Lemme tell you something about roads: They involve a lot of specialists working at all levels of bureaucracy who don’t always communicate with each other. And when they don’t–which is often–common sense is usually the first casualty.
The biggest problem is that the DOT, along with all the private sector folks suckling at their financial teat, see three types of roads: locals, which dump into collectors, which dump into the arterials that handle the heavy, through traffic. Works well enough in the ‘burbs, I guess, but not so useful in a place like Decatur, where streets of many sizes and configurations weave and connect their way through a variety of historic contexts.
The degree to which this three-sizes-fits-all thinking can undermine the joyful complexity of an interconnected, traditional urban place is, for a geek like me who obsesses over such things, extensive. And it’s not just me. Over time, all kinds of communities have gotten sick and tired of poorly designed thoroughfares being rammed through the places they care about most, with little regard for what makes them work or what makes them special.
Outcries drove the DOT to begin rallying, at least in their press releases, around the flag of “Context Sensitive Design.” They’re still not very good at it (they’ve always been much better at responding to the needs of cars than to the needs of people or the demands of place), but it’s been a veer in the right direction nonetheless. And now you hear a lot of talk about Complete Streets, which will push them even further into the 21st century. So there’s hope.
But I digress. For now, I want to point out what looks like some good, old-fashioned, specialists-in-silos craziness. Please join me as we tour East Lake Drive, just south of the tracks, where I speculate — from a reading of the clues — about what’s going on.
East Lake, at least at that span, is a pretty standard, 30’ roadway that, more than likely, is designated a collector road. As a collector, it would typically need to be striped. So, when the striper comes around, he sees his contribution as fairly simple because the work order was established by someone who doesn’t care about context: Run a double-yellow line right down the middle. Which is a problem, because he should be consulting with the city on what their parking program will be.
The result is a 15 foot lane in each direction which, incidentally, is 3 feet wider than an interstate lane. That wouldn’t present a huge problem (other than rampant speeding) except, on this stretch of East Lake, the southbound lane has no on-street parking, while the northbound lane does.
The net effect is that this stretch of East Lake has a 15’ southbound lane and, subtracting out 7′ for on-street parking, an 8’ northbound lane. And if you see it in practice, you know that what that really means is that some people park over the curb to avoid being hit while drivers routinely cross into oncoming traffic to ensure the same thing. Check out the following image, showing the full spectrum of silliness: A car parked up on the planting strip, together with a car swerving into the oncoming lane to avoid sideswiping anyone. Add to that that the oncoming vehicle is a Marta bus and picture the potential carnage on that one!
This would have all been easily avoided had the individual specialists not been so rigidly wedded to their marching orders and, instead, simply talked to one another. If they had, they likely would have come up with something like this: Stripe off an 8’ parking lane, then split the remaining space into two 11” travel lanes. Like this:
Not a big deal, but one that could make a big difference. For one thing, if you think squeezing a moving car and a parked car into a width of 15 feet is a tight fit, try squeezing in a moving car and a parked car and a bike. Like, say, one on the way home from 5th Avenue.
So howzabout it, city officials? Can we get a good, old fashioned, common-sense retrofit going here? What do DMers think?