Lies Wide Open: Officials Mangle the Truth About Ludington Road Diet

If there's one thing worse than an official outright lying to the public at an open meeting, it's the local media reporting that information to the public as fact without checking up on it.

The official was Ludington City Councilor Kathy Winczewski, a former science teacher at Ludington High School, who should know better.  She has had plenty of practice at misrepresenting scientific facts in the past regarding our city's problems with lead pipes in their systems. 

If you recall, she put forth a false anecdote about talking with a Lowe's associate who said they still sold lead-containing water fixtures from their store.  Then after both John Shay and Utility Maintenance Supervisor Plamondon told the public there were many lead goosenecks connecting the city water mains to the city's water shut-off valves, she summarized at the end of that meeting:  "There's no lead in any pipes that we know of in the city".  Other city officials and other media let her get away with both misstatements without further comment.  Meanwhile, lead goosenecks are showing up everywhere they dig up the streets in Fourth Ward this summer. 

But let's forego our unhealthy water situation for a while to focus on her latest prevarications on traffic science.  Here is an audio link to the 8-14-2017 LCC meeting, unlike other meetings, the camera operator did not make the meeting tonight (thanks to the City Clerk Deb Luskin for sharing her audio recording with me) open it up in another window and listen to Councilor Winczewski talk about the proposed road diet our city leaders are currently studying the feasibility of.  You will hear her say at 1:18:20

"Did you know that our lanes on Ludington Avenue right now are 10 feet.  Legally they have to be twelve... so we know that lanes are supposed to be 12 feet, you may not know that (1).  We also know that other cities that have done this and it's worked out very well for them from 4 or 5 lanes to three (2).  It slows traffic down, it's made pedestrian traffic in cities much safer (3)... I think it's worth looking at, it doesn't cost us any more money (4)."

I have marked four statements of hers as misleading or directly false according to my resources.  Here's how I get there. 

1.  "Legally (the lanes) have to be twelve (feet wide)":  So apparently our city is not following the law throughout the city for lane widths if the councilor is to be believed.  The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sets the range of widths of lanes of streets and roads.  Here is a link that shows the range of widths:

You can see that except for freeways and their ramps, the range of widths of a lane is between 10 and twelve feet; they can even be 9 feet for local street or roads.  There is no law in the motor vehicle code or dictum of the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) that says otherwise that I have found, you are welcome to find any authority that says any street or road, other than freeways and their ramps, in Michigan that is 10 ft. wide is against the law. 

But let's not stop there.  The councilor infers that 12 ft. wide lanes are better and safer than 10 ft. wide lanes (otherwise, why would they be against the law?).  But traffic science does not back that claim.  In the excellently researched and entertaining article Why 12-Foot Traffic Lanes Are Disastrous ..., the author, a respected city planner makes the case for 10 ft. wide lanes over 12 ft. wide lanes using established studies by respected traffic engineers that show his point. 

Quickly summarized:  "When lanes are built too wide, pedestrians are forced to walk further across streets on which cars are moving too fast and bikes don't fit."  The traffic engineer's bible, The Green Book, even admits this:  "under interrupted-flow (signalized) conditions operating at lower speeds (35 MPH or less), narrower lane widths [10 ft] are normally quite adequate and have some advantages."

Two extensive studies in the article declare:  "...all projects evaluated during the course of the study that consisted of lane widths exclusively of 10 feet or more [rather than 12 feet] resulted in accident rates that were either reduced or unchanged." and "A safety evaluation of lane widths for arterial roadway segments found no indication, except in limited cases, that the use of narrower lanes increases crash frequencies. The lane widths in the analyses conducted were generally either not statistically significant or indicated that narrower lanes were associated with lower rather than higher crash frequencies."

It then illustrates how a boulevard in Florida could install protected bicycle lanes on both sides with the extra road created cutting the lanes from 12 ft to 10 ft wide, and make the boulevard have lower crash frequencies. 


Sadly, our media took Councilor Winczewski's comments as factual and so their readership and listenership believe we currently have unsafely thin streets that are illegal.  That's just spreading poisonous propaganda.

2)  'We know that it has worked well for other cities in reducing 4 or 5 lanes to 3':  She offers no examples, but John Shay offered the example of a road diet in Birmingham, Michigan.  The only road diet conducted in that city was for West Maple Road, a four lane road that was converted to a three lane road by their councilors with a bit of citizen flak.  The citizens even tried to change the charter shortly thereafter to get rid of the road diet, but ultimately failed having to go against a well organized group of officials and former officials.

But four to three lanes is an apples and oranges comparison to five to three lanes.  In a four lane street, the left lane is often clogged by those turning left on both sides making it almost equivalent to a complicated three lane street.  With five lanes, there are two lanes flowing each way no matter how many left turners you have; you lose a lane each way when you reduce it to three.  Which brings us to...

3) "It slows traffic down, it's made pedestrian traffic in cities much safer.":  Four lane to three lane road diets are generally safer by most metrics, but not 5 to 3 according to another study involving 5+ lanes and more road diets, where it says:

"The analysis looked at crash data analyzed for East Boulevard and Multnomah Street [5 lanes to 3 lanes road diets with 18.8K and 10K average daily traffic each, respectively] generally showed similar numbers of reported crashes before and after project implementation. The East Boulevard project showed increases in bicycle and pedestrian crashes." 

