For me, the best part of walking to work every day is that it gives me time to myself to just think. I use the time to listen to some music – this morning I went with a fantastic Grateful Dead show from October 1976 – and for twenty minutes I’m in my own world. Sometimes I think about work. Far too often I think about the Oilers. Sometimes I think about the drivers in this city and I wonder why they all seem to be so terrible. And other times I think about the street I’m walking beside and how I might improve it.
Being a transportation engineer I can’t help but think of ways to change things that would make the road, or an intersection, function just a little bit better. In most cases the improvements I imagine aren’t going to happen. They might cost a little much and provide very little benefit, in those cases it’s nice to know what could be done, but I accept that it probably won’t. But there is one idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while now, and I think it would both improve a section of a road in downtown and would cost next to nothing – putting 100 Avenue on a diet between 102 Street and 109 Street.
For those not familiar with the concept of a road diet it is pretty simple. Essentially you convert an existing four-lane roadway to a three-lane cross-section by removing two of the through lanes and developing a two-way left turn lane (you may know this type of turn lane as a suicide lane) in the middle of the road. Having gone from four lanes to three, there is additional space available within the road right-of-way that can be used for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, or in some cases on street parking.
There are a number of safety benefits associated with a road diet: rear end collisions are reduced because all left turns have been removed from the through lanes eliminating the unexpected stop of a car wanting to turn left, the left turns are now opposing making the turn simpler, and pedestrians now have to cross three lanes instead of four. If the additional space created is used for a bike lane then that buffer provides a safety benefit to the cyclists. In the right situation a road diet can, for the cost of paint lines and a couple of arrows can provide benefit to every user of the road corridor.
So why do I think 100 Avenue should be put on a diet? Well, for starters it’s not that busy of a road. According to the city’s 2012 traffic data, there are 5,200 vehicles per day on 100 Ave at 102 Street. I’m sure the volumes fluctuate along the corridor, but at no point do they come close to the 20,000 vehicle threshold recommended by the FHWA for a project of this nature. Building off of that, I have noticed that the inside lane in each direction is almost never used by drivers wanting to travel through an intersection, the only vehicles in the inside lanes are the ones turning left. The other users know this and have adjusted their patterns to account for it. Basically, 100 Avenue is already functioning as a three-lane road it just has four lanes.
The only real hurdle that is see is the double left turn from 105 Street northbound to 100 Avenue westbound; without two lanes on 100 Avenue to turn into, this would need to be converted to a single left. From my experiences the dual left is poorly utilized at this location, with most drivers wanting to turn into the outside lane on 100 Avenue (as I said earlier). During the morning rush hour the queue is often longer than the turn lane, so even if a driver wanted to use the other lane they’d be unable to. In the afternoon the volume on 105 Street likely wouldn’t even warrant a turn lane. Removing the double left may not be ideal, but in this case the resulting loss of capacity at the intersection is likely minimal based on current driving patterns.
So let’s assume this is something that the city would entertain, what do you do with the extra space? Easy, you provide a bike lane. The Bicycle Priority Network map already shows 100 Avenue as a proposed bikeway from west of 104 Street, so it really just makes sense to give the extra space to cyclists. Using 100 Avenue as a corridor for cyclists is really quite logical given the traffic volumes on Jasper Avenue make bike accommodation on that street likely impossible. This on the other hand could pretty much be completed over a weekend, and at no detriment to the vehicles that use it.
A road diet like I’ve described may already be the plan, the summary report available on the city’s website doesn’t provide specifics though. But as mentioned above the bikeway is planned for 100 Avenue from 104 Street to the west, whereas I’d continue it right to 102 Street. This might not fit ideally with the plan but would allow for a rather non-standard situation in front of the Coast Edmonton House to be addressed. As it exists today, 100 Avenue and 102 Street are four-lane roads but the curve connecting the two roads is a single lane in each direction. By extending the limits of the road diet to 102 Street you have a natural transition to/from the proposed two-lane cross-section.
It would improve safety and it would be easy to implement. I can’t think of a reason not to do it. The only downside is that I might need to find a different route, with new problems to solve, for my walk to work.