Phoenix City Council votes to keep 'suicide lanes' but will make changes

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PHOENIX -- The Phoenix City Council has voted to keep those controversial reverse lanes in Central Phoenix, but they will be making some changes.

The lanes on Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue will be getting flashing lights, new signs and left turns will be allowed at some intersections.

Tuesday's vote was 5-1 to keep the lanes.

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.

During rush hour, the middle lane, which is usually a two-way left-turn lane, opens to through traffic. Monday-Friday between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., the traffic flows south; between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., it flows north. During those times, left turns are banned at most intersections.

The reverse lanes run from McDowell Road to Northern Avenue on Seventh Avenue, and McDowell Road to Dunlap Avenue on Seventh Street. A task force has been studying the effectiveness of the reverse lanes since summer.

Opponents of the lanes, mostly residents of surrounding neighborhoods, are concerned that the lanes are confusing to drivers. They also say drivers speed through residential streets as a shortcut because lefts turns are not allowed from Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue during the morning and evening rush hours.

Those who are in favor of keeping the lanes say they offer an alternative to the freeway for those commuting to downtown Phoenix from the north part of the Valley. They say eliminating the lanes will have a negative impact on rush-hour traffic.

The council's vote goes along with most of the recommendations made by the task force. The plan to allow left turns at some intersections should help reduce the number of drivers cutting through neighborhoods, which has been a major concern of area residents, many of whom have been trying to get rid of the reverse lanes for years.

City officials have not yet developed a time line for implementing the changes nor have they figured out how they will cover the projected $4 million.