As Bismarck grows city officials continue to look at ways to improve traffic flow and reduce accidents.
That’s two big challenges since a growing city means more motorists, more congestion and more fender benders. The commute in Bismarck, compared to major cities, remains short. As an example, an employee leaves the Bismarck Tribune, 707 E. Front Ave., around 5 p.m. to reach his home off 71st Avenue in northeast Bismarck. It takes about 20 minutes. Most commuters in metropolitan areas would love a 20-minute trip home.
North Dakotans, however, have been spoiled by the state’s open spaces and that seems like a long time to many of them. Rush hour’s not the only reason for accidents.
In a story last Sunday reporter Jack Dura looked at some of the Bismarck intersections that have the most accidents. One of the contributing factors is the city’s lack of a north-south highway with separated crossings, such as Interstate 29 in Fargo. That results in intersections with a number of lights and turning lanes. The North Dakota Department of Transportation keeps a list of the top 50 urban high-crash locations. Bismarck had 17 locations on the 2014-16 list, with State Street's intersection with Interstate Avenue at No. 1.
Bismarck Police handle an average of 10 crashes a day, or about 3,800 per year. Two-thirds of the accidents are on the street and a third are in parking lots. Efforts are underway to make the streets safer and reduce accidents. Next year confirmation lights and countdown timers are to be installed at State Street's intersections with Interstate Avenue and Century Avenue as well as at Main Avenue and Ninth Street.
The Bismarck City Commission hopes to speed up a project to convert several two-lane roads to three lanes. The project was scheduled for completion in 2021, but the city hopes to complete four of the eight areas by 2019. Bismarck received a $1.7 million grant from DOT for the project. The four corridors getting priority are Divide Avenue from 26th Street to Schafer Street, Washington Street from Divide Avenue to Calgary Avenue, Fourth Street from Boulevard Avenue to Century Avenue and 19th Street from Divide Avenue to Hay Creek Court.
One of the goals of the project is to reduce accidents.
There’s a limit, of course, to how much traffic engineers can do. If people drive too fast, are distracted by cellphones or passengers, or are just bad drivers, then street modifications won’t help. And motorists react differently to weather conditions and situations.
"If I see that yellow light, I might slow down, you might speed up or vice versa," Bismarck city engineer Gabe Schell told Dura. So drivers need to practice defensive driving and, unfortunately, expect the worst from other motorists.
It’s going to take a combination of traffic improvements by the city and better driving to reduce accidents. We also have to accept the fact that as the city gets bigger it’s going to take longer to reach our destinations.