may want to keep driving down this road until you get it right.
Good luck!

At 8/26/2007 10:27 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Get it right? What are you talking about? Not sure exactly what you're getting at, other than you don't give a shit and are utterly unconcerned about a very dangerous situation that very much needs to be corrected.

It's not been a problem for me, other than having to avoid cars driving straight at me in the wrong lane, and I hope that no one you care about ends up in a head on collision there.

But obviously many others find themselves driving straight at opposing traffic, and there's obviously a reason it happens so often.

I'm not just imagining it, and I don't think I would have even mentioned it had it not been the case that I've seen it happen three times now when I've only driven that route a few times.

I would wager a good amount that if anyone sat along that stretch for even an afternoon, they'd see several cars driving in the left lane.

At 8/27/2007 12:38 AM, Anonymous Huck Finn said...

If it's an unused lane, then there are a few ways to mark it so it's known. White lines that angle 30 to 45 degrees out from the curb to the solid line would show even southbound traffic that it's not a lane.

At locations near intersections, it might also be smart to put reflective posts up to direct traffic to stay right of the yellow line, but those will get trashed at the first snow.

Or instead, maybe at intersections, they can install a short island median with Keep Right signs posted that emphasize the proper southbound lane.

The bike lane also needs to have more restricted lane diamonds painted, because I've seen folks try to use that lane as well.

At 8/27/2007 12:44 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Huck, good ideas. I wish I'd have paid more attention when I was there, but I do believe that there's some sort of white diamonds painted in the parking, or whatever it's for, lane that goes unused.

Actually, the problem isn't people driving in that particular lane, but that people driving south for some reason think the dashed lines in the center are like the white dashed lines on an interstate, and they think that driving in the left lane is an option.

Obviously, they must think that unused lane is the northbound lane, and why they don't realize what they're doing is beyond me.

But I guess not all drivers are up on what the various types and colors of road markings mean.

As I said, I think painting a big SOLID yellow line between the lanes would be a bit effective at keeping people from blissfully driving nearly 50 mph into oncoming traffic on a curve without the slightest inkling that anything's wrong.

At 8/27/2007 7:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live by there and travel that road every day. For it to be so confusing to you is a concern. Go on the road a third time. Slow down and look at the markings. It is not that confusing. Down below the hill where drivers cross the bike path is more dangerous. look at that sometime.

At 8/27/2007 8:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You make an excellent point, but any concerns will fall on deaf ears. Look how many raised concerns near the JOKE of a bike lane on 7th Ave near 15th St.

The City does what it wants with little or no regard to anyones safety. Look at the stedily decling number of Police officers and firefighters that have been axed since the 'Mark and John' regime.

At 8/27/2007 10:15 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Anon 7:43

I think some readers, yourself included, are missing the point entirely.

I'm not saying that it's confusing to me, though I did catch myself for a split second almost pulling into the wrong lane.

The POINT.... and I'll try to be clear, is that it IS confusing to many people, and the evidence is that .... to repeat myself... that in the very few times I've driven that stretch lately, on THREE separate occasions I've seen people barrelling down the WRONG LANE.

OK. Telling me to concentrate is stupid as that's not the problem.

The people I saw driving straight at me were the ones in the wrong lane, not myself. OK?

Hope that clears it up.

And readers can say that they're too smart to make this mistake all day and night, and I'm happy and believe them.

But what the hell does that matter when other drivers make the mistake routinely?

There's a very high potential for serious accidents there, and why you choose to ignore that fact baffles me.

At 8/28/2007 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There has been one accident there in the last two years since this change has taken place. The pace for accidents since the bike lanes were put in. The benefits is that Rock Island gets the best small town award because of it. It is a priority for this award.

At 8/28/2007 10:04 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Anon 8:14.

It would have been better if you could have let us know how you know that there's only been one accident, or where you got that info.

But beyond that, I'm not knocking the idea (though it's tiny scale doesn't really have any effect. What good is a bike lane when it's only a couple miles long, if that?)

I'm just saying it's definitely an unsafe situation to which there might be a relatively simple solution.

I'm not suggesting turning things back into a 4 lane like it was previously, just that the people who are supposed to address such matters should find a way to make it less likely that motorists find themselves driving into oncoming traffic.

