October 28, 2011

Left turns into Maize Road retailers regulated to ease traffic

Wichita traffic engineers are testing a new design this week to relieve congestion at 21st Street and Maize Road.

Wichita traffic engineers are testing a new design this week to relieve congestion at 21st Street and Maize Road.

Motorists traveling south on Maize are learning they can no longer turn left into the entrance of the Dillons Marketplace closest to 21st Street.

That left turn has caused snarls at the intersection, said Paul Gunzelman, city traffic engineer.

Sticks have been set up to see if limiting left turns will keep traffic flowing more smoothly. The configuration also limits northbound traffic from turning left into a Walgreens store on the intersection's northwest corner.

"We're looking at putting in a raised median to make the approaches right-turn in and right out at those access points," Gunzelman said.

The city has been looking at traffic designs for the intersection since about 2008, when engineers measured 403 vehicles an hour during peak afternoon rush, between 4 and 6 p.m.

Of those, about 65 to 70 per hour were trying to turn left into the Dillons.

"There are so many people trying to turn into Dillons they're keeping people from actually getting to the light, and they don't even realize it," said Tiffany Campbell, 34, who drives through the intersection each day.

This week, she said, traffic is flowing more smoothly with the limited turns into Dillons.

"I have noticed a difference," Campbell said. "But you know, Maize (Road) is a nightmare just about anywhere. If you're trying to turn left to go east or west onto 21st, you're probably going to have to wait through two signals to get through.

"When they designed the road, I don't think they anticipated just how fast things would grow out there," Campbell said.

The intersection also has several major shopping centers on both sides of Maize, including NewMarket Square.

Under the new design, those wanting to turn left into Dillons can do so on a service road farther to the north. Or motorists can turn left at the intersection on 21st Street, then turn into an entrance east of Maize where they are less likely to hold up other traffic.

There are five access points to the store, said Sheila Lowrie, a spokeswoman for Dillons. There are three entrances on 21st and two on Maize.

"We have been cooperating with the city and currently conducting traffic testing," Lowrie said. "Our main goal is to provide convenience and safety for both our customers and drivers in the area."

There are fewer traffic snarls going into Walgreens. Only about six vehicles per hour are trying to turn left into that store during peak times, Gunzelman said. But the city is experimenting with limiting access on both sides of the street.

Management at both stores have been cooperative with the trials, Gunzelman said.

The eventual plan also includes adding double left-turn lanes at the intersection.

Gunzelman said he hopes to have design plans completed by February, gain approval from City Council and begin construction next spring.

The goal: to have the roadwork complete for the Christmas shopping season in 2012.

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