Fresh Ideas: Should lanes be removed on Carson Street?
January 23, 2013
If the idea of reducing vehicle lanes on Carson Street between Fifth and Washington streets strikes fear into your heart, you are not alone. Across our nation people have balked at the idea of removing traffic lanes on primary streets. They fear traffic delays and inconvenience, or that traffic will detour through residential neighborhoods. Despite this resistance, officials continue to suggest lane reduction projects for selected streets. Why are they pursuing an action that initially arouses opposition?There are many potential benefits to reducing the number of lanes on a street. These include fewer vehicle crashes, slower speeds, increased pedestrian and bicyclist safety, additional parking, and economic benefits for some businesses. Exact outcomes of proposed lane reduction can’t be known, but if speeds are reduced, the street becomes calmer, quieter, and safer. Beneficiaries include drivers who are seeking information about where to turn or park, businesses that wish to be noticed, bicyclists sharing the street, pedestrians crossing streets, people dining outdoors on side streets, and residents of adjacent neighborhoods. The proposed plan for Carson Street would add on-street parking between Fifth and Washington streets. Provision of on-street parking implies this is a place where people can park to access goods and services. The message is that this is a place to be, not just to drive through. Even if all spaces are taken, the message remains. With well-managed parking, vacant prime spaces in front of retail businesses may entice people to stop and take a look. On-street parking puts people on the sidewalk. People on sidewalks reinforce the message that this is a place to be. Economic benefits from any roadway change can’t be guaranteed, but in many cities that have implemented lane reductions, merchants are clamoring for more. They’ve experienced economic growth and attribute it to lane reductions on their street. Before the freeway opened, Carson Street had to serve primarily as a through route to other destinations. The freeway now diverts much of the through traffic, providing an opportunity to rethink how the street functions for the community and visitors. Providing access to Carson businesses can become a higher priority than moving traffic quickly through the downtown core. There are no guarantees that changing the street will bring greater economic success, but there is an opportunity to test the theory. The proposal under consideration is to repaint the street with one through traffic lane and on-street parking between Fifth and Washington Streets. Left turn pockets and the landscaped area between lanes will remain. One wide traffic lane will be provided in each direction and the remaining space will become parking area. Some pedestrian waiting areas will be painted in the parking area at intersections. It’s all paint. No permanent construction is included. If the plan doesn’t bring benefits, the street can be painted back to the way it is today. If the plan works, you may find more businesses eager to locate in the downtown area. You may find yourself stopping downtown more often.Many Reno residents feared the lane reduction that was ultimately implemented on Wells Avenue. Their fears were not realized. Safety improved, speeds lowered, and nearby residential streets did not experience increased traffic. Reno has gone on to reduce lanes on a number of streets because their data shows the benefits are worth it. You have a chance to try something new. If it doesn’t work out, you can go back. But if you don’t try, you won’t ever really know. • Sue Newberry has worked with communities throughout the nation that are redesigning public spaces to promote walking, bicycling, slow traffic speeds, and economic vitality. She is a former Carson City resident who was actively involved in Carson City transportation issues before moving to the Bay Area.