Earlier in the month I covered some improvements to the local pedestrian grid on Davie Rd and at the intersection of James St and Hillsborough Rd. However, the most high-profile change to the Carrboro street grid this summer is undoubtedly the Main St Road Diet.
Definition: Road Diet
First, what’s a “Road Diet?” Simply put, it’s the reconfiguration of a roadway to remove excess space for cars, and the reassigning of that space for the use of cyclists and/or pedestrians, and in some cases, transit vehicles. Carrboro’s road diet on Main St involved taking a 4-lane road section with no bike lanes down to a 2-lane road with a center turn lane, and bicycle lanes in both directions.
Recently I’ve been working as a beta tester for some programmers developing a terrific tool called StreetMix that allows non-engineers to propose street cross-sections for their communities. Here’s the basic before vs after comparison in graphic format. Where you see “Bus Lane” please simply interpret that to be a drive lane in this case. I was just trying to pick different vehicles in the StreetMix program and missed the label.
Benefits of the West Main Street Road Diet
There are several immediate benefits that this project creates for the community:
- Shortens the maximum number of moving vehicle lanes that a pedestrian must traverse to cross Main St. Instead of 44 feet of cars, the pedestrian only needs to cover 33 feet where they need to be on their maximum guard for their safety. This is of particular benefit to children, senior citizens, those with mobility impairments who walk slower than average, and parents pushing strollers.
- Fulfills a recommendation of the Carrboro Safe Routes to School action plan and provides safety benefits in a school zone.
- Completes a major gap in the bicycle infrastructure network.
I want to place major emphasis on the final point in the list above. For many years, Carrboro has been working slowly and steadily to expand its bike lane and greenway network, with most major street segments in town represented.
The map below shows how effectively Carrboro has been at placing bike lanes on its streets. Green lines represent greenways and off-road bicycle facilities. Orange lines represent wide outside shoulders. Purple lines represent on-street bike lanes. Notice the big gap in the purple network starting at the intersection of West Main and Hillsborough Rd, which then extends south from there past Poplar, Fidelity, and Weaver St, all the way to Jones Ferry Rd.
The road diet turns that grey section to purple and completes several linkages among SIX other roads with existing bike lanes!
The reason is this is so important is that some of the best research on the propensity of Americans to bicycle for transportation, even in super-bike-friendly cities like Portland, Oregon, indicates that the largest proportion of the populace falls into what Portland refers to as “Interested But Concerned” potential bike riders. These folks would LIKE to bicycle more, but have concerns about personal safety, and generally prefer to bicycle in a space that is clearly identified as being for cyclists first and motorists second. A bike lane meets that criteria for many people, and this road diet fills in a major gap in a network of facilities that address a perceived safety issue for many potential riders.
While I would still like to see us figure out ways to build even more separated bike-only facilities both on and off streets, this is a most welcome improvement to the Carrboro cycling infrastructure.
Congratulations to the town and NCDOT for working together to make this happen! Look below for some photos of the implemented Road Diet.