Earlier this fall, Charlotte City Council discussed the increase in the number of road fatalities, both for pedestrians and people in cars and trucks.
They debated how to tackle the problem.
The traditional way would be for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police to write more tickets. In 2008, officers drafted a ticket for 22 residents of Charlotte. This fell to one ticket for 68 residents in 2018.
The other idea was more radical: to redesign the city’s arteries to make them less conducive to speed.
“We know we cannot force our way out of his,” said General Council member Braxton Winston. “We have built our way in this area. “
He added that giving people tickets for speeding on, say, Sharon Road West won’t make it safer.
“I will also say that giving people a speeding ticket on the network – you’re not going to make that stretch safer to give people [tickets for] 54 miles per hour in a 35, ”he said.
Several years ago, the city pledged to have no fatal road accidents by 2030, but this is going in the wrong direction. From 2008 to 2012, the city recorded an average of 39 deaths due to road accidents and struck pedestrians. Last year there were 81 deaths.
In an interview with the WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks” in October, host Mike Collins asked Mayor Vi Lyles if the city should ask police to write more tickets to slow down drivers.
“What are we going to do that’s based on technology? And how do we design intersections and highways, your arteries in Charlotte, to make them safer? Lyles said. “The technology will help us. The design will help us. … Law enforcement is one way to get there, but it’s a flash in the pan of continuous improvement. We want continuous improvement that will change behavior.
But Lyles’ statement might be overly optimistic.
The problem is just too big – and the current city street redevelopment efforts too small – to move the needle.
Hundreds of kilometers to go
The city of Charlotte maintains 2,528 miles of streets. Over 1,700 miles are local streets, which probably don’t need to be redesigned to force people to drive slower. That leaves 300 miles of arteries and 482 miles of collector streets.
This does not count state-maintained roads like WT Harris Boulevard and North Tryon Street.
The Charlotte Department of Transportation has a program to renovate streets to make them safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.
CDOT’s work has been praised by neighborhood groups, as well as by Sustain Charlotte, who advocates for a more pedestrian-friendly infrastructure. In other words, the city is doing exactly what Winston and Lyles want.
It’s just that he doesn’t do it very quickly.
Since 2000, CDOT has completed 38 street renovation projects. Most of these projects are designed in one way or another to slow vehicles down. The total number of “center line” miles they improved is 20.
Twenty miles in 21 years.
If you do the math, you can see that the 300 mile modernization of taxiway would, at this rate, be completed by around 2321.
And the pace of securing streets could slow down.
“All of the easy street conversions have been done,” said Keith Bryant, head of CDOT’s design section. “Now we have some really tough roads. “
By rough roads, he means arteries like Sharon Road West, which handles so much traffic the city doesn’t believe it can place a deliberate bottleneck on the road to slow people down. Or Pineville-Matthews Road. Or South Tryon Street.
Not only are there no firm design plans to change them, there are no concept plans.
A relatively new concept
Bryant said the very first street conversion he could find was in 1986 on Park Road, from Kenilworth Avenue to Ideal Way.
Since then, the city has made more, mostly inside the Route 4 corridor a few miles from downtown.
These easy conversions include projects such as lane removal over the past decade on East Boulevard in Dilworth, one of the city’s most prominent ‘road schemes’ or street conversions.
And the city recently made a high-profile street conversion on Parkwood Avenue to serve Belmont, Villa Heights and Optimist Park. The city has removed one traffic lane and added 0.8 miles of cycle lanes.
The total cost was $ 3.7 million.
(The street redevelopment plan is also likely to get more expensive: NC DOT has seen the cost of its projects swell this year and faces a $ 12 billion shortfall.)
Bryant said the city would be monitoring traffic on Parkwood to see how the fewer lanes would handle the traffic. The city is reluctant to remove a lane of traffic on a road that receives more than 20,000 vehicles per day. Parkwood carries more than that.
“We have pushed the boundaries of Parkwood,” said Bryant. “It’s in the mid-twenties. We’ll have to see what the accident history does.
Bryant noted that the new streets under construction are designed to slow down the driving of vehicles and to allow pedestrians and cyclists.
“There has been a change,” he said. “There has been a new emphasis on creating complete streets. You will find that we have a lot of good projects in the hopper.
He said CDOT is no longer designing roads to accommodate as many cars as possible.
“It’s like the parking lot of the shopping center they are designing for Christmas,” he said. “We don’t do that.”
CDOT’s philosophy aligns with Lyles and Winston.
But asking the CDOT to reduce road accidents through street conversions is a bit like emptying a tub with a thimble.