Despite protest, road diet’ vote stands
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | June 19,2014
Advocates of the reconfigured Woodstock Avenue are planning a protest for Friday, but a city official says it won’t do any good.
The city’s Board of Highway Commissioners voted June 13 to end an experiment with an alternate lane configuration on the road, reverting it from one travel lane in each direction, a center turning lane and two bicycle lanes to two lanes of traffic in each direction.
The alternate configuration, referred to as a “road diet” was expected to slow traffic and increase safety on Woodstock Avenue, but a majority of the Board of Highway Commissioners said it created a new set of difficulties and hazards on the road.
Ted Shattuck, who said the decision made him embarrassed for the community, said he and a dozen or so others plan to meet at noon in the parking lot adjacent to Price Chopper.
“It could be a celebration if (Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg) relents,” Shattuck said.
Shattuck has been lobbying Wennberg — one of three members of the board along with Mayor Christopher Louras and Board of Alderman President David Allaire — to change his vote. Wennberg, who voted along with Allaire to change back the road, said altering his vote would not do Shattuck’s cause any good.
“I could change my mind right here on the phone, and it isn’t going to change anything,” he said. “It’s too late.”
Wennberg said the trial period was built into a complex paving schedule that would be massively upended by such a reversal, with even traffic control plans dependent on the lane configuration.
The lane configuration, Wennberg said, determines where the seams in the pavement are placed. The seams are the weakest point as they do not bond well, Wennberg said, so they are placed where the line markings will go because that is where the road sustains the least tire wear.
“That dramatically extends the life of the paving,” he said.
There was a widely held belief that the city could simply repaint the lanes at any time. Wennberg said he learned this was wrong when he called the contractors about extending the time of the test and was told not having the seams and lane markings line up would cause the road to significantly degrade in a few years time.
“The opportunity to extend the trial period simply didn’t exist,” he said.
Shattuck said he did not accept that claim.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “Yes, it’s hard to stop a speeding train, but no pavement has been laid yet.”
Shattuck said studies from across the country show road diets reduce accidents and called the board’s decision irresponsible, calling the opponents of the road diet “data deniers.”
“I think this is wrong,” he said. “People are going to be hurt. People are going to be maimed. Blood’s going to be spilled.”
Wennberg said it was the specter of spilled blood and maimings that drove his decision, with a number of reports of people using the bicycle lanes incorrectly causing him to fear cyclists and pedestrians being hit by cars. He characterized previous accidents on the road as “fender-benders” with light or no injuries, and he said he did not want to reduce those at the cost of more fatalities.
However, Wennberg said the test was a proof of concept for the road diet in the city.
“I think some untried things here deserve some consideration,” he said. “We’re going to do other projects. ... I told Ted he should look for other corridors, other opportunities, and I’ll work with him.”