Thursday, February 17, 2011

You Can't Undo A Road

Once a new road is built it will be there for a lifetime.

If it ends up being a mistake it becomes a very expensive mistake that the City has to subsidize. Roads, like parking, are an entitlement that once established cannot be rolled back. Best to avoid them in the first place.

Boardman Lake Avenue should be a last resort, not a first option.

If the concern is about traffic through the neighborhood then should the City make it easier for traffic to flow around the neighborhoods? Or should Traverse City add an extra path for traffic to use through the neighborhoods?

We all want to do something about traffic through our neighborhoods. I am not opposed to doing something to make the flow of traffic safer but I am opposed to a solution that will exacerbate the problems the neighborhoods face.

If someone can show me an example of where a new road like Boardman Lake Ave has helped then I would be happy to revise my opinion. But I have to base my opinion on the facts, and they are that roads such as this do not alleviate traffic congestion.

Here are the possible scenarios I see for Boardman Lake Avenue if it is built:

A: Boardman Lake Avenue works as advertised. Although there are no historical examples of this ever happening I'll indulge in a little fantasy. Cass between 14th and 8th is only used by local traffic and people wanting to go downtown take the long way of the new road. But if this is the case then we have a high speed (I know people say it will be 25 mph but 8th St is 25 mph too) high volume road sitting between Old Town and Boardman Lake and the library. People who used to walk to the library will now be intimidated by this road crossing and hence drive to the library.

Riverside Apartments becomes a local crash zone as pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers try to negotiate multiple intersections on Eighth St.

Other residential areas such as W Front St demand action to the traffic that bakes up in front of their houses every day. Slab Town and Traverse Heights neighborhoods demand that the City do something about the cut-through traffic.

And they have a point. If the City is going to build a road for a few people in Old Town then every other neighborhood has a right to demand a similar solution to their traffic problem.

B: Boardman Lake Avenue is built and since most people are heading downtown, most people do not use it. The result is a multi-million dollar road to nowhere.

C: Boardman Lake Avenue is built as the West Boardman neighborhood. New houses and businesses are built. Not too much changes. The neighborhood just gets a little bigger, the City gets a little bigger tax base.

Problem with this scenario is I don't see how there's that much room for a new neighborhood, plus who would choose to live between Cone Drive and Boardman Lake when there is a know contaminated groundwater plume between the two?

D: Boardman Lake is built and Braess's Paradox takes over. Most people initially use the new road, but as the new road becomes busy drivers switch to Cass in an attempt to find a better route. Other drivers try the roads and finding neither overly congested start using Boardman Lake Ave and Cass more often. This leads to more traffic using 14th. More traffic on 8th. It becomes more difficult to drive anywhere in town because of the increased traffic volume that the new road has enabled. It becomes more difficult to walk from Old Town neighborhood to anywhere because high volume/speed roads have caged it in.

People complain that there's too much traffic. The City tries various traffic calming measures as they are the only remaining resource to deal with the situation.

History shows Scenario D is the predictable outcome.

Now consider a scenario where the entire traffic system is considered. Where road planning is done from a high level and for the good of the Community, not just one neighborhood.

The world is lazy. Capitalize on the laziness of people. Equilibrate and optimize traffic so that staying out of the neighborhoods becomes the lazy way to drive around and everyone can find happiness with the situation.

Think of the system.

I think about Pac Man - gobbling up dots around the outside edge of the screen - that is how I think about traffic going around the outside of the neighborhoods rather than through them.

Right now it is easier to drive through the neighborhoods. Why would we add another road to neighborhoods then? To make it even easier?

I think it is easier to edit than create so I am going to present my City wide traffic system plan as a starting point for others to edit and destroy:

-S. Airport Rd has to be a better east-west route with fewer stops and starts. There are so many stop lights there that it has become a hurry up and wait track.

The traffic light by Logan's Landing has been a disaster in my opinion. Auntie Pasta's has closed. The YMCA is going to move their main building. Rather than a traffic light here put in "Michigan left's" down by Goodwill and by Verizon. Recent research shows eliminating normal left hand turns can make a great improvement in traffic flow.

Smithsonian: Life Without Left Turns

NCSU: Operational Effects of Signalized Superstreets in North Carolina.

-Are traffic lights needed at both Barlow and Park Dr? Remove access to Park Dr from S Airport Rd.

-Re-align Barlow - Woodmere - Railroad Ave with a roundabout at E 8th for an additional way into downtown.

-Division St needs to be a boulevard in the same kind of transformation that Woodmere Ave saw. Go from four lanes to two with "Michigan lefts" at key points.

-Redesign Grandview Parkway to force slower speeds with fewer stops. Right now it cuts off the city from the bay front in much the same way that I fear Boardman Lake Avenue will cut off the lake and library from the west side neighborhoods.

-Put in roundabouts at the peripheries of the neighborhoods. Use astrophysics. Let the mass of the roundabouts guide the traffic in a nice even flow. Division and 14th, Front St and Garfield Ave, Front St and Railroad Ave, Front St and Union, Front St and Division, as just a few examples.

Just as it was easier for Pac Man to go on the outside I imagine that if traffic had an unimpeded, though slow, flow at the edges of town then this would become the preferred route rather than through the neighborhoods.

And if traffic in the neighborhoods does not improve with a system approach then perhaps a Boardman Lake Avenue would be needed. But let's not have our first step be building a mistake we can't undo.

Likewise, if we drive from our neighborhood to the post office, The State, Horizon Books, or downtown restaurants and demand that the City build us a road to make our drives downtown easier then we're not helping matters. We need to undo those habits.

So I think I will add a Part 3 to this series - "road flares".