By Dom Nozzi
Is the City of Greenville South Carolina serious about improved safety on Stone Avenue?
The question must be raised as the City has recently initiated an effort to improve safety on this road — a road that is notoriously dangerous.
The City will show it is not serious if it opts for what all cities have tried for the past century to “improve” traffic safety. For the past century, cities have opted for the same ineffective tactics that have suffered from extreme diminishing returns for several decades.
I call them the “Five Warnings”: More Warning Lights, More Warning Paint, More Warning Signs, More Warning Education, and More Warning Enforcement.
Stone Ave will remain a car-only death trap — particularly for seniors, children, bicyclists, pedestrians, and the handicapped — unless the City assumes ownership of Stone from the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) and installs a road diet.
Going from 4 or 5 lanes to 3 lanes is a no-brainer. Dover-Kohl consultants had previously called for a road diet, and SCDOT rejected it.
A road diet will quickly and cost-effectively result in
(1) significant improvements for homes along and near Stone (which will increase property values and therefore tax revenue to local government);
(2) significant improvements for smaller retail shops along Stone (which will increase sales tax revenue to government);
(3) significant improvements for cycling and walking along and across Stone (resulting in an increase in the number of bicycling and walking trips on Stone);
(4) significant improvements for children and seniors and the disabled using Stone; (5) a significant drop in crashes on Stone (reducing injuries and deaths);
(6) a reduction in speeding and average motor vehicle speeds on Stone;
(7) a drop in dangerous lane-changing by motor vehicles;
(8) motorists, bicyclists, walkers, the handicapped, and transit users will feel less stress (and more happy civic pride), and notice more homes and businesses along this section;
(9) bicyclists and walkers will more often encounter friends (and make new friends) along this section;
(10) a reduction in road rage;
(11) an improvement in aesthetics of this section;
(12) a reduction in noise pollution along Stone; and
(13) a big drop in City maintenance costs (read: lower taxes).
By the way, a Stone Avenue road diet will perform more successfully if it includes the following:
(1) a reduction in the height of signs, street lights, and signal lights (post-mounted signals are ideal for this) along the street. Creating this more human-scaled dimensioning would make the street look better and further slow down cars;
(2) a reduction in the turning radius at driveway and street intersections. This would reduce crossing distance for walkers (to improve safety and convenience); reduce turning speeds by motorists, and increase motorist attentiveness;
(3) a modest width for the center turning lane. Conventional engineers are notorious for creating excessive turn lane widths, and they have done it again on this section. Note: Engineers will claim the excessive width is necessary. Nonsense. It is a motorist convenience measure. Motorists SHOULD be somewhat inconvenienced in this town center location. Excessive width increases motorist speeding and inattentiveness, and reduces safety for crossing walkers and handicapped. As an aside, through lanes in this section might also benefit from being narrowed (I do not know their width);
(4) To dramatically improve safety and aesthetics, the Stone Avenue road diet should avoid a continuous left-turn configuration and instead use left-turn pockets interspersed with raised and either landscaped or brick (the lower-maintenance option) medians.
A road-dieted Stone Avenue should not have any instances where the road exceeds three lanes (i.e., more than one turn lane is present). No roads in the town center should exceed three lanes for a large number of reasons. I have noticed that there are, for example, an excessive number of lanes on North Main Street north of Elford Street.
Not making the above corrections means that we reduce the visible success of the road diet. That, of course, is a tactical mistake. We need to maximize the benefits of road diets to increase the political will to achieve the many more road diets we desperately need on several oversized roads in the town center.
Important note: Going from 4 lanes to 3 does not reduce road capacity, nor will it significantly increase travel times on Stone, despite the conventional wisdom.