When & why road diets might not work sometimes

In my last post I questioned Ann Arbor City Councilman Mike Anglin’s votes on a couple of transportation-related items at City Council’s April 2 meeting.

For the vote on parking minimums in the Downtown Development Authority’s district, Dave Askins helpfully summarized Mr. Anglin’s objections in a comment.  Meanwhile, the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition shared a link to the an AnnArbor.com story on the proposed road diet for Jackson Road.  Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link and scrolled down to see what the site’s commenters were saying.

I’ve found the commenters on AnnArbor.com, as with most other mainstream news sides, are predominately right-leaning in their politics, which in turn carries with it a bias toward single-occupant driving and against alternative forms of transportation.  As I anticipated, there were plenty of commenters who, like Mr. Anglin, opposed the road diet for various reasons.  The strongest argument against was one I hadn’t considered — namely, that this stretch of road is a bus route, so traffic would no longer be able to pass on the left in either direction when the buses stopped, as they do frequently.

Depending on the frequency of the bus, I thought that was a pretty reasonable objection.  While I ride the bus myself, I drive Washtenaw Avenue often enough to understand the significant delays drivers experience when driving behind a bus.   It turns out the Jackson route, the #9, only runs every half hour during peak weekday & Saturday traffic hours, and only hourly on Sundays.  On this schedule, a road diet would probably be disruptive to 9-5 weekday commuters, but minimally so for drivers during the rest of the week.

Conceivably, this could be a feature of the road diet rather than a bug:  that some rush-hour drivers, frustrated by the delays, would be able to switch to alternate routes or schedules, reducing the congestion.   Even more likely, the addition of the bike lanes could make people more likely to consider cycling along this route and leaving their cars at home.   However, if you are the kind of person who spends a lot of time commenting on AnnArbor.com (i.e. an older person who considers himself a “conservative”), you are also likelier to depend entirely on driving to get around, and hence will not be convinced that you’d benefit from these alternatives.

An alternative to bike lanes that popped up on the comment thread was the idea that cyclists should ride on the sidewalk in the absence of a bike lane.   I’ll devote my next post to recounting my own philosophy on that topic.

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3 responses to “When & why road diets might not work sometimes

  1. When I think about making Ann Arbor more bike/pedestrian/non-automobile commuter friendly, I often run into a “chicken/egg” conundrum. There are just a few too many vehicle trips per day (15,500) on that stretch of Jackson to make conversion to three lanes viable. Then again, if conversion to 3 lanes was accompanied by improvements that make other forms of transportation more feasible, the whole thing could really work.

    It’s like parking downtown. If there is a reduction of parking, business worry they might loose out on customers. But making parking more difficult, could encourage other methods of getting to downtown, or even more density in the area.

  2. +1 your idea of the “chicken/egg” conundrum. For me, it’s part of the rationale for closely linking transportation policy and land use/planning/development/zoning. Where you allow people/businesses to build, live and work MUST be considered jointly with how they get there. The decision-making processes can not be segregated or transit investment will fail. Consider Ann Arbor’s mostly unipolar jobs center model, where jobs, dining, nightlife, etc. are concentrated around downtown and AATA can thereby allocate most of their resources on getting people there and back at certain times of day. Compare it to metro Detroit, where the job/retail/service sprawl is such that it would make it extremely challenging to provide effective public transit options to a majority of residents even if funding levels and agency cooperation were ideal.

  3. Christian Proebsting

    About the bus argument:
    It is no problem to have a road diet and allow for bus bays at bus stops. That should remove the concern of cars not being able to pass a stopping bus.

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