Again, I'm not making this problem up. I didn't think much about it the first time someone was in the wrong lane coming straight at me. Maybe that was a fluke.

Then the second time I saw not one but two cars both blissfully driving down the oncoming lane one behind the other. Neither were aware they were in the wrong lane.

That got my attention.

Then the very next time I travelled that street, I have a carload of young people speeding at at least 50 mph plus and overtaking me while driving in the left lane!

An oncoming car had to hit the brakes and the car full of teens swerved off into the parking lane. The oncoming car then had to thread it's way between the two of us.

That's three instances when I've only driven the road at most 5 times.

At that point, I felt it would be almost irresponsible to not at least mention the problem.

At 8/28/2007 10:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a biker and I think Rock Island being on the cutting edge of transportation with bikes as a way to travel shows the right attitude. We can ride when completed down the sidewalk along Black hawk Road. We will be able to bike under the new west Rock River Bridge when they get it completed. And more importantly to the ever vital downtown area. I know several people that ride everywhere they go. You should try it Green just might be a good color for you. Don't be so negative. Empower yourself. Ride a bike.

At 8/29/2007 2:21 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

I've never seen so many people so eager to miss the point entirely.

Amazing and almost bizarre.

I point out a dangerous section of road and now this guy comes off like I'm against people riding in bike lanes? And that I don't ride a bike? What the hell?

And I do ride a bike as often as i can and have for years.

This story has NOTHING to do with bikes, bike lanes, what Rock Island did to put in a bizarre little patch of bike lanes with no bike paths connecting them, or anything else.

The point is, ah hell. I'm not going to explain it again.

People simply must not be capable of actually reading and comprehending anything.

At 8/29/2007 10:50 PM, Blogger -shane- said...


OR... thanks for one of the funniest comment storms I've ever read. EVERYONE is missing the point of this whole thing.

And Dopey, you're ABSOLUTELY right on this one. I don't drive that stretch TOO often, so I can't testify to road chaos down by the hospital, but I've seen my share of near-death experiences on the freshly bike-lane-enhanced 7th Ave. It seems a lot of folks don't get the new little jigs you've gotta do to stay in your lanes down there by the AT&T building.

I almost saw a dude on a bike bite it hard the other day when a car cut him off coz the driver was too busy to notice and/or care about the jog in the lanes at the intersections.

The one comment that KINDA made was the guy congratulating Rock Island on its progressive stance towards bikes -- and it DOES make me super proud of my hometown. But Rock Island has its share of idiots, too, and those people are either (a) not getting it or (b) not caring.

Me, I'm more worried about telling out-of-towners how the hell to get to my apartment without them being re-routed to Milan. I'm sending Galesburgers to 92 from now on...

At 8/30/2007 10:33 AM, Anonymous yinn said...

I'm with Shane--this is the most hilarious stuff I've read all week.

At 8/30/2007 10:44 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

I try to laugh... but sometimes it's hard.

While I'm tempted to assume that people are being willfully ignorant and saying all these idiotic things just to bug me. (at least I HOPE they're being willfully ignorant. Thinking people are actually that easily confused is depressing) I have a nagging feeling that it's honest stupidity or confusion. After all, I think it would be a little egotistical to assume that people would spend their time and energy trying to write stupid things just for my benefit.

And really, what kind of person would sit around and do that?

So I feel compelled to at least try to straighten them out in case they truly don't "get it".

It's a bit like helping a handicapped person across the street.

The alternative is to assume at all times that these sorts of comments are simply attempts to rattle my cage, and simply not publish them at all.

I'd hate to do that to anyone who was honestly trying to express an opinion, so it's a tough call.

But I'm glad that the humor of the situation is appreciated and it shows me that I should probably laugh it off more often myself.

At 9/02/2007 4:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although the lanes are properly marked in yellow along the new road, an IDOT Engineer I spoke with claims, "Some drivers don't pay enough attention." He went on to sat the best way to avoid a collision is to "keep your car on your own side of the road and directly between the bright solid yellow lines that mark the direction of the road."

The engineer also told me to advise you that there is "no safe level for drinking and driving!"

