A few years back (2007 to be exact), I lived in Seattle. One of the greatest road designs the city of Seattle has implemented has been their "road diets."
What are road diets?
A typical road diet technique is to reduce the number of lanes on a roadway
cross-section. One of the most common applications of a road diet is to improve
safety or provide space for other users in the context of two-way streets with 2
lanes in each direction. The road diet reduces this to 1 travel lane in each
direction. The freed-up space is then used to provide any or several of the
Cycle lanes, on one or both
sides of the road
Wider lane widths on remaining traffic lanes (if
previously unsafely narrow to allow four lanes)
turn lane / flush traffic median for turning traffic
A reversible centre lane
If you look at the diagram above, you will notice that a road diet in its simplest form is basically nothing more than a reduction in travel lanes. Once the lanes are reduced, you can basically put anything you want on the side or in the center of the road.
Here's another great article and video on road diets...
Basic road diets simply add a turn lane in the middle or place small bike lanes on the side. Even Evansville has managed to put these two types of road diets in place. What are the benefits to these types of road diets?
1. Improved safety: Road diets force drivers to go slower through an area.
2. Increased parking: Road diets create additional street parking from previous lanes. Look at our downtown Main Street.
3. Increased business: Road diets force drivers to drive slower speeds which in turn allows them to see signs for businesses better.
4. Increased Environmental benefits: Road diets increase bicycle riders while decreasing motorists.
Road diets have become very popular around the U.S in the past decade. In an era where Seattle and Boston are demolishing their downtown freeways and building them underground while Portland is eliminating their downtown freeway completely, many other cities are beginning to wonder if maybe they just might be better off without a few traffic lanes themselves.
These cities include...
And Even Detroit
While basic road diets are good, it is my opinion that they do not go far enough. If you drive down some of our streets that have bike lanes painted on them, you will notice that they do not leave very much room for bicycles to squeeze between motorists and parked cars. Also, you will notice that most of these roads still lack high quality medians in the middle.
If we are ever going to be truly successful at placing road diets on our streets, they need to contain the majority of the following characteristics...
1. A light rail or street car system in the middle
2. A bike lane that is separate from the traffic lane and not simply next to the traffic lane
3. A nicely designed plaza in the middle of the medians where local residents can relax and take in the area
4. Development around the roads that is close to the sidewalk instead of set back behind a sea of parking lots
As you read this post, you probably have a few roads in mind. What are the roads I have in mind?....
1. Franklin Street: We need to bring light rail back to Franklin Street. We also need to do a better job with the area in the middle of the median. Lastly, we need to make sure we promote the small businesses that have been on Franklin Street for quite awhile.
2. Main Street: Main Street needs to be closed back off. This will allow space for arena patrons to walk after games and concerts. It will also be an incentive for them to walk down Main Street once they leave the new arena. We also need to bring light rail back to Main Street so that it can connect Main Street with the rest of the city once more.
3. Riverside between Casino Aztar and the Pagoda: Many people think that Riverside should be a place where motorists can fly at excessive speeds to get into or out of town. I disagree. I also disagree with the removal of parts of the median in favor of turn lanes. As it stands, the huge flood wall in front and the developed lands behind Riverside have put us in quite a mess to truly make our riverfront a nice place for those who want to walk around the river. If we place road diets on Riverside, this will create more land to develop along the river, while keeping the automobile a little bit further from activities. We also need to do a better job with the medians in the middle.
Make no mistake, Evansville has done some good things with their roads. The idea to convert Wabash Avenue to Wabash Avenue of Flags was a great idea. It was also a great idea to block traffic completely on Main Street back in the day.
If we are ever going to make our city one that is friendly to walkers, joggers, bikers, and light rail riders, we must keep our traffic lanes in check. Until we do that, it is going to be nearly impossible for development to build around any road here in town.
We have a great opportunity to bring downtown Evansville back to life with our new arena. Now let's make sure residents can bike, walk, relax, or ride the light rail in downtown Evansville!