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I was driving up Peachtree Street yesterday when I passed a sign

I remembered the few times I’d biked this stretch, over a decade ago, in the peak of my fitness.  There was not a single bike lane in metro Atlanta then, so it was a real compliment that the bike lane was there at all, even if it had just ended.

A couple of lights later, it occurred to me that this road was way too wide for the traffic on it.  There was a car in every lane, sure, but there were no other cars for over a hundred years in every lane.  The road was sized for the peak 15-minute traffic from every weekday morning  and afternoon.  Because it was a suburban road in a rich part of town, all six lanes were likely loaded in both the northbound and southbound direction in both at the AM and the PM.  A reversible lane was not going to help.

What interested me was two lanes worth of traffic on a 6-lane highway.  It was Sunday afternoon, but I’d bet the traffic on this road was often this sparse.  Every weekday, between morning, lunch and afternoon peaks, traffic may have been this light.

How hard would it be to open up those outside lanes as shoulders for most of the day and even night when traffic volume does not warrant six lanes of width?  Many highways are built to handle peak traffic with timed use of shoulder lanes that are closed the rest of the day.  Is it so different to routinely open the outside lanes of highways to traffic during the peaks, and close them the rest of the clock to enable walkers and bikers space to move safely, speedily, and comfortably along the arterial?

Instead of giving every road user their exclusive space, give them their exclusive time.  The problem with this incipient notion is that bikers generally want to get to work at the same time as motorists, and this compromise plan would still give the entire road to traffic during peak commute time.  Then again, peak traffic is also the slowest traffic. The safety and relative ease of biking during the traffic peak-of-peak may or may not be higher.  Traffic at intersections and along links could be less charitable towards further dally, for example, and more likely to hit cyclists that slow them down in the same lane or intersection.  Motorists in congestion are often intensely aware of fine-scaled variations in speed and miniature hatreds of neglectful slow-pokes.  Bikers may be especially hated and endangered during these times.  I am not sure the data exists for that.  I will hunt it down for a future post.

This is similar to the idea of “Complete Streets”, but different.  Complete streets give every road user (traffic, transit, bikers and walkers) their place in the right of way with adequate space.  I have only two quarrels with that idea: it neglects the equally important force of land use on transportation choices, and it makes for n overly wide road in new construction.  I’d prefer a better mode-sharing to a complete road section with every mode represented.  Some modes, like biking and walking, may even be better served with easements and finer scaled connections between housing, jobs, and shopping than being tied to arterial networks developed for the scale, speed, and needs of traffic.


© Dan Burden

Another variation on complete streets that appeals to me is the incomplete street.,  A skinny street, with enough space for parking on both sides of the street, and barely enough space for one  lane of traffic.  24 to 30 feet wide, no more than that.  The hazard of hitting cars on the sides or moving in the opposite direction means that motorists along these streets are interested in moving slow.  The times that I have been on these streets, I had no problem biking or walking in the middle of the street.  Completely safe, by design and agreement.

Friday, I believe I will talk about squirrels for the second time.