The Idaho Transportation Department had to make upgrades to the intersection of Eagle Road and Highway 44 after residents and the City of Eagle raised concerns about pedestrian safety in the area.
Last fall, the newly widened intersection near downtown Eagle opened to the public with new lanes and more traffic capacity. This helped usher more drivers through the area, but local transportation advocates Robert Minch, Gary Segers and Don Kostelec say the new design had unclear signage instructing drivers to yield before turning into the crosswalk and the bike lanes and paths through the area create the potential for residents to be hit.
Eagle Mayor Jason Pierce also sat in on meetings with ITD about the intersection, with the series of meetings resulting in tweaks to the intersection.
City spokesperson Dana Biberston offered a brief comment on the changes but declined to elaborate on Pierce’s concerns or how he felt about how the agency responded to the feedback.
“The mayor met with ITD, who came up with some solutions, and they are working on getting the equipment to put those solutions in place,” Biberston wrote in an email.
At the end of October, the agency closed the intersection to adjust crosswalk striping and right turn lane stop bars to improve visibility for those on foot or two wheels crossing the street. This work also included moving signs telling drivers to yield to pedestrians, wheelchair users, and cyclists in the crosswalk when someone hits the cross button closer to the driver’s view, instead of mounting them up near the traffic lights like in the original design.
“Once intersection work is complete, ITD and the Eagle Police Department will team together on an educational campaign,” ITD spokesperson Jillian Garrigues said. “We encourage all drivers to stay engaged behind the wheel and focused on driving. We’ve also started collecting pedestrian data for the intersection and are working with ACHD to analyze it this fall. This will give a better understanding of how drivers and pedestrians are interacting.”
These new changes cost the agency roughly $36,000.
Sign changes aim to get drivers to stop for pedestrians
The old intersection configuration featured free-running right turns, where cars could use a special right turn lane and turn right without stopping through the intersection for pedestrians, cyclists, or other cars.
The newly upgraded intersection changed this by requiring anyone turning right to stop and yield for pedestrians when anyone hits the walk signal to give them time to cross the street. Signs originally mounted up near the traffic lights would illuminate, telling drivers not to turn right when the walk signal was on, but Minch and Segers say they saw drivers disregarding the light and turning anyway. This causes the possibility of cyclists or pedestrians being “right hooked” by drivers steering into the turn. Minch himself has videos he took cycling through the intersection where he was almost hit.
Segers, who also serves on the Ada County Highway District Bicycle Advisory Committee but is speaking in his personal capacity, said problems with safety in the intersection will only be more problematic as more people are cycling in the area to access the planned pedestrian bridge near the Greenbelt in the area.
“The thing that is probably the most important thing here is to recognize the importance that we’re growing so much,” he said. “We have more and more residential living down here, and we have businesses on Eagle Road. We’re seeing more and more people on bikes riding down the road and it’s only going to get greater.”
Initially, after the complaints, Segers said ITD responded by turning the signs warning drivers about turning into the crosswalk off completely because the agency said it was confusing drivers. ITD then moved the signs to a different location and changed them to tell drivers to yield to pedestrians, instead of telling them simply not to turn right.
These changes still did not satisfy Minch, Segers, and Kostelec’s concerns. The trio followed up with another round of emails to ITD, telling the agency they were concerned that the yield signs did not alert drivers turning into both ends of the crosswalk to yield to pedestrians. They also criticized ITD’s choice to put the stop bar closer to the crosswalk, which they said reduces visibility.
Objections to nearby bike paths, lanes as well
The group of advocates also raised concerns about how the intersection connects to nearby bike lanes and paths for cyclists and pedestrians to use.
Another part of Seger’s criticism of the intersection is instead of building dedicated bike lanes through the intersection or a multi-use path right up against the flat part of the roadway, riders on the west side of the intersection have to use a meandering sidewalk under the trees along the roadway. He says the slight elevation of the pathway above the road and the poor quality of the surface makes it improper for riders because it puts riders in drivers’ blindspots when the path intersects with drivers turning off of Eagle Road into nearby shopping centers.
“Generally, those of us look at this, we have to design pathways that are safe not for a guy like me who rides a lot, it’s for the every day, cautious ‘I’m not sure what I’m doing and I’m with my kids’ type of rider,” he said. “If I’m with my granddaughter someone is going to turn right in (to the shopping center) and might not even see her (on the bike path).”
He also pointed to the east side of the intersection where bike lanes leading into the intersection disappear with hardly any warning, leaving a rider potentially in the middle of traffic without protection suddenly.
ACHD spokesperson Rachel Bjornestad declined to comment because the intersection upgrade was an ITD-led project.