As noted in the study, the diet slowed traffic down, and that's definitely not a favorable result when you also increase bicycle and pedestrian crashes and have no effect on vehicle crashes.  This study, which relies heavily on the results of other studies found that both safety and traffic flow decreased with a 5 to 3 lane road diet, which are both contrary to the goals of finding a way to maximize traffic flow and safety.  

4)  "it doesn't cost us any more money":  If Councilor Moonbeam actually believes this, then let's consider some of the additional costs:  additional studies by MDOT to retime the lights, purchasing left hand turn lights for at least three intersections, signage indicating lane narrowing and widening, reconfiguring side streets (such as Court and Loomis), etc. 

Let's not forget the added costs on the commuters going through downtown area for needing to stop and go more frequently than they do now. As noted here, an unwarranted stop sign at an intersection that 8000 people go through each day can cost the public over $200,000 a year, mostly in operational costs.  Here we have the same problem, perhaps more so.

Before the councilor spread the misleading or patently false propaganda noted in this article and the city manager offered up a poor example, I offered a proposal to the city to do the right thing as regards this road diet study and look at the data and judge it fairly.  This was after a couple of other citizens gave their own testimonials against what they thought was a crazy idea.  We can only hope that other councilors decide to actually bend to the science of traffic engineering, and not the false proclamations of their science-denying peers at city hall.

XLFD (1:15:20):  "I appreciate the City allowing citizen volunteers to take part in the recent traffic study conducted by MDOT to gauge the feasibility of a road diet for Ludington Avenue.  I have heard a variety of opinions over the last few years since this was originally proposed publicly in 2012 and I've noticed that the people who seem to be for this change are almost exclusively city officials, while those against it appears to be just about everybody else who has traveled through Ludington during the summer. 

This dichotomy of opinion may even override what MDOT's traffic study may determine as the best course to take.  For if the study suggests one course of action is best followed, it seems unlikely that adherents to the opposing view will change their minds readily based on the findings.  This will not be much of a problem if the findings show that the road diet is a feasible idea, for officials will then readily vote for the restriping of the avenue, have science backing them up, and be able to stem off the unwarranted criticism that may follow by pointing to the study. 

But what if the study determines it's unfeasible or is otherwise inconclusive?  Will our officials swallow their convictions and keep the avenue at 5 lanes?  Or will they hold to their beliefs of the potential benefits and ignore the science warning them not to tinker with it?    Our leaders haven't told us yet of the many hidden costs behind a switch from five to three lanes-- it's not just a matter of road paint.  In a time when we are going into heavy debt to maintain the city's utilities and face a projected deficit over the next couple of years, should we do a costly change to our main artery when its found unwarranted and potentially dangerous?"

Let science and the truth prevail in the end.

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Science and the truth don't seem to mix with councilor Moon Beam Kathy at all these days, so why would it now? She's gone over the edge several times in recent months and as a junior councilor yet, needs to swallow her pride and narcissistic tendencies that seem to prevail nowadays. And, good job media, for yet another endeavor at creating fake news from city hall at it's finest.

Do any of the studies mention curb side parking? This is a big factor in how smoothly traffic flows. It's obvious that 5 lanes can easily handle vehicles that are continually entering and leaving curb side parking spaces. 3 lanes is quite the opposite. Like I said there's more going on here than meets the eye. These politicians are up to something and as usual it will not be good for the taxpayers.

You hit that nail right on the head IHAN.

I like the way you think IHaveANotion.

Maybe the City Counselors title should be changed to  City Enablers.

Then they can have a more honest City Enablers Meeting twice a month.

Their prime objective seems to be conniving ways to up hold the City's pension plan and to enrich the downtown merchants, public be dammed.

Was I dreaming or when I perused through the latest auditors report has the city's unfunded pension liability increased from $7million to $10 million? 

Someday when I have the time I will have to look at that again.

The realization of how the process works in all too many out-of-touch local governments and their departments, is wisdom that is accompanied with sadness that it is so inefficient for the public.  This isn't how public servants should be operating or thinking, but it's what happens when they consider themselves above their position and use their powers to the detriment of all in enriching themselves and their fellow officials. 

Don't let it get you down, let it serve as a leavening agent to get you to rise up-- and be counted.

Hey, everybody counts. 

An observation you may find interesting.  This road diet idea seems to recirculate around the DDA Board whether it makes the minutes or not.  One of the nascent ideas behind such road diets are the creation of bicycle facilities on the roadway, and guess who has been Treasurer on the DDA Board since the idea started burning?  The co-owner of Spindrift Cyclesports at 102 W Ludington  whose business is currently difficult to reach for cyclists, the President of the Ludington/Scottville Chamber of Commerce who may value the success of her business over the success of city traffic. 

and the plot thickens...

People will just speed between neighborhoods to avoid the backup. Extremely dangerous proposal. Is someone purposefully trying to raise the mortality rate on bicyclists?  Hmm...who would do that?


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