Caution lights are flashing for 'Road Diet'

On Tuesday, Aug. 2, Ashland City Council will vote on whether to accept the Traffic Commission's decision to implement immediately a trial "Road Diet" on North Main Street.

If the commission has its way, starting in September North Main will go from a four-lane highway to a two-lane street with a turning lane and bike lanes. And the trial will last at least one year.

By insisting on making this move right now, the Traffic Commission has disregarded the recommendation of city staff to wait until next year (so they can fix the Wimer-Hersey intersection), the opposition of the Rogue Valley Transportation District, the majority of citizen comments at their hearings (which opposed it), and the impact it will have on surrounding neighborhoods.

We don't know yet whether the Road Diet is a viable long-term option; but we do know that the trial should not begin in September.

The community hasn't had a real chance to consider this huge change, or to examine the arguments for and against it. Sure, there were a few hearings and a website posting. But most people in Ashland still have no detailed idea of what's actually being proposed. This is not the way a small-town government should be run.

Just to be clear: There is no urgency to make this change. If the community decides it wants a Road Diet, we can just as easily do it a year from now.

In the meantime, there's a compelling reason for City Council to reject the Traffic Commission's timetable: the Road Diet, as proposed, is poorly planned.

Dozens of critical details haven't been addressed at all. In fact, rather than solving problems, the year-long trial seems likely to create serious problems for people living in the surrounding neighborhoods.

For example, according to the city's consultants, because turning from North Main onto side streets will be restricted at a number of major intersections, an average of more than 1,500 cars will be diverted from arterial streets onto surrounding neighborhood streets every single day. That's more than 10,000 new cars a week on quiet neighborhood streets.

This can create some pretty serious safety issues. Drivers already go too fast through the neighborhoods. Now add all those cars, with a large number of commuters in a hurry to get somewhere, and imagine the impact.

Many of the affected streets have no sidewalks — pedestrians, including kids, who use the streets to get around would be at a greater risk.

There are cars pulling out of driveways and alleys. There are bad corners where visibility is already a problem. There are wildlife and pets to avoid. And there's at least one school and a neighborhood park in the area. And how are these important issues handled in the Road Diet plan? They aren't.

The quality of life for people living near the Road Diet could be seriously affected.

Quiet, livable neighborhoods is one of Ashland's most attractive assets, and homeowners in the areas surrounding the Road Diet have a right to expect the city to protect the character and integrity of their living environment. So it's hard to imagine any justification for arbitrarily diverting traffic from a designated state highway into these neighborhoods.

What about people's quality of life? The increased noise and pollution? Property values?

Even residential parking could be an issue. Some streets in the affected areas are narrow; having cars parked on both sides essentially makes them one lane — passable now, but too narrow for all the potential new traffic. It's not a stretch to imagine that the city may have to restrict parking on some residential streets.

We could go on about potential problems that are obvious to people who live in the area, but which haven't been addressed by the plan. The school buses that come and go during the day from Briscoe School, stopping traffic as they back into the driveway; the limited visibility at the corner of Nursery and North Main, where traffic will increase as a result of this plan, and so on.

There are unique hazards on at least a dozen streets. We can't expect planners to anticipate everything. But the Road Diet planners seem to be batting zero with these neighborhood issues. They need to take more time to understand the area.

The Traffic Commission's position seems to be, "Let's try it and see what happens." But the city's position should be "Let's be sure we're not endangering or disrupting people's lives before we plunge into something that isn't urgent or necessary."

Our simple conclusion: the Road Diet isn't ready for prime time.

Too many important community issues still haven't been addressed. That's why we hope City Council will defer the Road Diet decision until the spring. This will give the town time to fix the dangerous Hersey-Wimer intersection, and give residents a chance to carry on an open, inclusive dialogue exploring the efficacy of the project.

We hope you agree and will show up on Tuesday to support us.

John Javna of Ashland submitted this Guest Opinion as a member of "The Committee to Slow Down the Road Diet."

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