Monday, January 18, 2010

Douglas Design District Streetscape Improvement Plan: Some comments

Image found here.

Yesterday, while bumping around the Wichita blogosphere looking for stuff that might be of interest for readers of this blog, I ran across the Douglas Design District's streetscape improvement plan, which was submitted last month. The plan amounts to a re-imagining of three miles of Douglas from Washington east to Glendale (one block east of Oliver), and much of it will look very familiar to those who know that stretch of Douglas that runs from the river to Seneca (the plan even comes with a "Lessons Learned from the Delano District" appendix): a reduced speed limit (from 35 to 30 mph); two-lane traffic each way with landscaped medians from Washington to I-135 and, east to Glendale, one lane of traffic each way with a dedicated left-turn lane; curb bulb-outs that create space for buses to pull over at stops; wide, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks. But the Design District's plan differs in a truly important way: It is a full embracing of the Complete Streets concept, with dedicated bike and bus/parking lanes on both sides of the street.

If and when it's built, Douglas will serve as an effective demonstration of the most counter-intuitive argument in favor of the complete street concept: that reducing the number of lanes dedicated to cars and adding dedicated bike and bus lanes actually increases a street's traffic-bearing capacity and efficiency. The Design District report states again and again that, based on their modeling, eliminating two car lanes and adding the bike and bus lanes will not appreciably slow traffic flow, and the reading I've done elsewhere regarding other cities' experiences confirms this. As genuinely nice as it is to have Mt. Vernon as a smaller-scale Complete Street from the river to Broadway, that stretch (almost exclusively residential) just doesn't have enough traffic to demonstrate the truth of that argument. Given Douglas' literal and figurative centrality in Wichita, the evidence will be if not unavoidable, then at least more evident to more people.

No: I will rarely if ever ride my bike on that stretch of Douglas. But the point of infrastructure is not to benefit the few but the many. Complete Streets don't benefit only cyclists and pedestrians at the expense of motorists; they're designed to make streets safer and more efficient for everyone who uses them. The even greater good, meanwhile, will be that other neighborhoods will see this and begin dreaming dreams for their own major thoroughfares. And you know the rest.

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