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Friday, April 21

An open letter regarding the Potranco Road medians

Full disclosure: The text below is pulled from an email conversation between our staff and an individual representing a conglomerate of business owners involved with a petition regarding the raised median being built on Potranco Road. It has been edited from its initial form to fit the blog format.

To those questioning the need and placement of the raised median along Potranco Road between Loop 1604 and Culebra:

Thank you, first of all, for your efforts to become engaged in the transportation planning process. We've heard your issues and do not take them lightly. It's unfortunate we couldn't discuss these issues before we reached the construction phase of this project - we could have had much more productive discussions had this outreach happened during our planning process or at our open house on this project.

How we reach out
We don’t send out mailers for our open house meetings because of the logistics involved. For starters, the cost of doing that would prove exorbitant - we couldn't limit mailers like that simply to those living or working along the corridor, and the sheer volume of mailers would be beyond our capacity (we do all that stuff in-house, after all). We know we'd miss people, and quite often we've found the owner of a property doesn't communicate these kinds of things to their tenants - which would leave us in a situation we have now with folks saying they never knew.
We try to be responsible stewards with the money we’re entrusted with, and seek the most effective and efficient means to communicate. We are required by law to post notices of public meetings in the "legal notices" section of the largest print news outlet in the area (in our case, the Express News). We also use traditional and social media channels to broadcast these meetings by sending out news releases to a very long media distribution list and tweeting about these meetings (not to brag or anything, but at more than 29,000 followers ours is the second-largest Twitter account in the department, behind only the statewide account).
We don't do Instagram or Facebook locally - this is a strategic communication decision we've made as an agency to help us control content and manage our messaging strategy. We do have a statewide Facebook account, though. It's got great stuff there. But we digress.
We also posted alerts of the open house with digital message boards strategically located along the routes. These message boards are placed ten days or more ahead of public meetings in the hope we're giving people ample opportunity to see the alert and take appropriate action. We also work with city council offices, who broadcast these meetings through their email blast lists where appropriate.
One thing we can do better about is utilizing this blog - which gets more than 20,000 reads every month - to broadcast these meetings.

The goal of the project
The ultimate reason for these medians is safety. Raised concrete medians are specifically designed to restrict left-turn movements that create what engineers call “conflict points” – a space on the roadway two opposing vehicles are competing for. These conflict points on high-trafficked collector routes like Potranco Road (and Culebra Road, for that matter – which got the same medians in 2015) often see a higher rate of catastrophic collisions. When these raised medians are installed, the collision rate drops dramatically.
For instance, the Potranco Road corridor saw a crash rate more than double the state-wide average because of these conflict points and some driver behaviors that favored risk and perceived convenience over safety and a few extra minutes. We’re seeking to improve that issue. You can see more about the pronounced safety benefits of these medians in our information page on the project located here.

But it's going to hurt our business/property value/lifestyle
There absolutely are some growing pains associated with any new roadway feature, and the growing pains with a raised median that restricts a particular movement are probably a little more pronounced. The improvement in safety is something we simply feel is worth the trade-off and is something we've thought long and hard about.
It’s much more important to us that, for example, a vehicle carrying children to a daycare facility re-route themselves to take much-safer (and, in many cases, faster and cheaper) right-turn approach and arrive or depart safely than it would be that same vehicle try rush ahead of a bloc of traffic and get into a catastrophic collision. We also don’t want people using the center left-turn lanes as acceleration lanes to merge with traffic; this behavior – particularly on developed and busy roads – tends to lead to other collision risks (such as head-on collisions or side-swipes). For more on this, see what the Texas Highwayman has to say in his primer on Texas road laws, specifically on the center turn lanes.
Here's the good news: this perception of inconvenience is short-lived and people generally get used to this new arrangement very quickly. We know this because we do this on similar roads across the state (and across the country, really) and others manage just fine.

Why does a neighboring driveway get a cut in the median and mine doesn't?
This is a terrific question. Before we delve into it, take a look at the planned layout of this new median (be sure to zoom in on the document so you get a good look). We'd post a jpg of it here, but it wouldn't give you the resolution needed to be effective.
We consider access to each location based on a master transportation and development plan. That is, when a property is platted for development it includes any access plans - including shared access easements - so a city can conduct proper urban planning to ensure order and efficiency. When this master plan isn't followed and the easement isn't utilized properly, this creates significant issues.
For example, a string of commercial properties west of Hunt Lane all have a shared access easement that would afford not only an additional driveway onto Hunt Lane itself, but a shared cut in the curb. That easement was never developed as a driveway, and some commercial tenants have used that easement space to perform alternate functions (one uses it to store a dumpster, another uses it as an outdoor recreational facility for kids).
Take a look:

Our plans are built with the master plans in mind - that's the sense of order that maintains a rhyme and reason to what we do. When the master plan isn't followed frustrations ensue and could potentially be perpetual. These issues can be solved by reverting back to the master plan and adhering to the strategy initially in place.

Our commitment
While we are committed to seeing this critical safety project through and maintain it's design is planned to operate the same as any other similar road in the state (or the country, for that matter), we do consider each case. In the end we're all human and can miss something - but with the number of people that touch each project, those misses are extremely few and far between.
We've reviewed all outstanding requests to review this project already and are confident we got things right with the current plan sheets. Heck, we're only six weeks from being finished with the work - we're ready to wrap it up and be done with it!
Projects like these, after all, reflect our forward-thinking as these corridors grow and produce increasing challenges to safety and operational efficiency in the future. We're just trying to get ahead of tomorrow's issues today.