Studies on changing 'suicide lanes' near funding vote

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX – The Phoenix City Council is slated to vote soon on studies related to the so-called “suicide lanes” on Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street.

Those two studies will look at installing left turns and flashing lights.

On Thursday, the council's Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability Subcommittee suggested spending about $64, 000 for the studies.

The goal is twofold. First, experts need figure out where along the two major street left turns should be placed, Second, it need to be determined if there is enough equipment and electricity in place to accommodate the flashing lights.

The studies should be complete in June.

Neither a time line for implementation nor a budget has been set for making the modifications to the the reverse lanes. The projected cost for the project is about $4 million.

The reverse lanes have been a source of controversy in Phoenix for years.

In December, the council votes to keep the lanes in place, but make some changes to improve safety. That’s where the left turns and the flashing signals come into play.

The reverse lanes run from McDowell Road to Northern Avenue on Seventh Avenue, and McDowell Road to Dunlap Avenue on Seventh Street. During rush hour, the middle lane, which is usually a traditional two-way left-turn lane, opens to through traffic. Monday-Friday between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., the traffic flows south toward downtown; between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., it flows north. During those times, left turns are banned at most intersections.

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.

North Valley commuters heading into downtown like the reverse lanes, but businesses and those who live along Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street are not fans. They say the limits on left turns keep people from patronizing businesses and create dangerous cut-through traffic in residential areas.

A full vote on whether to go ahead with the proposed studies is expected in less than two weeks.