Friday, March 29, 2013

Traffic Calming

An Op-Ed piece by City Councilor Roxanne Meyers published in the 3/28/13 Albuquerque Journal (about a so-called roundabout) got me thinking about this strange phenomenon we call traffic calming, and how our city has pursued some street alternatives that are incomprehensibly inconsistent with a reasonable goal of growing our city economy.  While there are more policies with specific goals in mind, I’d like to mention three that I think fall under this category.

The first is a trend that I began to notice during the Baca mayoralty in which street lanes are either reduced in width or eliminated altogether.  In some cases, bicycle lanes are added – via striping – but in general the area of pavement available to motor vehicles is reduced or eliminated.  Examples are Indian School between Wyoming and Pennsylvania and Morris north of Candelaria, both lane reductions.  I understand that it is green policy to promote bicycle use, but note how many bicycles actually use the allotted space compared to motor vehicles!  I have to wonder if this is a good or proper allocation of resources, when we should be more concerned about having a vibrant city with quick commutes and thriving businesses where people can get to their jobs in a timely and non-frustrating manner.  Slowing down traffic by eliminating lanes is not only counter to this, but it logically has to produce substantially more potential air pollution as a result of slow running (cars are more efficient at 40 mph than at 20mph) and increased stop-and-go traffic.

The second trend is what I call SpeeBuRBoo (Speed bumps, road blocks and one-way.)  Some of the most beautiful residential streets in the city have been reduced to ugliness by grotesque bands of bloated asphalt that only serve to throw the occupants of cars going above 20mph into the headliners and by amoeba-like shapes of concrete and curb topped by huge arrows, red slashed circles, and the stationary equivalent of orange visibility vests to keep residents and visitors alike in perpetual confusion and need to re-Google their routes.

Finally, there are the “roundabouts.”  Back in the day, we used to call these traffic circles.  In big cities, and I mean BIG cities, traffic circles historically have been part of grand designs for parks and vast open areas.  In theory, a vehicle in the circle could keep going around counterclockwise in perpetuity without ever having to yield to another vehicle, as depicted so memorably in one of the Vacation movies.  Therein is the humor.  Sticking a “roundabout” in the existing space of a small, non-vast intersection becomes hysterical as drivers attempt to figure out where other vehicles are actually coming from and going to in a confined space with less room than allowed a bumper car in a street carnival.  Both of the last two trends have got to have negative effects on the quality of life perceived by visitors and those businesses and individuals who might relocate to the Duke City. 

I realize there may be safety arguments for all of the above and more, but I say, “Educate.”  Using one of many possible metaphors:  Train the dog to heel rather than using a choke chain!  But education arguments are for a different piece.

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Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.