Asheville's Charlotte St. is going on a "road diet"

Could fewer lanes on Charlotte Street make it a faster and better drive?

The City of Asheville is moving forward with a redesign of the corridor at a cost of about $1.25 million. The project does NOT include any utilities infrastructure improvements, which seems like a missed opportunity. (Although, it seems the City prefers to stick utility poles in the middle of its 3-foot wide sidewalks for some reason.)

Planners call this kind of project a "road diet" - and it's often pushed by bicycle advocates as a way to get bike lanes installed. As such, it usually elicits opposition simply for that reason. It's also part of the "Complete Streets" philosophy

Once completed, Charlotte Street will no longer have two lanes in each direction - separated by only a double-yellow line. Instead of four lanes, it will have three: One in each direction with a dedicated turn lane in the middle. There will also be bike lanes on both sides.

Like this:

Opposition to these kinds of "road diet" plans also arises because it's counter-intuitive to believe removing a lane would improve road conditions. But they do - in cities both large and small. Here's a study from the Federal Highway Administration.

Among the benefits cities have realized by implementing forms of the "road diet" are slower vehicle speeds, fewer crashes, improved pedestrian safety, reduced traffic volume, reduced volume on parallel streets, more bicycle use, more parking, improved "livability" & "walkability," preserved the existing buildings along the corridor,and reduced aggressive driving behaviors. Some projects saw no change in travel times through the corridors, although other reported increased travel times (by 20-60 seconds through the affected corridor).

I am most familiar with a project done about 15 years ago in Charlotte on East Blvd. People were opposed to it. But after implementation, it became widely accepted.

Travel times in the corridor remained constant for Phase 1 and Phase 2, while the 85% speed declined from 43 to 40 miles per hour. The posted speed limit is 35 miles per hour, and prior to the changes some vehicles were traveling at excessive speeds (50-70 miles per hour). 
Average daily traffic declined from about 20,500 to 17,500 vehicles in the Phase I area, and increased from about 18,600 to 19,700 in the Phase II area. 
Outdoor dining significantly increased along the corridor after project implementation. 
After Phases I and II were implemented, 77% of people in a public survey voiced their preference for implementing a 4 lane to 3 lane road diet in Phase III. Survey respondents touted the increased safety of the road for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

I suspect the same might happen here, if it's well executed and traffic signals get coordinated to improve traffic flow.

Pete's Prep: Monday, Sept. 16, 2019

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