Walkability and Prosperity

Back in 2010, Prospect Park West was a one-way, three-lane street in Brooklyn, New York that bordered a large park. It had a 30 MPH speed limit that three out of every four cars broke, with some community members saying speeds neared 60 MPH. There were no bike lanes and nearly half of the bikers ended up riding on the sidewalks out of concern for their own safety. To address community members’ concerns, the Community Board implemented a “road diet.” The Department of Transportation removed one of the three travel lanes and added a two-way protected bicycle path along the park. This project was intended to curb speeding, to provide a safe, two-way bike path along the park, and to reduce sidewalk bicycling.

Capture.PNG

Research conducted for months following the completion of the project showed that it accomplished exactly what everyone had hoped. The Department of Transportation found that crashes resulting in injuries went down by 63%, speeding on the corridor is down from 74% to just 20%, dangerous sidewalk bike riding is down from 46% of bicyclers on the sidewalk to just 3%. In addition, there has been no change in traffic volumes or corridor travel times, and bicycling on Prospect Park West has increased dramatically.

Wide, multi-laned streets make people want to speed while small roads encourage people to drive slower by forcing drivers to recognize that higher speeds are not safe. This is not to say that roads should become so narrow that they are unsafe to drive on. Roads have been engineered to be overly spacious for years and can afford to be smaller. Reducing the width of roads, is called “road dieting” and is recognized by the Federal Highway Administration as a valid measure to counteract speeding problems. Slower traffic in neighborhoods and downtowns means safer spaces for all modes of transportation. Specifically, by decreasing the number of lanes people have to cross, streets become safer for pedestrian traffic.

While an increased presence of law enforcement can help manage areas that have a high amount of speeding, in some cases it isn’t always feasible to place police officers everywhere they are needed. This can especially be a problem in rural areas due to limited funding and large areas to cover. Adjusting the road designs works very effectively in tandem with an increased police presence in a select few places.

 Example of a road that has undergone a road diet and become a more complete street.  Source:   Charmeck.org

Example of a road that has undergone a road diet and become a more complete street. Source: Charmeck.org

We are in no way advocating for unnecessarily complex designs. However, sometimes significant changes need to be made to streets in order to accomplish the goals of the community. If the citizens and local government officials come together to make the problems and goals clear for each street, and the planners and engineers collect the data and determine how those goals can be accomplished, the result should efficiently reduce (if not solve) whatever problems existed. It’s when that communication starts to crumble that you get disappointing results like this overbuilt example from Ohio that not only did a poor job serving the needs of the community, but also ended up costing the city a lot of money. This is just another reason that public participation in local government is so vital.

 An example of a complete street where the needs of all users are taken into account.  Source:    Eric Sehr

An example of a complete street where the needs of all users are taken into account. Source: Eric Sehr

Citizens should want these approaches in public policies. Bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly streets have numerous benefits for residents and local businesses beyond safety and speed reduction. Looking at the website Walk Score, we can see that Eureka has good walkability in some neighborhoods, but the areas are not well connected. This can create isolated pockets of town with little to no foot traffic. Many people like the idea of commuting to work on foot or by bicycle and providing the infrastructure to allow them to feel comfortable doing so will make Eureka a more appealing place to live. Not only that, significant walkability encourages people to get to know their neighborhoods and neighbors and can draw out the small town feeling that makes Eureka so great. From a financial perspective, access to these amenities increases the perceived quality of life in neighborhoods and can increase property values (you can check out the study behind the linked article here).

 

AARP supports traffic calming, road diets, and walkability as well. This is no surprise considering that these methods especially improve the quality of life for retired homeowners and elderly populations as well as children and the city as a whole. Here are some facts from AARP to consider.

  • “The changes help reduce pollution, noise and even crime, as it has in communities including Dayton, Ohio, where speed reductions and the closing of streets and alleys to motor vehicles lowered violent crime by 50 percent.”

  • “Traffic-calmed streets, when designed with certain measures that slow traffic without causing much diversion, can have little to no effect on overall traffic volume”

  • “On roads with less than 20,000 vehicles per day, traffic calming techniques such as “road diets” have minimal or even positive effects on vehicle capacity.”

    • “Left-turning vehicles are moved into a center lane. When necessary, bike lanes and center turn lanes can be used for police enforcement and stranded vehicles in order to avoid disrupting the normal traffic flow.”

  • “Road diets actually reduce rear-end collisions and sideswipe crashes by slowing vehicle speeds by 3 to 5 mph. Road diets decrease by 70 percent the frequency of people driving more than 5 mph over the speed limit.”

  • “Data collected on road diets in two very different settings (several small towns in Iowa and a group of larger cities and suburbs in California and Washington state) confirmed that road diets improve safety. The research showed a 47 percent reduction in crashes in the Iowa towns and a 19 percent drop in crashes in the more heavily traveled corridors of California and Washington.”

As you can see, the benefits of road diets outweigh the financial costs if done correctly. There are also numerous funding  opportunities available to assist communities undertaking these projects. They are available precisely because road dieting and designing roads for all modes of transportation have proven, positive results. We encourage the city of Eureka and its residents to work toward being a community where everyone can enjoy walking and biking in their neighborhoods.