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REPORT: A Free Press examination of Scottsdale traffic, accidents & new tools of roadway safety

The Arizona Digital Free Press sat down with three Scottsdale traffic engineers late last week to better understand if streets are safer today compared to previous years and, if so, what do experts think is making a difference (Photo: Arianna Grainey/
Scottsdale traffic: Numbers reveal points of interest, and safety for local motorists
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Anyone can keep up to date with the nuances of Scottsdale traffic and the interpreted safety of local thoroughfares through examination of the biannual traffic volume & collision report produced by the Traffic Engineering Transportation Department.

Found part of the report is a litany of local traffic data serving to illustrate where, among other things, the majority of local collisions are occurring, where the majority of congestion is happening — in particular at what times of the day — and the type of collisions occurring.

The Arizona Digital Free Press sat down with three Scottsdale traffic engineers late last week to better understand if streets are safer today compared to previous years and, if so, what do experts think is making a difference.

In the year 2000, numbers show, Scottsdale reported a total of 4,514 collisions at time when the population was at 215,000; meanwhile, in the year 2020 there were 3,378 collisions as the population has swelled to 265,249.

Scottsdale, in the year 2000, was experiencing a collision rate per 1,000 residents of 20.99; however, in 2020 — the latest comprehensive date available — shows a collision rate of 12.74.

“I do think that is safer and it goes back to the technology of the vehicles and as a motorist as I drive, my car senses other cars and it warns me of potential danger,” said Phil Kercher, Scottsdale traffic engineer manager. “The cars are getting safer and our technology is getting better.”

Furthermore, Mr. Kercher points out Scottsdale — part of the Maricopa Association of Governments — has only once in the past 20 years appeared in the annual list of the Top 100 intersections, an infamous list of Valley intersections with the highest number of collision rates.

“We have only had one intersection, Hayden and Thomas, on that list in recent years,” he said. “I am very proud of that.”

Numbers show between the hours of 6 and 7 p.m. is when the most collisions occur in Scottsdale. Also, the 60 minutes between 6 and 7 p.m. account for about 13% of all collisions that occurred in 2019 and 2010 in Scottsdale, numbers show.

Mr. Kercher explains the significant undertaking at the traffic department to better understand how traffic flows on municipal streets.

“We produce this report every two years and have done so for a long time with the purpose to collect all the traffic data, which first starts with collision data from the police department,” he explained. “We do what we call ‘roadway safety assessments’ where we dig deeper into the collision information. We do that, where we are looking at what happened at the crash through police documentation, so we can provide recommendations to make our streets safer.”

Developing a sense of what works best in certain areas, during certain times of the day is how traffic studies are conducted and recommendations are forged, according to Mr. Kercher.

“We can look at the collision data and identify trends and that is how we go about developing recommendations,” he said. “We have an issue created by an unsignalized intersection … rear-end collisions, if they are left-hand collisions and the number or type of signal horn could be a factor. We look at data and work within what is permitted.”

Scottsdale traffic data points of note

Part of any government report one often finds rankings and explanation for the reasoning behind why those rankings are what they are. The 2022 traffic volume & collision is no exception.

In the report it shows the intersection of Loop 101 and Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, which is the latest comprehensive data, saw 93 total collisions from 2019 through 2020.

The second most frequent area where collisions occur in Scottsdale, numbers show, is Loop 101 and Scottsdale Road with 69 collisions occurring over the same time period.

“The way we look at intersections is through the lens of both collision rate and the number of collisions,” said Kiran Guntupalli, Scottsdale principal traffic engineer. “If we see a higher trend of collisions we work with our operations team and report to them what we are seeing — that is why it is so complex.”

Mr. Guntupalli explains the Scottsdale Traffic Department is state-of-the-art and is constantly — in real time — working to make the streets as safe is possible, which is an important distinction, he explains.

“While we can’t make perfect improvements,” he said, “it is more about what is best for moving the most vehicles in the safest way possible and the main factor when we talk about collisions is people. Making the streets safer is our end goal.”

The collision report shows high collision rates during calendar years 2019 and 202 along Hayden at Thomas (60) and McDowell roads (56) rounding out the Top 4 intersections with the highest rate of collisions.

Mr. Kercher has been with the Transportation Department since 2001, and he offers Scottsdale streets are significantly safer today than ever before.

“Pedestrian and bicyclist safety has been a strong focus over the past 15 years,” he said. “Scottsdale has added many bike lanes, and are now adding buffered bike lanes. I am really happy about the work we have done for bike safety.”

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