This past summer the City Commission responded favorably to a recurring question about Eighth Street: Can it function with three lanes instead of four? Now the test begins: It’s been re-striped and we are in the first month of a year-long test before reconstruction in or before 2018.
Reallocating street space like this is popular in communities across the United States. It is a corrective measure that addresses a practice of applying highway design to urban streets without adequate consideration for issues related to safety, access, the environment, and economic development.
Just this month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced a campaign that highlights road conversions as a primary means to increase safety for all users of the public rights of way. The nation’s DOT is doing this because the facts are clear: taking a road from four to three-lanes reduces traffic crashes 29%-47%, with the greatest increase in safety happening in smaller towns.
Meanwhile, this reduction in crashes is associated with improved traffic flow because conflict points are reduced and turning vehicles no longer take up a travel lane waiting to turn. The result here is that Eighth St. will be a more inviting place to drive and visit.
The safety return is a key ingredient to the other benefits a road conversion can deliver. As the street becomes safer, people on foot and bikes have better access to shops and other activities. This translates into improved access to Eighth St. businesses, reduced automobile dependence, and greater economic return. Instead of driving further afield, residents will walk to the bakery or pizza joint just around the corner.
For Eighth St., perhaps the single most important role of local government is the design of public space. It shapes land use, which shapes economic and social development. In the City, roads and streets make up around 70-80% of what we call public space. Streets with a single focus of moving cars stress city budgets and they simply don’t have the return on investment needed to maintain and manage them. Streets that calm traffic while increasing access, have a value added return in profits, long-term savings, and equal or improved flow through the corridor.
On going discussion is now being tested
Access and livability are the bedrock of growth and opportunity. If we are going to invest a million dollars or more into Eighth St., it’s imperative that we prioritize accessibility, efficient land use, and economic development. By reallocating valuable space in this 1300 linear feet of Eighth St. we are taking a step towards a better block. This more inclusive Eighth St. will improve connections to neighbors and businesses with the end goal being to transform this street from a road primarily moving cars into a destination street that values people and place.
The community is invited to celebrate and learn more about this project at a Better Block Party on Friday, September 26th from 5:30 – 7:30 along Eighth St. at the Governmental Center.