Woodstock Avenue changes are good idea
Woodstock Avenue, as it has existed for decades, has been a dangerous, incomplete street designed to maximize speed and traffic volumes over safety and livability. It is no surprise that not one, but two sections of Woodstock Avenue, made the state’s list of “high crash zones.” Fortunately, there is now an opportunity to reconfigure Woodstock Avenue into a “complete street” that significantly improves safety and accessibility for all roadway users without compromising smooth traffic flow.
Complete streets policies have become best practice in transportation planning across the U.S. and are supported by dozens of professional and advocacy groups, including the Federal Highway Administration, AARP, Institute of Transportation Engineers, American Planning Association and many, many more.
The proposed reconfiguration of Woodstock Avenue from two travel lanes in each direction to one travel lane in each direction, a center turn lane, and curbside bike lanes is known in transportation planning/engineering as a “road diet.” Road diets exemplify many of the most important elements of complete streets and are being implemented in scores of cities around the country. Predictably, proposed road diets have frequently been met with vehement opposition from communities first introduced to them since the road diet concept is very counterintuitive. After all, how could reducing the number of travel lanes improve the traffic flow and safety?
Here is a list of reasons why a road diet is good for Woodstock Avenue:
1) Minimal impact on traffic flow. For most of Woodstock Avenue in Rutland City, the average daily traffic is 12,000 vehicles/day. This may sound like a lot of vehicles, but in reality two travel lanes and a center turn lane should easily be able to accommodate these volumes. A Federal Highway Administration case study on road diets suggests that roadways with 20,000 vehicles or less are good candidates for four-lane-to-three-lane road diets, and 15,000 vehicles or less “had very good results in the areas of safety, operations, and livability.” In Hoboken, N.J., where I am a transportation planner, we are constructing a road diet later this year on a street with the identical configuration of Woodstock Avenue, but has 22,000 vehicles per day.
2) Center turn lane improves safety and traffic flow. How many times have you been stuck driving behind someone in the left lane who stops unexpectedly and waits several seconds for a gap in oncoming traffic to make a left turn? You are faced with either waiting for the car to turn or making an aggressive move into the right travel lane to maneuver around the turning vehicle. Having a dedicated center turning lane eliminates this condition, since turning vehicles can now queue up outside a through-travel lane.
3) Reduced speeding. With one lane of traffic in each direction, the “prudent driver” sets the speed for everyone behind them, not the speeder.
4) Improved pedestrian safety. By narrowing the number of lanes from four to three, you are effectively reducing the vehicular travelway by 12 feet, which means crossing pedestrians can get across the street faster and are “exposed” for less time. Also, traffic engineers adjust signal phases based in part on how long it takes for a pedestrian to safely cross the street (typically calculated at about 3.5 feet per second). Since the pedestrian can get across the street faster now with just three lanes, that is extra green time that can be given to drivers. Also, keep in mind that there are a high number of vulnerable roadway users on Woodstock Avenue, including seniors at the Godnick Center and students at Rutland High School (most of whom do not drive to school).
5) Improved safety and accessibility for cyclists. According to ACS data, bicycle commuting has increased 62 percent nationwide since 2000. Going from four lanes to three allows room for bike lanes on the shoulders, which is much safer than the existing condition. Currently if a cyclist is riding a bike on Woodstock Avenue, he or she must either share the road with 3,000-pound vehicles traveling two to four times faster than their speed or use the sidewalk. Neither option is desirable, because mixing in traffic at those speeds can be very dangerous for the cyclist, and mixing with pedestrians on 5-foot sidewalks can be very dangerous for pedestrians. Dedicated bike lanes have been proven to significantly increase safety for cyclists and drivers.
6) Encouraging bike riding is good for Rutland’s image. Rutland is trying hard to rebrand itself as an active, sustainable community. How can a community take on that persona if all it wants to do is ram as many cars through the heart of its community as fast as possible, ignoring safety, accessibility, and livability improvements for all users? That’s an anti-sustainable, 1990s mentality that is not representative of Rutland’s dynamic community spirit.
Ryan Sharp is principal planner for the Hoboken (N.J.) Department of Transportation and Parking. He is a 2003 graduate of Rutland High School.