Tagroad diet

Department of Road Diets: the carbon tax

Grand Avenue over the Kennedy Expressway. Its four lanes look like this – empty – most of the day. But then there are times of the day where people who bike, take the bus, and drive all need to “share the road”. That failed strategy has led to increased road rage, slow transit, and dead bicyclists. Time to put roads like this on a diet. 

My friend Brandon sent me an article about the one-page solution to (mitigating) climate change in the United States that NPR posted this summer.

But Henry Jacoby, an economist at MIT’s business school, says there’s really just one thing you need to do to solve the problem: Tax carbon emissions.

“If you let the economists write the legislation,” Jacoby says, “it could be quite simple.” He says he could fit the whole bill on one page.

Basically, Jacoby would tax fossil fuels in proportion to the amount of carbon they release. That would make coal, oil and natural gas more expensive. That’s it; that’s the whole plan.

This new carbon tax would support different infrastructure construction and expanded government agencies with which to manage it. It would support a Department of Road Diets. Road diets are projects that reduce the number of lanes for cars on a roadway, either by reducing the width of the roadway, or converting the general purpose lanes to new uses, like quickly moving buses or giving bicycles dedicated space.

See, in the carbon taxed future, people will want to drive less and use more efficient modes of transportation like transit and bicycles. And those uses will need their own space because the status quo in our cities (except the ones in the Netherlands) of having each mode compete for the same space isn’t working. It results in frustration, delay, and death.

Enter the Department of Road Diets. We have millions of miles of roadways that will need to go on diets so a department dedicated to such transformation would be useful. The agency would be in charge of finding too-wide roads and systematically putting them on diets, I mean, changing their cross section to less carbon-intensive uses.

Where does this road diet rule come from?

55th Street road diet from summer 2012. This is the best road diet photo I’ve got. Traffic counts here indicate 15,700 cars daily (based on a single day of measurement in 2006).

“Roadways with Average Daily Traffic (ADT) of 20,000 or less may be good candidates for a road diet and should be evaluated for feasibility”, via FHWA. The documents – here’s the second one – I’ve found so far on FHWA’s website don’t explain the research behind this assumption. How should a road be evaluated for feasibility? The second one bases review of a street on crash type, severity, and rate.

View 4600 W Foster Avenue in a larger map. Alderman Laurino is correct in her description of how many lanes are here. The road is only striped for 1 lane in each direction.

This concerns me because CDOT seems to have adopted this as a policy. They are using it as a reason to not consider a road diet on Foster Avenue. However, though, Foster Avenue between Pulaski Road and the Edens Expressway has only “1 and a half lanes” in each direction, according to local Alderman Marge Laurino of the 39th Ward (see John Greenfield’s interview below, which is an expanded version of one published on Grid Chicago in two parts).

Interview

Greenfield: Where in your ward would you like to see speed cameras installed?

Laurino: Well right now I don’t know that we have locations that would fit some of the criteria that we’re looking at. Currently I think the ones that they’re putting in are going to be where there have been pedestrian fatalities and I don’t know that I have anything that fits that really strict criteria but I would… Just a suggestion, Foster Avenue in front of Gompers Park. I mean it’s often times an area where cars really speed because for whatever reason, where there are no homes and that and it’s just wide-open parkland people just seem to hit the accelerator. I don’t know why that it but it appears to be the case.

JG: Is that a long stretch with no stoplights?

ML: From Pulaski to Cicero it’s a long stretch and it’s not one lane. I want to call it one-and-a-half lanes. There really shouldn’t be two lanes of traffic going in one direction but they seem to squeeze that in. So anyway that might be a potential place for a camera. We’re also looking at something called a road diet, where we just, through paint markings and paint striping, make the street narrower. That would be on Foster Avenue, let’s say between central Park and Cicero.

JG: Is there any talk of putting in bike lanes there to take up the extra space?

ML: No, for whatever reason it doesn’t fit their criteria.

Bike lane news around the country

In other bike lane news around the country:

  • Kansas City, Missouri, now has two bridges with separated and protected bike lanes. A concrete barrier separates a combined walking and biking path from traffic.
  • Chicago’s door lane network grows a little more with new door lanes on Grand Avenue and Illinois Street. Downtown is in the most need of bike lanes so these should be useful (although I advocate for ones going through the Loop).
  • Separated bike lanes again under attack in New York City, this time on Columbus Avenue. It was only installed in August.
  • Washington, D.C., installed bike boxes and contraflow bike lanes (in August 2010) on a diagonal street at a six-way intersection (we have tons of six-way intersections in Chicago). John Allen, notable for his stance on bikeways and how they conflict with traffic engineering principles, approves of the design. In theory, contraflow bike lanes next to parallel parking lanes are good (and better than door lanes) because (1) the door to open is the passenger’s door, which opens less often than the driver’s door; (2) the person opening the door and the person riding the bike are staring at each other; and (3) if a person riding a bike collides with the door from the oncoming direction, the collision should be less damaging  to the person riding the bike. (You can thank former Mayor Adrian Fenty and former transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, and their staff, for these improvements to the bikeway network.)

The new door lanes in Chicago on Grand Avenue (as well as Illinois Street) involved a road diet, the narrowing or removal of main traffic lanes. You can see how a lane was removed – the stripes demarcating the two lanes have been ground out. This may reduce traffic speed and reduce confusion and collisions, a welcomed change. Watch a video of the bike lane striping being applied.

In Washington, D.C., a unique and adapted bike lane design for a diagonal street where it crosses two other streets at a six-way intersection. Another way to demonstrate what a bicycle lane could do.

© 2017 Steven Can Plan

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