Worth the wait

Aug. 17, 2014 @ 05:57 PM

Sometimes, two very commendable goals wind up in conflict.

When that happens, a solution that maximally meets both goals while sacrificing neither may be difficult to find. That does not mean it is not worth searching.

That is the situation the City Council may find itself in over plans to slow traffic on West Club Boulevard through the historic and gracious Watts-Hillandale neighborhood. Residents there have for years pressed the city to install “neck downs,” narrowing the traffic roadway at four intersections to slow motorists who tend to have too heavy a foot on the accelerator through a neighborhood where walkability is a prized attraction.

Such devices – as well as other “traffic-calming” measures -- are used on many streets to help make them safer and more accommodating to pedestrians. Neighborhoods often clamor for them, reasonably so. It is part of reversing generations of urban transit planning across the country that favored getting traffic from point A to point B as rapidly as possible.

But there is another player on the roads besides cars and pedestrians. As bicycling for recreation, commuting and running errands grows in popularity, more cyclists are using roads that have not, to put it mildly, been designed – until recent years – with pedal-powered two-wheelers in mind.

And narrowing those intersections will, cyclists maintain, make it more difficult for them as they must weave into traffic lanes to skirt the neck-downs.  One critic even termed the proposed roadwork “a lethal idea.” Cyclists would like to see the plans revisited.

The city plans to take bids on the neck-down project before year’s end and Watts-Hillandale leaders are loathe to see any delay after enduring years of what they see as city foot-dragging in making the changes.

But the city’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Commission as long ago as 2010 urged changes in the plan. And as The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg reported Saturday, as far back as 2006 the city council endorsed a policy that called for bike lanes on Club Boulevard.

Underlying the dispute is the larger question whether the city has been sufficiently aggressive in retrofitting thoroughfares built before bike lanes became expected on new roads.  As Eric Landfried, chairman of the advisory commission, argued, “both the state and city are designing roads that are going to be comfortable for a set of users but not all users of the roadway.”

In an email Gronberg reported, Councilman Steve Schewel, who lives in Watts-Hillandale, mused “Is there a way to make Club Boulevard friendlier to both cyclists and pedestrians? I expect there is. Would such a plan be worth the wait?”

As much as we sympathize with the neighborhood’s impatience, we think the answer is yes.