GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Are Grand Rapids streets too fat? Is that why some of them have been put on a so-called road diet? It’s happening all over the city. Which one is next?
Actually, a road diet has nothing to do with fat. But it does trim down a four-lane street and makes it safer and more functional.
Plainfield Avenue NE was the first Grand Rapids street to get the road diet in 2006. Its four lanes between Leonard Street and Fuller Avenue were trimmed down to two travel lanes with a turn lane. That left room for bike lanes, an urban asset commonly considered important in making a city a nicer place to live.
There is a price to a road diet: slower traffic. City Traffic Safety Engineer Chris Zull has heard the complaints. “'I'll have to travel slower on the road,'” Zull quotes public comments, because one slow driver slows everyone down.But, “we're increasing safety by having people driving slower,” Zull says. There are, indeed, fewer accidents to roads put on a diet.
Since 2006, other city streets such as Fulton Street, Burton Street, and Knapp Street have been put on road diets.
Now, city engineers are looking at Alpine Avenue between Leonard Street and Ann Street, currently under a two-year rebuilding project and recently resurfaced. But instead of just putting the road on a diet, a meeting was held June 29 to ask city resident what they thought about the idea.
Officials need to mull over what they heard, and it’s possible that nothing new will be done. It’s happened before.
When this year’s resurfacing of Fuller Avenue between Leonard and Knapp streets was scheduled, such a meeting was held, but residents balked, saying there was too much traffic to squeeze into just one travel lane. City engineers took another traffic count and agreed. “So we're going to do the work to resurface the road,” Zull said, “but it will go back to the same configuration it has now.”
Road diets can contribute in other ways in making a city more livable. A section of Plainfield in the Creston area has water retention islands that look like they are there to be pretty, full of flowers and native plants. The landscaping hides a sophisticated system that captures water run-off.
“We've been able to retain water locally,” said Zull, “which helps our rivers and our storm water as well as adding to the tree canopy and the vegetation in the right-of-way.”
Are other Grand Rapids streets being considered for road diets? Zull said that depends. “We are looking at every four-lane road, asking ourselves the question, ‘At the time of reconstruction and resurfacing, would a road diet be appropriate for this road?’”