Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Less lanes increases traffic flows?

City leaders consider ways to increase pedestrian safety

Express Staff Writer

Although seemingly counterintuitive at first glance, ideas such as introducing traffic features like roundabouts, eliminating certain traffic lanes and narrowing streets have the potential to make traffic flows more safe and efficient in Hailey and Bellevue, while also making them more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly.

Such was the message delivered at a series of workshops held in Hailey on Monday and Tuesday by Dan Burden, a nationally recognized authority on street design and the founder of Walkable Communities Inc.

The workshop sessions—referred to as design charrettes—were held to give leaders in Hailey and Bellevue alternative tools for addressing rising traffic flows and making their communities easier to get around.

Increasingly, city planners throughout the country are coming to realize that the old ways of managing growth and traffic aren't working, Burden said. In many cases, exactly the opposite has happened, as the way street networks have been designed has, in fact, created more traffic congestion, he said.

Wider lanes don't equal safer streets, Burden said. "It increases speed and in urban areas that isn't what you want," he said. "The wider you make lanes the higher the fatality count."

Streets with higher traffic speeds witness an accordion effect where the speed of a vehicle is increased and then decreased between traffic lights, Burden said. Alternatively, features such as roundabouts and narrower streets have a way of inducing drivers to slow down and maintain a more efficient traffic flow, he said.

"You get more capacity out of a road when you decrease speeds. It's a very important phenomenon," Burden said.

Some of the specific recommendations that came out of the workshops were aimed at Main Street in Hailey and Bellevue. They included adding roundabouts at various locations where certain traffic lights now exist and eliminating some traffic lanes. In place of the targeted traffic lanes, Burden suggested Hailey and Bellevue create features such as vegetated median strips, bike lanes and diagonal parking on Main Street retail areas.

Properly designed roundabouts—which have been successfully used by communities in snow country, Burden noted—have been shown to reduce fatalities by 80 to 90 percent.

Similarly, median strips on narrow two-lane roads provide a safe place for pedestrians crossing streets, he said. "The safest road has a median," Burden said.

Designing streets with more of an eye toward what pedestrians want—such as making buildings front streets rather than parking lots and adding greenery and attractive lighting—can also increase retail business and elevate property values, Burden said.

"People will not go to a place they don't feel secure," he said.

Unattractive streets have a higher incidence of accidents, Burden noted. "It's all about aesthetics. It's the beauty that slows people down."

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