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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Free-market policy guru bemoans road diets

What hath yall done with 10th Street, you socialists?!?
In various parts of Atlanta, you'll notice that the city is building transportation projects that could make bicyclists', pedestrians', and transit riders' lives a little easier.

In some instances, the city has been able to do this with "road diets." They take one lane of automobile traffic and turn it into a bike lane or widen the sidewalk. This might upset drivers, who might lose a lane that allows them to buzz past a slow motorist. But it gives other people who don't drive another option to get around town. And more fixes are on the way.

This is not good news to Benita Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a free-market think tank. In an op-ed in Sunday's Marietta Daily Journal, Dodd wrote that these road diets are depriving motorists of valuable lanes that will ferry them, as they drive by themselves, from point A to point B.

The Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association recently sent out an email to members reporting on the city's "plan for short to long term streetscape improvements (on Peachtree Road from Martin Luther King Jr. to Marietta Street), including landscaping, art, lighting, a road diet and more."

Perhaps the question nobody is asking here is, "What is the right size?" And more important, "Why worry about road diets?"

Here's why. It's a nip here and a tuck there, but the insidious "livability" approach to transportation should worry commuters, given that metro Atlanta drivers are clamoring for congestion relief, not streetscapes, art or roadway reductions.

Bicycle lanes are a noble goal, but not a transportation/commuting priority in a climate of shrinking dollars. According to the Census Bureau, in 2010, an estimated 0.53 percent of American workers commuted by bicycle; in Atlanta, it was 0.9 percent. (The city claims the 2012 share is 1.1 percent. If true, that's a whopping 22 percent increase in bicycling commuters!)

Even as transportation funds shrink, these ambitious plans, along with an ever-costlier streetcar project, are reducing vital road capacity in a city that barely kept up with it before[.]

This "insidious 'livability' approach" might not make the lives of people commuting in and out of the city any easier but it could help Atlanta residents. And what's so wrong with that? As Atlanta grows more dense, we can't continue to accommodate more cars. The impact on traffic should be considered, sure, but that alone shouldn't dictate whether the projects move forward or not. We need more bike lanes, better transit, and safer sidewalks.

I think what's really been bugging me about Dodd's column is this line: "metro Atlanta commuters are clamoring for congestion relief." Then she focuses on the city's efforts.

I can understand a suburban commuter wanting traffic congestion relief. But when what's considered "congestion relief" for someone in Gwinnett County affects the quality of life for Atlantans, that's a problem. Are suburban motorists' dreams of shaving a few minutes off the trip time between I-75 and their Downtown office more important than those of Atlantans who might not want mini-highways outside their apartment building?

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