Commission votes 4-3 to cut vehicle lanes, add bike lanes to NW 8th Ave.
Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 8:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 8:23 p.m.
The City Commission is forging ahead with the hotly debated plan to add bike lanes and reduce vehicle lanes along a stretch of Northwest Eighth Avenue.
After hours of arguments for and against the proposal, commissioners voted 4-3 Thursday to make those changes part of the working design for a future road resurfacing project.
The full 3.3-mile road resurfacing project will run from Northwest Sixth Street to Northwest 40th Drive. The commission majority voted to reduce travel lanes and add bike lanes along most of the less than one-mile stretch between Northwest 23rd and Northwest 34th streets in the area of Loblolly Woods Nature Park.
The roadway is one-lane in each direction to the east of 23rd and two-lanes in each direction to the west of 34th.
Commissioners Susan Bottcher, Thomas Hawkins, Lauren Poe and Randy Wells voted to support the redesign, which also includes a landscaped median.
During commission debate on the issue, Poe quoted a slew of policies from the Comprehensive Plan stating the city's transportation system should include "complete streets" with facilities for all modes of transportation.
Mayor Ed Braddy and commissioners Todd Chase and Yvonne Hinson-Rawls voted in opposition to the vehicle lane reduction.
"I support bicycle facilities," Hinson-Rawls said. "I just don't support them at the expense of automobiles."
The commission majority also voted to keep the current trial version of the design, which includes the vehicle lane reduction and the added bike lanes, in place along that stretch of Eighth Avenue until construction on the resurfacing project starts — probably sometime in 2015.
That means that segment of road will have fewer vehicle travel lanes along it while a county construction project is ongoing along the major east-west corridor to the north, Northwest 16th/23rd Avenue.
Public Works Director Teresa Scott said that if traffic volume increases significantly along Northwest Eighth during the construction on 16th/23rd, staff could bring a proposal to the commission to temporarily revert Northwest Eighth back to two lanes in each direction.
Debate among commissioners and among members of the public who supported or opposed the redesign included conflicting arguments on whether the changes would increase cyclist safety or lead to traffic congestion.
A Public Works Department analysis concluded that wait times at the intersection with 34th Street were not significantly impacted by the change and the level of service, a measure of congestion and traffic volume, was not affected. The two crashes reported from August to October matched the number of crashes from the prior year.
The staff analysis showed that bicycle trips, when compared to a 2011 count, increased from 108 in 2011 to 149 in 2013. Two separate 12-hour snapshots showed an average of 106 pedestrians. Automobiles remained the vast majority of the traffic — more than 98 percent — at 14,551 average daily trips.
With wider sidewalks also part of the plan, Braddy said the "one percent get two lanes, the sidewalks as well as their own lane, the motorists, the 98 percent, get one lane."
Arnall Downs, who has lived off Northwest Eighth for decades, said the changes, which include a lower speed limit, have slowed speeding traffic and made it more safe for foot traffic to cross the road between the two sections of Loblolly Nature Park.
Ethan Fieldman, who also lives off Northwest Eighth, said the changes were an "enormous inconvenience" for motorists.
Jeff McAdams, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, presented a policy paper from the police union opposed to the lane reduction because it would negatively impact emergency response times.
Police Chief Tony Jones and Sgt. Joe Raulerson, head of the department's traffic safety team, said they had no input on the union's statement and were not aware of it prior to Thursday's meeting. Jones and Raulerson said they had not had any input or conducted an analysis on how the redesign might affect emergency response times.
After Thursday, the ongoing design process for the road resurfacing project will go to the City Commission's Recreation, Cultural Affairs and Public Works Committee for more work hammering out details. It will come back before the full commission for future votes before construction begins.
With design still ongoing, cumulative cost estimates for the road project are in the range $3.3 million, but that figure is not final.
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