James Wernicke for Los Alamos County Council

Understanding The Trinity Road Diet And Some Better Ideas For Complete Streets

The Trinity Road Diet creates a merge failure at the intersection of Trinity & Diamond during evening rush hour.

Some of us have experienced the recent failure of the Trinity Road Diet to support traffic flow during the Canyon Road closure. Some have expressed a desire to restripe it to the way it was. Some objected to doing it in the first place. So why did we decide to do it?

In 2019, Santa Fe Engineering Consultants, LLC published a traffic impact analysis of the intersection of Trinity and 35th Street to support the development of The Hill Apartments. They determined that the 35th Street turnout would be a safety hazard and NMDOT would not approve a driveway permit. Without a permit, the apartment project would be non-feasible.

A possible configuration for a signalized intersection at Trinity & 35th

They determined that the intersection did not meet signal warrants for traffic volume. A likely warrant would be if traffic from 35th experiences “undue delay” when entering or crossing Trinity

This slope would need to be leveled to support a roundabout.

They considered a roundabout, but determined it would be too costly to level the grade on the south side of Trinity. They considered adding turn lanes, but determined there isn’t enough room. They considered not allowing left turns into Trinity, but determined there isn’t a viable U-turn location. They considered a two-stage left turn intersection, where drivers first turn left out into the median then wait to turn into traffic. Finally, the road diet was recommended by the Transportation Board in the May 2, 2019 meeting. The proposal was initially rejected by County Council on May 26, 2020 but then reconsidered and passed on June 9, 2020.

If the decision was about improving traffic flow, the recent traffic jams would suggest that the new configuration does not serve that purpose. If it was about accommodating increased traffic from the apartments, why did we do it years before they broke ground? When it was suggested in the August 23 Council Session to either restripe Trinity to the way it was or put barrels up to make the middle turn lane into a traffic lane until Canyon Road is finished, Public Works Director Juan Rael stated that it was a non-starter with NMDOT because of left-turn safety concerns. It would also require hiring somebody to design a Traffic Control Plan to get a permit from NMDOT. This contradicts what we were led to believe: that we could easily change the lanes back if the road diet didn’t work out. Instead of adopting one of these quick and low-cost solutions, Mr. Rael suggested renegotiating the contract with TLC Plumbing and Utility to only work one side of Canyon Road at a time so the other lane can be used for traffic.

This left me wondering why are we so stubborn about the road diet? Then, I came across the June 25, 2019 Council Session presenting a state grant for improving Trinity. It appears NMDOT wanted to take advantage of a USDOT grant program for the Complete Streets initiative. This program is supposed to help improve streets for all modes of transportation. So how’d we do?

Traffic on Diamond Drive at Canyon and Trinity intersections.
Crossing Trinity on an e-bike.

The Trinity Road Diet seems like it was an easy way to appease politicians more than to actually address a need of the community, and may have actually made things worse for the community. It may have slowed down drivers, but now those drivers are driving closer to each other and are more distracted by traffic. Canyon Road was fine for bicyclists, but now we’re a situation where we have to ride next to a bunch of pissed-off drivers. Guess we’ll just have to wait until somebody does an analysis of accident data to see if the road diet actually improved safety.

An improvement would be to build more paths like the sidewalk on the south side of Canyon next to the Ponderosa Pine Apartments where we are protected from vehicular traffic. Or make some of the connector trails more accessible. An even better use of funds like these would be to improve the shoulder on the truck route or build a protected bike path between Los Alamos and White Rock. Projects like that are incredibly difficult because of the challenge of coordinating multiple jurisdictions, but massive federal funding and visibility might be the kind of incentive to get them to cooperate. If you agree, tell County Council or Public Works.

The Hill Apartments will have 149 units with 273 parking spaces. The property for this development was received by LAC through DOE land transfer, and purchased from LAC by LAH Investors, LLC for $2.2M.

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