Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Call Street - Bike Lanes or Not?

On January 8, 2007, Florida State University will open a 980 space parking garage on Call Street at Macomb Street. In anticipation of this event, and to facilitate access in and out of the parking deck, Call Street is being converted from a one way (eastbound) street to a two-way street. That much is a done deal.

The question being kicked around now is whether Call Street should have bike lanes or on-street parking. Currently, it is two eastbound lanes and on-street parking. The city has proposed making it one lane each way, removing on-street parking and adding bike lanes. Downtown merchants have revolted. They are screaming that removing any parking from the downtown will hurt their businesses.

Some bike advocates have argued that the street is an important bicycle connection, but bike lanes aren't appropriate on Call Street. They say that street parking will do more to slow traffic and make the corridor safer for cyclists.

The Fix
Here's my conclusion: Leave it alone for now. Make it two lanes, leave the on-street parking. Watch what happens, provide law enforcement on site. How motorists and bicyclists respond to the change in traffic flow will provide feedback for whether bike lanes might be appropriate for the situation. It won't be perfect information, but it will be better information than we have now.

Here's the beauty of doing nothing: It's easy to change. All you have to do is paint new lines on the road. Nothing to plow under or pave. No right of way to purchase or earth to be moved. Just paint. If it isn't working, repaint it.

This only works if we actually watch what happens. I would like to see the city commit some resources to actually monitoring motorist, cyclists and pedestrian behavior and especially bicycle and pedestrian usage in the corridor once the traffic pattern changes. What's the level of demand? What's the level of sophistication of the users? That kind of information will help to answer the question "Should we have bike lanes on Call Street?"

To actually accomplish that the city needs a full-time Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator. How about it Mr. Mayor?

Whether or not Call Street gets bike lanes, there will be tremendous traffic conflict at the Call Street entrance to the parking deck. When I say conflict, of course I mean mayhem and death. If you have ever seen the college students lining up at the parking decks during peak hours, you can easily predict the clusterf*ck that will arise from this particular location. I can just imagine the line of cars backed up around the corner onto Macomb Street trying to get into the parking deck, while an equal line of cars snakes out of the deck, backed up from the light at Macomb and blocking all traffic on Call Street. Meanwhile a stream of traffic pours out of the garage toward Copeland Street, where they force their way through throngs of pedestrians to escape onto Tennessee Street.

I don't care about any of that, of course. What concerns me is the part about blocking all traffic on Call Street, meaning crosswalks and bike lanes or even bicycle access on the roadway. We have plenty of parking decks in town with inadequate sight distance for drivers to see sidewalk traffic and plenty of others where the sight distance is fine, but drivers block crosswalks anyway because they are selfish and inconsiderate.

So I'm concerned that bicyclists and pedestrians trying to get past the parking deck entrance are going to get hit by inattentive motorists. It's foreseeable. I have predicted it. FSU and the city need to anticipate it and mitigate it. Someone will die there in 2007 without some serious enforcement attention. I recommend posting a cop there at peak times and handing out warnings for anybody who stops in the crosswalk or blocks the road with their car and handing out handcuffs to anybody who hits a bicyclist or pedestrian.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Campbell Connector

The city held a public meeting today to gather input on the Campbell Connector. This is a project that we've wanted to do for many many years.

The trail is an 8-10 (mostly 10) foot off-street multi-use paved path from Four Points to Jack McLean Park. The proposed plan begins at Woodville Highway and goes east along the south side of Gaile, then turns north along the east side of Meridian Street (the tiny segment of it south of Tram Road), heads east along the south side of Lindgren, turns north on the west side of Cornelia, turns east on along the north side of Omega, then goes north on the west side of Zillah (not the really steep part) to Paul Russell, where it crosses into Jack McLean Park.

I know that's hard to follow, so look at the map. The map doesn't show the route of the trail, but all the streets are there.

The trail crosses Gaile, Lindgren, Tram, and Paul Russell. Lindgren is a quiet street that has mostly been bought out by the city because it floods. A few of the lots are still privately owned so the road can't be closed completely, but it has virtually zero traffic and the city is considering making it one way as part of the plan, then using the other half of the existing roadway for the trail.

The crossings at Gaile, Tram, and Paul Russell will require appropriate facilities to increase visibility and maximize pedestrian safety.

What about the Fairgrounds?
Plans for the Campbell Connector drafted long ago would have skirted the Fairgrounds, but the money is available now and the future development of the Fairgrounds is uncertain. Whatever happens there can always tie into the trail later. Also, the police prefer having the trail near existing roadways to minimize opportunities for security problems. The plan does not include additional lighting beyond existing streetlights, so travelling the trail at night may be somewhat spooky, though not unsafe.

Years ago, when I sat on the TEA-21 committee, this project ranked very high on our list. It connected a park, a school, a residential neighborhood, sports fields, the Fairgrounds, and the St. Marks Trail. It has the potential to be a great connection. I like the city's plan so far. The required right of way is minimal. It's a good, cheap, project. The city staff have expressed their desire to preserve as many trees as possible. I have some concerns about designing the corners to accomodate pedestrians and cyclists safely. I like that the trail is being designed at 10 feet wide wherever possible, which is most of it.