Letter to the Editor: A View Toward a Workable N.M. 502 Plan

By William C. Mead
Los Alamos

Background and history: As you may know, N.M. 502 between Central Avenue and Airport Road presents significant obstacles and hazards to traffic flow and pedestrians.

It operates at peak times with considerable congestion, particularly during the evening commute, when traffic is either crawling or stop-and-go.

The morning commute operates below the current speed limit due to congestion. Pedestrian service is inadequate, even though some points of obvious access lie along this segment.

Los Alamos County (LAC) has proven amazingly dysfunctional in arriving at a preliminary design for this area. In a period of more than five years, at major expense in time and money, various proposals have been developed.

I think the best of these was a 2007 agreement jointly approved by LAC and New Mexico, but that has been rejected by more recent LAC planning efforts.

From my perspective, the County decision-makers seem to give inadequate weight to the fact that N.M. 502 is a vital and unique artery that is needed and used by the whole community.

Furthermore, there seems to be a small group that is obsessed with roundabouts. More than a year ago, several concerned citizens and myself, together with more than 300 petitioners, pointed out that traffic on Trinity Drive and East Road was sufficiently high that it required two through-traffic lanes in each direction in order to provide adequate service.

Numerous speakers at Council meetings also agreed that the use of roundabouts on N.M. 502 was undesirable for several reasons.

Last February, we pointed out several problems, particularly lane merges and constrictions, with the conceptual design then being proposed by LAC and subsequently approved by the Council.

I am grateful that the state and federal highway agencies have rejected the February, 2012 plan put forth by LAC.

Recommended path forward: Here, based on considerable thought and discussion, is what I think should be done in this section of N.M. 502:

The roadway should be expanded to four through-traffic lanes. If right-of-way needs to be acquired, this should be initiated. Improving the roadway’s alignment in the vicinity of the Marimac (Shopping) Center and DP Road would be highly desirable, if possible.

The “roundabout lobby” believe there should be a roundabout at Trinity and Central (and at many other intersections!) This group persists in spite of demonstrable limitations, as follows:    

  • A single lane roundabout at Central would give the EB right of way to Central, thereby choking traffic on Trinity, which is already stalling during the evening commute. If a bypass is included, through traffic on Trinity would continue to be served by one lane. A single lane roundabout would be operating near capacity, even at today’s traffic volumes, leading to marginal traffic flow  and poor conditions for pedestrians and bicycles, unless signalized, which would create additional traffic drag.
  • A 2-lane roundabout at Central would be unsatisfactory. It would be a mess for traffic, involving multiple complex lane changes and merges. Further, it would be dangerous for pedestrians, especially the older and handicapped, and for bicycles, per DOT/FHWA guidance.

A traffic signal at this location would be far better and would automatically provide safe pedestrian and bicycle access. There should be at least one HAWK-equipped crosswalk located to maximize

convenience and safety for local residents.

Two possible sites include the East Park Pool and the location of LAC trail crossing. If a roundabout is placed at Central, some signalized pedestrian crossing is likely to be needed there.

I believe there is no point in doing any major rebuild of the road unless there is a significant improvement. I hope that LAC can come up with a reasonable plan that would make the roadway safer and more useful for most of its citizens.

I could support a design employing a traffic signal at Central that is close to the 2007 plan, or, preferably, a 4-lane design with a signal at Central Ave. I hope local, state and federal agencies will help this to occur.