One of the big local topics of conversation over the last month or so is whether the City is going to eliminate a couple of lanes on Ludington Avenue between Jackson Road and William Street. This 'road diet' on the city's main artery would have significant consequences on the future of Ludington. This article will touch on what some of those effects may be, and investigate an alternative, while asking you the reader to weigh in on this important topic.
At a council meeting two weeks ago, recounted in Lies Wide Open, one of our city councilors, Kathy Winczewski, who also serves on the influential Ludington Planning Commission (LPC), spread misinformation that was readily transmitted to the public via the local media about the projected diet. Now one would expect such odd claims on social media like Fallacious-book espoused by either side of the debate, but a councilor who has one-seventh of the vote should not be so... misinformed.
But city officials have wanted this arrangement for awhile, as I explained the history in Diary of a Ludington Traffic Counter, it's been bantered in the LPC, DDA, and City Council since 2012, and introduced covertly several years previous. I noticed city official fascination with the idea at a LIAA-accommodated Placemaking Workshop conducted in 2014 that I attended out of curiosity. At the time, LIAA, a progressive think tank with representatives out of Traverse City, Ann Arbor and East Lansing was creating a master plan for the western half of the county. They asked what could be done to identify placemaking projects to improve Ludington.
A proposed road diet of another street with artist's depiction on right. Where did all that traffic go from the reality to the ideality?
The four groups each created three projects apiece, and then voted on the twelve projects. The resounding winner of votes was rather surprising to me, it was this road diet as proposed by a group made up of DDA members, as I related then:
"I look at the runaway frontrunner (Ludington Avenue road diet), and note the large amount of votes it received from the chamber, CVB, and Ludington officials (with the large intersection of DDA members and ex officios). The reasons they would likely give for reducing the traffic lanes downtown would be to slow traffic to allow people to spend more time downtown, allow more room for outdoor eating and displays, create more parking, and increase bicycle/pedestrian access."
I found it counterintuitive that reducing traffic lanes would do anything very positive unless a street's traffic volume warranted the loss. The normal people outside of local government at the time thought it was rather a crazy idea, as noted in Ludington Avenue Road Diet About as Popular as a Regular Diet:
Over 85% of the respondents on Facebook to the idea back in 2014 were viscerally against the move, but it may have been a knee-jerk reaction. Sometimes the majority gets things wrong on issues, but on issues like this such a solid majority usually indicate something more profound and basic.
Let's explore the rationale the minority uses to foist this diet on us, looking at unchallenged ideas I heard at the workshop, at meetings, and in the literature. All sides including physics agree that "The road diet will slow traffic down." Those for the change often fail to note that this is a negative outcome in traffic science unless a significant degree of safety is added.
That's when they say that a road diet would be safer, without quantifying why. It would seem that one lane traffic would cut out some types of accidents, but is it actually safer. Research showed that going from 5 to 3 lanes actually had no effect on vehicle crashes, and increased pedestrian and bicycle accidents, incidents that often end badly for those two modes of travel. As they have already noted there would be no added bike or ped facilities, it seems likely we would have similar problems here when motorists try to pass bikes and stay in the lane, when there is not enough room to do safely.
The other supposed 'benefits' offered beyond the safety fallacy seem also to fall apart. Spending more time going through the downtown is not good if like many, you need to be somewhere else in a hurry. The traffic congestion is keeping you away from the beach, or from going to Taco Bell, depending on your direction. This often leads to what is called a 'bad experience' in travelling downtown, and makes one less likely to pass that way unless they need to in the future.
More room for downtown dining? On the days you want to dine outdoors on the avenue, the added congestion would lead to exhaust fumes ruining the experience, if the increased amount of noisy idling and car horns didn't. Likewise, the benefits of any added parking offered would seem to be balanced with the increased difficulty of getting in and out of them without inconveniencing those on the road.
So with at least a partial debunking of these aspects, let's revisit the safety issue. The avenue has five lanes through the downtown, five lanes near Washington Avenue and Jackson Avenue to facilitate turns on those streets. Making Ludington Avenue three lanes in these area seems rather ludicrous when you think of it when studies show that traffic speed and safety factors are reduced by the change.
However, between Rowe and Emily and between Madison and near Jackson Road, Ludington Avenue is four lanes. Studies show that safety does increase when you change from four to three lanes, provided that the change is warranted after a traffic study. A partial road diet made over areas that have relatively few vehicles turning off the avenue doesn't really make sense, and seems like it would be more dangerous, but there are two areas where I have noticed problems occur or will more frequently occur in the future.
When I come into Ludington, I usually turn off the avenue by making a left turn at Washington, and prepare for that by getting into the left lane early. Frequently someone in front of me turns their left turn blinker on at the last minute waits fifteen seconds for traffic to clear and turns at Madison (at the left of the above satellite view), a fairly well traveled road that conveniently gets you to the Fourth Ward areas quickly.
If Madison had a left turn lane coming in, then Ludington Avenue would have two lanes of unhindered traffic. With just the acquisition of five feet of land on both sides' of the right-of-way this simple short lane addition would seem to increase traffic flow and safety
Just a little further up the avenue at Staffon Street, another short lane addition on that same block could aid motorists trying to turn north at the Staffon intersection. I remember a two day period back when I was on the fire department where three accidents at different times took place here. Now that the fire department and many social services are going to be centered around Staffon and Tinkham, a left turn lane coming from the west seems like a very smart idea.
It would allow many firefighters the ability to better avoid going squarely through the school zones in that area when travelling to the station. It will make it quicker and safer for them too. Sadly, if you own property south of the avenue, you may have a longer delay when they have to cross the condensed traffic on a three lane thoroughfare, after having to travel with care through school zones.
Rather than contract the avenue without traffic or safety benefit and indicate to our residents and our visitors that we are not expecting growth in the community in the future , why not consider expanding the avenue between Madison and Staffon and make travel in Ludington even better? Is that too revolutionary of an idea? Let me know by sharing your thoughts.
The picture and the concept drawing show a lopsided view .Sure the 3 lanes look good in the concept without the vehicles. Now put ALL those car in the picture in the concept drawing and they will go into infinity or probably Scottville LOL if that was a picture of ludington .
Excellent article X. This continuing poor decision making by City officials defies logic. It seems they are going to do what they want no matter what the public wants. Ludington's turning into a mini USSR. I still have not heard a single logical reason for eliminating the lanes. Removing street parking will take care of traffic back ups waiting on those curb parking but where are those eliminated parking spaces going to be moved to. As it stands the parking lot behind the stores can barely fit all of the cars now during peak busy times downtown. Ludington will turn into driving nightmare if the lanes are reduced, the curb parking is eliminated and the 60+ parking spaces at the end of Ludington Ave are eliminated making way for the fiasco renovation at Ludington Ave beach. Stupid, stupid, stupid.