Safety and budget concerns steered the conversation at the City’s Transportation and Planning Committee meeting on Monday. On the agenda? CDOT staff responded to City Council questions about the draft Transportation Action Plan and our city’s first ever pedestrian plan, called Charlotte Walks. A draft of an updated bike plan, called Charlotte Bikes, was also shared.
CDOT’s Norm Steinman spoke about the new aspirational goals included in the draft Transportation Action Plan including Vision Zero, becoming an 8-80 City and increasing the percent of residents who walk, bicycle, or take transit to work (see images below from Norm's presentation).
Follow this link to see all the slides presented at Monday’s Transportation and Planning meeting.
Committee members kept these goals in mind as the meeting culminated in an active discussion of the road diet for Parkwood Avenue and The Plaza that we and the three adjacent neighborhoods have been requesting since November of 2015.
CDOT’s Dan Gallagher kicked off the discussion by presenting more detailed results of the Parkwood/Plaza corridor study. He reiterated CDOT’s recommendation of a road diet along Parkwood from Belmont Avenue to Hawthorne. Disappointly, he also said that extending the road diet from Hawthorne to Matheson (as we have requested) would amount to a significant increase in traffic congestion during rush hour.
While Gallagher did briefly mention that increased congestion may lead to motorists choosing other routes, he did not point out one of the biggest advantages of increased congestion: more motorists would choose instead to walk, bike, or ride transit, thereby advancing one of CDOT's own new goals. Nor did he point out that a road diet would lead to fewer fatalities and injuries, which would support another of CDOT's new goals (Vision Zero).
Vision Zero aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. Is this an achievable goal especially since 18 residents have been hit by cars and two killed while walking or biking along this corridor in the past 5 years? Gallagher specified that seven of those residents were hit at night, two were forced into the street by aggressive dogs and then hit by a car, and that the resident who was killed on his bike was a result of one car hitting another, which in turn spun and hit him.
Map of pedestrian and cyclists hit between 2011 and 2015 along Parkwood/Plaza.
We need to be willing to re-design streets for all users to achieve the Vision Zero standard. Protected bike lanes separate people on bikes from cars, day or night. In fact, they are especially needed at night, the time of day when most people on foot and bicycle are hit by cars. They also provide a buffer between pedestrians and cars, protecting them if they are forced off of the sidewalk (by dogs, for example).
In response to CDOT’s recommendation to not extend the road diet along The Plaza, Committee member Greg Phipps questioned whether or not our new Vision Zero goal would be more than just an empty promise.
Committee Vice Chair Patsy Kinsey continued to voice clear support for the road diet along the entire corridor, not just Parkwood. “I would like to see movement” she said, "especially as more multifamily housing developments move into the community."
Committee Member Dimple Ajmera asked if there was a current process used by the City to prioritize streets that are in need of safety improvements.
Committee Chair Vi Lyles cautioned the committee about prioritizing construction in one corridor over another until CDOT has a plan for addressing pedestrian and cyclist safety on all thoroughfares they are currently studying.
Lyles concluded the discussion by asking if anything could be done right now to elevate pedestrian safety on The Plaza. CDOT Director Danny Pleasant said that he would initiate action immediately to increase the length of existing pedestrian crossing signals.
However, if CDOT continues to make preventing traffic congestion its top goal, as they have done in this study, we will continue to be a car-dependent city with a high number of serious injuries and deaths due to motor vehicles. Ensuring that driving is the only safe and convenient way to travel along The Plaza at the expense of more safe and convenient opportunities to bike, walk, and ride transit, is maintaining the status quo. And maintaining the status quo will not get CDOT to their new goals.
We are encouraged by the willingness of committee members to discuss implementing and enforcing pedestrian and cyclist safety measures along Charlotte’s thoroughfares. However, after more than 15 months of study and talk, now it's time for action on Parkwood and The Plaza.
Sustain Charlotte and the Villa Heights, Plaza Midwood and Belmont neighborhood associations who have advocated on behalf of the safety for all residents who use the Parkwood/Plaza corridor will continue to ask City Council to allocate funding for construction in the city’s budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017. We hope you will join us!