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For the week of May 10 through May 16, 2000

Cure for obese highways

Effective people-moving highways can be designed so as not to destroy the livability of areas around them, according to highway engineer and traffic consultant Walter Kulash.

In the midst of the debate over the future of state Highway 75 through the valley, Kulash’s message is critical. Kulash spoke in three public presentations recently.

He is no wild-eyed just-hatched New Ager out to save the world. Kulash is a veteran traffic engineer who knows his stuff.

He was part of the move-as-much-traffic-as-
possible era of highway building. Along with engineers at all levels of government, Kulash changed. Tighter highway budgets and better research changed the mission of transportation experts.

They learned that bigger streets and highways are less efficient than smaller ones. Highways with slower speeds actually move more cars more safely because lower speeds result in less serious accidents. Lower speeds require less space between vehicles and thus allow more vehicles to be on a highway at the same time.

They learned that bigger, faster highways take an unnecessarily huge toll on the landscape and on the livability of adjacent properties. At higher speeds stopping sight distances must be longer and the radius of each curve must be larger.

Contrary to popular local opinion, Kulash predicted a five lane highway will fill up in just 5 years, not 20.

He said studies show that wider, faster highways induce more traffic because they encourage people to live farther away from their jobs. Then, bingo! A new highway is soon as congested as the old one.

Kulash said professionals now realize "road size, not congestion is the choice." The only question is whether we will have two-, three-, five- or seven-lane congestion.

Kulash was optimistic. He said there are many ways good highway designers can strike a balance among competing needs for speed, safety, highway capacity and valley livability.

The light bulb went on when he pointed out a major problem with state Highway 75: It has no useable shoulders. Any car that must veer onto what passes for a shoulder is in danger of rolling or sinking in snow or mud.

Kulash said highway departments all over the country saved money for future construction of bigger highways by failing to improve smaller ones with such things as hardened gently sloped shoulders.

Kulash summed up the problem by quoting futurist Glen Heiemstra who wrote, "Trying to address traffic congestion by widening roads is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt."

Cute, but it may be the key to resolving the debate over Highway 75.


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