Reverse lanes: Left turns to be allowed at 1 intersection

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PHOENIX – The reverse lanes in Central Phoenix, known by many as suicide lanes, aren’t going anywhere just yet, but the city is making some changes designed to help drivers.

The Phoenix City Council gave the green light earlier this week to an experiment -- the installation of a left-turn signal at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Camelback Road. The signal should be in place and functional, allowing left turns during reverse-lane hours, late this summer.

The city plans to monitor the intersection to see how the signal affects safety and traffic. Based on that information, the council will decide if more signals should be installed.

In addition, the text signs that mark the reverse lanes will be replaced with universal traffic symbols in an effort to make them clearer to drivers.

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

In December, the council voted 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. Residents of affected neighborhood have been demanding that the lanes be removed for more than 20 years.

According to Councilman Bill Gates, who represents a large chunk of North Phoenix, studies show that the reverse lanes are no more dangerous than the city’s other major streets.

The changes, which were approved in a 7-1 vote, are expected to cost about $6.8 million. Gates was the sole dissenter.