At 9/02/2007 5:33 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

And I advise you to stop making shit up to try to make a point.

Why didn't you name the "IDOT engineer"? (Or the source of the other stats you pulled out of your hat in your other comment.)

Secondly, it's pretty shabby when you actually resort to inventing quotes, and actually put it in quotation marks.

No one, much less myself, ever said anything remotely close to, "no safe level for drinking and driving."

If I missed something, please point to anywhere in this thread or within the post that said anything about there being a "safe" level of drinking and driving.

Technically, now that you mention it, the state obviously feels there's a safe level of drinking and driving. Otherwise the legal limit would be zero.

At 9/02/2007 9:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But with so many people raking in the dough from a person who happened to be caught driving after a few beers..."

The Inside Dope

This seems awful close to what you are now denying that you said. Please explain!

At 9/02/2007 9:50 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Dear Confused.

I don't think I need to explain anything, as the average chimp could clearly tell that the statement you quoted doesn't mean what you distorted it to mean.

I give you an "A" for imagination, but you can't get from my statement to somehow twisting it into a flat out statement that you can be "drunk" and drive safely. Sorry.

Perhaps you get woozy after walking past a tavern, but believe it or not, some people can actually drink a couple beers and not start blubbering or staggering or telling their friends how much they really love them.

And... amazingly enough, they can function well enough to drive a car safely.

At 9/02/2007 10:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fact that there is no problem on this road doesn't seem to convince you. What will it take to convince you and your gang Dope. A written legal assesment of the situation from the trafic police. Look Dope the City has payed attention to your claim and they find it be a frivolous claim that has no basis of truth. The facts bear that there has been less accidents since they made it a two lane road. I hope now that you will let this thing go and agree that it must have been your dumb luck.

At 9/02/2007 10:24 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

No, some weirdo saying there's no problem doesn't make it so, does it?

And I use the word weirdo because you've now sent in several comments with a hostile tone almost attacking me for simply mentioning this subject.

What is your problem and why do you feel threatened by someone simply mentioning a dangerous situation?

I find it weird to say the least.

Then you simply waltz in here and state that there's no problem.

Oh.. OK. Gee. I must be wrong then.

Why do you think for a moment that that's all the evidence anyone needs? You don't cite your source, you don't explain anything that would suggest in the slightest that you're not simply making it up.

You act like I'm on some jihad to ... I don't know what.... make Rock Island redo all of their streets??

Why are you so defensive? It's truly weird.

At 9/04/2007 6:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you contacted the city of Rock Island with your concerns. WHat kind of answer did you get from them? Do they the people that run this road think that there is a problem? If so I hope that they fix it. It seems like it is a real concern for drivers.

At 9/04/2007 9:24 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

No, I have not contacted anyone with the city. I assume perhaps someone might see this and decide for themselves whether any action is taken.

I'm not on a crusade here, I just simply wanted to point out the fact that this stretch of road leads to dangerous driver error on a regular basis and warn people to be aware of it.

At 9/04/2007 10:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear someone else notice this problem because I've had the same thing happen.

It's not fun to suddenly see a car coming straight at you. I don't know why people get mixed up there, but they defenitely do.

I hope something is done before people get hurt or killed.

Why some people seem angry at you personaly for even bringing this up is stupid. Ignore them.

At 9/05/2007 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you want the city to paint the solid yellow lines a brighter color? Which color do you recommend? Day glow-red?

At 9/05/2007 11:17 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Dear Jerk,
There are NO solid yellow lines in between the lanes of traffic, so I'm not sure what you're smarting off about.

I'm not telling anyone what to do. In trying to think of what might avoid this dangerous situation, I did wonder if maybe changing the line from a yellow dashed line to a solid yellow line might help.

It was only an idea which wouldn't be too hard to do and might help prevent driver's from thinking it's two lanes heading the same way.

Could I ask you to explain why pointing out a traffic hazzard has you so incredibly hostile? I find it kind of nuts. Are you FOR dangerous roads? Do you have a really personal hang-up about anyone wanting to make roads safer that just makes you see red?

Maybe you should stop and ask yourself why you're having such an inexplicable reaction.


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