I left the information meeting on the Hoan Bridge Monday night perplexed by the predictions of severe traffic congestion if one of the northbound traffic lanes is turned into a path for bikers and pedestrians.
Gridlock, but at 50 mph?
Based on my grade-school experience, I know what F means. It’s not good on a report card or in the DOT rating system for roadway traffic flow.
In its study of bike lane alternatives on the Hoan, the DOT predicts rush-hour traffic on portions of the Hoan would move at the F level, based on projected traffic volume in 2035. Even if the traffic growth slows, the service levels are predicted to be D and E.
It’s safe to assume that neither the DOT, nor the Federal Highway Administration, would approve a bike lane if it creates stop-and-go traffic, long backups, delays and maximum driver frustration.
That’s why the two least-expensive options for the bike and pedestrian lane, priced at $9.5 million and $27.5 million, were red-flagged for the traffic slow-down they would create. The other options will be a tough sell at $76 million to $95 million.
It’s all spelled out quite well in the charts and graphs in the 120-page feasibility study.
But the same chart that lays out the future rush-hour carmageddon also lists the average speeds in that two-lane scenario as 48 to 54 mph, right at the current speed limit on the Hoan.
That’s not gridlock. It’s a normal drive to the office.
Sandie Pendleton, a local attorney and member of the Greater Shorewood Bikers, caught the same apparent contradiction.
He also did some calculating and found that even if one uses the DOT “design” speed figure for present-day “free-flow” traffic on the Hoan – 60 mph – and then assumes the actual traffic-flow speed drops from 60 mph today, to roughly 50 mph in 2035 if a bike lane is added, morning commute times in 2035 increase by less than 30 seconds.
“A scenario of a no more than 26-second morning commute-time increase is trivial,” Pendleton wrote in an email.
If adding a bike lane keeps people from speeding, that might be another mark in the plus column for the $9.5 million bike lane option.
But it’s not the speed, it’s the density.
Brian Roper, the project manager, pointed me to the other important numbers in that chart of traffic impacts.
With only two lanes carrying northbound cars, the vehicles will start to stack up to 50 or more in a mile of roadway around that morning rush. By DOT standards, 35 vehicles per mile is about the acceptable limit.
Too many cars in too little space means traffic slows, shifting lanes becomes difficult and drivers endure a high level of frustration.
“You reach that tipping point where vehicles get so close together, there’s the potential for anything to slow traffic,” Roper told me.
Overcoming the congestion argument will be a challenge for the advocates building their case for a bike lane on the Hoan.
That includes the 40 local business executives who signed a letter encouraging Gov. Scott Walker to say yes to the Hoan Bridge bike and walking lane.
One of the issues still in play would be the traffic volume projections. The DOT study ignores the potential that motorists would seek alternate routes. About 6,400 per day did so during the repair work over the summer, and traffic on the bridge was reduced by 12%.
During that time, with two lanes of traffic moving through a construction area, the average northbound speeds during the peak hour was 46 mph.
“The DOT folks have a tough job, trying to predict what the world, car-technology and traffic are going to look like in 2035,” Pendleton wrote. “But I hope the final study, also presents some other projections regarding 2035 traffic density.
“I own two cars, I’m a business attorney and carnivore, but even to me, the DOT study seems very ‘car-centered.’” he said. “It is disappointing that while the DOT is supposed to be focusing on building a ‘safe and efficient’ transportation system, nowhere in its Hoan report does it:
· compare the safety of dedicated bike paths, to on-street paths;
· compare commute times or speeds for bike commuters on a Hoan path, compared to what those would be on the alternative surface street path; or
· talk about growth trends in bike traffic and bike commuters (rather than just focusing on growth trends and projected increases in auto traffic).
Pendleton and all interested parties still have time to make their points with the decision-makers.
The deadline for submitting comments to the DOT is 5 p.m. Nov. 30.
Options include email to the project manager at firstname.lastname@example.org, a letter to WisDOT’s Southeast Regional Office, P.O. Box 798, Waukesha, WI, comment on Facebook@HoanBridge Wisconsin DOT or Twitter@WIHoanBridge.