Q: I have concerns about the safety of exiting from the south entrance of Walmart onto Millcreek Road in Lower Macungie Township. In the last few years, traffic has increased on that road due to the development in that area. I had notified the township about the situation, and some trees may have been removed for better visibility, but the problem persists. I had suggested a three-way stop before the tire store was constructed across Millcreek.
— Cindy Hartzell, Macungie
A: I share your concern for safety at this busy egress point, cousin Cindy! (Just kidding, folks. Cindy and I are not related, as far as we know.)
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For motorists intending to leave the Walmart lot by turning left onto southbound Millcreek from this exit, a row of pine trees begins less than 100 feet away, and it does block the view of oncoming traffic. Most drivers that turned left during my visit stopped well ahead of the stop line, trying to gain a clear view of oncoming traffic from the left.
That practice can restrict left turns from southbound Millcreek into the Walmart lot — a movement that might seem infrequent, because most cars coming from busy Hamilton Boulevard normally use the closer, northern entry point. But more people could be opting for the southern access, seeking ways to avoid the relentlessly heavy traffic at the main egress point. Either way, left turns from the southern exit can be challenging.
Township traffic engineer Bill Erdman said he'd heard reports of this problem, and he certainly agreed that traffic volume in the vicinity (and most everywhere else in the Lehigh Valley) has been growing at a fast pace.
And so has the speed at which we all (or many of us) drive, which could represent a cog in this gear as well. As Erdman pointed out, minimum sight-distances increase along with the posted speed of the road in question. For example, an adequate distance at an intersection with the cross street posted at 35 mph (the limit on Millcreek) will prove too short with traffic flowing at 45 or more.
Excessive speed didn't seem to be a problem during my visit, but it's easy to imagine that many people clip along at a good rate on Millcreek, given our motoring culture. Without having checked out the problem personally, speeding also was the first-gear reaction of township Public Works Director Dennis Hinkel as to what might be going on. The design meets PennDOT sight-distance requirements, he said. "I think people are probably coming around the curve too fast" approaching the exit point, he said.
I could see no indication of trees having been removed from that area. There's one deciduous tree nearer the intersection than the pines, though that does not obstruct the view. I hate to see trees come down, but losing the closest pine, and maybe a few of them, might be the only way to clear the sight-line.
The pine trees line part of an elaborate stormwater-control system for the vast Walmart and adjacent parking lots. Township Planning Director Sara Pandl said plantings around detention areas help serve as visual buffers and to keep people away, but that reasonable adjustments can be made, particularly if safety is an issue.
Your question turned the key on an issue of my own regarding the traffic design at this popular retail store: The reason for the enter-only access point at the northwest corner of the parking lot, just off the main intersection providing access to the lot from Millcreek.
At only about 14 feet in width, it's intended to allow cars to enter the lot, but not to exit, though I think the signage could be better. As the photo shows, the angle at which the "do not enter" sign is positioned favors traffic going west within the lot, coming away from the Walmart store. The sign is visible, but skewed to the right, for northbound cars in the marked lane on the west edge of the lot. A second "do not enter" sign could be added for clarity, and the right-turn arrow should be added to the road surface; in fact, it seems the arrow should have been there all along, and was overlooked.
Not that the signage and marking weaknesses matter all that much, because many people who surely see the "do not enter" sign ignore it. I'd say half as many cars exited as entered during my 20-minute observation one weekday morning.
I had two questions: Why did the engineers design the exit point in the first place, and once there, why was exiting traffic prohibited?
Pandl said township Planning Commission members favor this kind of secondary entrance point in part because it diverts some traffic away from the front of the store, where many pedestrians walking between the store and the lot conflict with vehicular traffic using the lane in front of the store. And that's precisely its intent, Erdman confirmed, along with helping distribute incoming traffic a little more evenly in general, he said.
As for the ban on traffic exiting the lot, Pandl and Erdman said exiting vehicles could obstruct the steady flow of traffic turning left from Millcreek into the access lane — traffic that flows freely without a stop control of any kind. They're absolutely right. Multiple vehicles often execute that left turn in a steady stream, and a car emerging from the right would be an unpleasant surprise. If the first motorist stops in time, the potential for a fender-bender from behind is high.
Nevertheless, quite a few drivers ignore the sign and the road marking, exiting at this point anyway. A second 'do not enter' sign, as well as the bear-right arrow that seems to have been forgotten, might help.
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