KUOW Weekday took on road diets this morning (listen here). Eric Widstrand from SDOT was on to defend the road diet projects, focusing mostly on Nickerson, from the fears of residents and so-called business representatives.
The same old arguments came out, as you would expect. However, the conversation was steered to the facts and evidence, which I appreciated. When people called in saying things like, “There’s going to be more congestion” or “Traffic is going to divert to neighborhood streets,” the follow-up question was always to ask for the evidence. And, of course, there was none. If only more journalists behaved this way.
Josh Cohen from Publicola called in and made an excellent point that I often forget to mention when people suggest speed enforcement (by police) would be a better solution than road changes: Speed enforcement is an ongoing, expensive investment, while road changes are a one-time, often cheap investment. I would rather have police available to respond to 911 calls than sitting on 125th giving out tickets to the 80+ percent of drivers who go 10 or more miles per hour faster than the speed limit.
Several callers said they have experienced long traffic delays on Nickerson since the changes went into effect, often doubling their travel times. However, construction just ended on the intersection at Fremont Ave, Dexter and Westlake, so the real measure just started this week. And, again, the typical driver on Nickerson was speeding before. If your trip takes a few minutes longer than it did before, chances are good that before, you were speeding (along with the majority of vehicles). I would be interested to see how things balance out as time goes on, and Eric said SDOT will begin their study on Nickerson earlier than the one-year standard.
This brings us to what the program called a “philosophical difference” that is best summed up by an exchange between Eric and Peter Phillips of the Fishermen’s Terminal Advisory Committee. Peter said the goal of a road project should be to maintain maximum vehicle capacity, and Eric said, “We aren’t moving vehicles, we’re trying to move people.”
Perhaps that is where our debate needs to revolve. If five fewer cars get through a stoplight, but five more people safely cross the street on foot, shouldn’t that be considered an equal use of the street? The more people can safely cross this street, the more viable an option transit becomes. The more people ditching their cars, the less traffic. This reminds me of a great sticker I saw at Bikestravaganza. It went something like, Hate Driving in Traffic? You ARE Traffic!
I believe these projects are key components to achieving a Seattle that most of our city’s residents want. I also believe that SDOT’s plans, while not actually as extreme as I would prefer, are compromises that have been proven to maintain vehicle capacity while making roads safer for ALL users (yes, that includes cars).
But it’s harder to get really excited about a road rechannelization. Center turn lanes just are not as sexy as a bike path or pedestrian overpass. But they are just as important (and way cheaper!), and we need to figure out how to rally and be excited instead of playing defense against baseless fears and half-to-no-truths spewed by so-called business representatives.
We should have parties when these projects are announced, because they really are cause for celebration. They connect neighborhoods split by busy roads and make commercial corridors more desirable destinations. Why isn’t that cause to celebrate?