From: Pete Kleinschmidt
I would like to wholeheartedly endorse the proposed Broadway improvement project. Although it may not be obvious to everyone, this is clearly one of those rare win-win-win situations for our community. It is a win for pedestrians, bikers, the city budget and even drivers who could soon have one of the smoothest, safest and most relaxing drives in the city.
It is now clear in hindsight that Broadway was way overbuilt when it was widened in the early 1960s. At the time projections anticipated that the number of cars traveling Broadway would rise quickly to fill the newly created additional lanes of traffic. What wasn’t anticipated was that most major businesses would soon move out of downtown to the then newly built Highway 61 corridor. This is a process that continues even today as we see organizations like the Y constructing a new facility near the hospital. Traffic counts on Broadway are falling, not rising.
The problem with overbuilt roads is that they encourage people to drive faster. In a lightly populated rural area this isn’t a huge problem. But the area around Broadway is a heavily populated residential neighborhood, a neighborhood filled with people of all ages who enjoy walking and biking as well as driving.
It has been shown in multiple studies that automobiles, pedestrians and bikers can all safely share a roadway as long as automobile speeds are kept below 30 mph. While getting hit by a car at 30 mph is obviously traumatic for all involved, it is typically not fatal.
But once speeds start to rise above 30 mph, the severity of a crash even between two cars starts to rise significantly. A pedestrian who gets hit by a car traveling 40 mph almost always dies. Indeed once speeds on a roadway start to approach these numbers both pedestrians and bikers intuitively start to sense the danger and begin to avoid the roadway if they can. But since Broadway is centrally located, this isn’t always possible.
Broadway as currently designed encourages people to drive quickly. If it was filled to capacity traffic would naturally slow to the speed limit. But this never happens. As anyone who has driven this road knows traffic routinely flows well above 35 mph. It is almost impossible to drive this stretch of road at the posted speed limit of 30 mph without being passed by multiple vehicles. As traffic counts drop, speeds have a tendency to go up, not down.
The bottom line is we have to decide whether or not we are going to continue to allow Broadway to be shared by everyone or whether we wish to make it a road that is almost exclusively used by automobiles. If it is the former we need to figure out how to reduce typical traffic speeds to about 30 mph. If it is the latter we need to actively start discouraging pedestrians and bikers from using Broadway. It is physically impossible to have both high speed traffic and safe pedestrians.
I’m assuming no one is even considering banning pedestrians and bikers from using Broadway. As a result our only option is to reduce average traffic speeds to the posted speed limit. Clearly just trusting drivers to do so voluntarily isn’t working. We have given people 60 years to make that adjustment on their own. I don’t think anyone seriously thinks this will change.
As I see it there are two options. The first is we can ask our police department to begin aggressively enforcing the speed limit. This would involve either taking a current officer off their existing duties and having them sit on Broadway handing out tickets or hiring a new officer. The second option is to redesign the roadway to reflect true usage just like we have done on pretty much every other road in town. Since I’m assuming no one wants to see Broadway turned into a giant speed trap, realistically this leaves us with the second option.
So the only question at this point is really just whether or not the plan presented by Stantec Engineering is the best option for redesigning the roadway. For example, are the curb extensions in the best locations? Could traffic flow at certain intersections be improved? Do we really need the center turning lanes (most roads in town are just two lanes)? Personally I think the Stantec plan is a good compromise for all users of Broadway, but I am not opposed to hearing suggestions to improve the plan.
But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that we don’t care about pedestrian or bicycle safety. All we really want is a wide, smooth roadway for automobiles to travel at the fastest possible speed. Is the proposed plan still the best option?
Broadway is an aging roadbed that needs to be resurfaced in the near future. The sidewalks at road intersections on Broadway are also starting to crumble and will soon need to be upgraded. Right now the city has $2 million in funding on the table to pay for these projects. Almost all of this money will be used to resurface Broadway and rebuild the sidewalks (the proposed curb extensions are a trivial part of the overall cost). The only significant restriction placed by the grants on the project is the stipulation that the road be restriped from four lanes to three in order to improve pedestrian safety. They did this because they know it will work.
Be aware this money can’t be used for any other purpose. If the city doesn’t take the money for this project, the money will be sent to another community. Broadway, like any other street, needs to be maintained. If we don’t take this money now we will soon have to pull $2 million out of our own pocket to pay to resurface Broadway. Since our road repair budget isn’t unlimited, this would be $2 million that can’t be used to repair other roads. Indeed refusing these grants at this late stage will likely make it even more difficult for us to obtain other grants in the future. This means even other needed projects will get pushed further into the future.
So in the end there is really nothing to be gained by refusing these grants. Broadway is so overbuilt that reducing traffic to three lanes will not increase congestion in the least. In addition once the project is complete traffic speeds will become more consistent (likely 30-35 mph versus the 30-45+ mph common today) meaning the road will be safer and more relaxing not only for pedestrians but also for drivers. Finally the money saved on this project means the addition of a better road elsewhere in town.
As I said at the beginning, this project is a win-win-win for everyone. Let’s end the debate on the project and move forward.