Could the new downtown plan lead to changes to downtown streets?

In recent months, former Mayor Michael Coleman, along with current Mayor Andrew Ginther and other local leaders, have been promoting the new downtown Columbus strategic plan. They encouraged anyone who lives, works or visits downtown to complete a survey, attend a meeting and/or submit ideas online as part of this effort.

Coleman highlighted the city’s successes in implementing ideas from the last downtown plan in 2010, including a suggestion to demolish the main street dam and create an additional 33 acres of urban parkland. along the Scioto River.

This project actually ended up coming to fruition, and another great idea from this plan 2010 – a call to build a dense mixed-use development on the Scioto Peninsula – is happening.

But there’s one category of improvements recommended by the previous plan that never really came off the drawing board: changes to downtown streets.

The 2010 plan recommended a dramatic redesign of Broad Street, with two cycle lanes protected from traffic by trees and landscaping. Other than a few painted bike lanes in front of City Hall and on the Scioto Peninsula, no significant changes have been made to Broad Street, which still provides drivers with four dedicated lanes in each direction to traverse the downtown core.

The plan also recommended that the city “investigate converting all but essential pairs of one-way streets to two-way traffic,” though it did not specify which streets should be maintained as one-way streets. .

The city has indeed converted a number of one-way downtown streets to two-way streets, including Gay Street, Town Street, Civic Center Drive, and portions of Front Street, Main Street, and Rich Street. However, many of these conversions had already occurred by the time of the 2010 plan (State Street occurred in 2005, Gay Street in 2007, and Front Street in 2008), and the others occurred soon after.

“We removed a lot of one-way streets…it was a controversial thing,” Coleman told CU earlier this year when discussing the new downtown plan. “Historically, traffic engineers controlled development…so their version of Downtown was all about speeding up as fast as you could, getting to work, finding the nearest parking space, then getting back in the car at five hours and back out of the city center…and leave those vast, undeveloped giant parking lots all over the city.Everything is changing, but we still have work to do.

Some of those vacant lots have since been filled with new apartments — more than 11,200 residents now call downtown, up from around 3,600 in 2002 and 6,300 in 2012 — but the streets remain largely the same.

This 2012 UC article discusses the pros and cons of converting one-way streets and highlights some of the potential benefits of streets designed for more than just moving rush-hour commuters in and out of the center. -town. In the decade since this article was written, no significant changes have been made to the downtown road network.

Part of Calgary’s Protected Lane System – Courtesy of the City of Calgary.

One-way, high-speed thoroughfares like Third and Fourth Streets remain as they were (although a pair of unprotected bike lanes were added in 2015), and downtown is still mostly characterized by wide, car-centric streets.

Jeffrey Tumlin, who at the time worked for urban planning firm Nelson Nygaard, pointed out in 2015 that these wide streets actually represent an incredible opportunity.

“On almost any street you could eliminate a lane of traffic, and no one will notice,” he said. “The level of service will still be high – you might have four cars in front of you at the traffic light instead of one, but there really won’t be more congestion. It’s a luxury that few economically strong cities have.

Tumlin then put this theory into practice in San Francisco, where in 2019 he became director of transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and has since overseen the expansion of the network of transit-only and protected bike lanes. from the city.

But it’s not just big cities with cycling credentials like San Francisco (or Portland, Oregon) that have managed to make the streets safer and more enjoyable for non-motorists. Local advocates have recently pointed the finger at smaller towns closer to home that have added protected bike lanes to their central core — towns like Dayton, Toledo, Akron, Ann Arbor and Carmel, Indiana.

Many people involved in the data collection phase of the new downtown plan seem to believe that this plan offers Columbus an opportunity to catch up with some of its peers. Of the more than 300 comments submitted so far to the “wall of ideas” on the website planmore than 60 mention bike lanes or traffic slowdown, and many location-based suggestions on the site interactive map also advocate better facilities for bicycles and pedestrians.

Inspiration on this front could come from an unexpected place – a city that offers a surprisingly relevant model for establishing a comprehensive network of protected pathways through a large central business district in a short period of time.

The Calgary approach

Studies have shown that protected pathways are safer than unprotected ones and that they increase traffic, encouraging people to ride who hadn’t thought of it before. There is also broad consensus that the positive benefits of a single lane increase exponentially when that lane is part of a larger network of protected bike lanes or other “low-stress” routes.

Columbus built its first protected bike lane in 2015 on Summit Street in the University District. This route has seen heavy use, but the city has not built another protected route since (new unprotected bike lanes are planned, but not without controversy).

2015 also marked the start of an 18-month pilot project in Calgary, Alberta, which used temporary barriers to create protected lanes on five downtown streets. The lanes were changed as more people used them, ensuring that the design that was eventually made permanent when the pilot ended was the one that worked best for the most people ( and the project also became more popular politically, receiving more council votes to make it permanent at the end of the pilot project than at the beginning).

Calgary Columbus
population 1.3 million 905,000
subway population 1.5 million 2.1 million
population density 4,124/square mile 4,115/square mile
city ​​center size 2.3 square miles 2.4 square miles
downtown population 38,000 11,200
Source: Wikipedia.

The impetus for the project, according to this article from the Mobility Labwas to connect the city’s popular river-adjacent trail system to various destinations within the large downtown footprint (approximately 2.3 square miles, similar to Columbus, which sits at 2.4 square miles).

According to City of Calgary, the pilot project resulted in an overall 40% increase in ridership and a decrease in sidewalk use by cyclists (from 16% to 2%). The city’s analysis also found that for drivers, the new lanes caused delays of just 90 seconds or less.

In 2019, Calgary’s downtown network was expanded to add an additional 1.5 miles of protected lanes.

Michael Andersen, a senior fellow at the Sightline Institute who has written extensively on bike lanes, called Calgary “the continent’s clearest example of an auto-centric city that achieved immediate results by quickly building a network simple, low-stress cycle route in an area where many people want to go.”

Calgary writer Tom Babin summed up the project and its ultimate success in a way that might ring true for some Columbus residents:

“In a city known for suburban sprawl, a love of the automobile and a shyness of public works… installing an entire network of segregated bike lanes in one go was a bold step [that] worked because it provided the big picture. It might have been politically easier to build the network one lane at a time, as most cities do, but adopting a lane with few connections would have been slow. In this case, descending a well-thought-out network has given cyclists and would-be cyclists a broader view of what a network of cycle paths can do and, more importantly, given them a place to go. The network did not succeed because of its audacity. He succeeded because it was convenient. But in the politically charged climate around cycling, it took boldness to ensure it was functional.

Could it work here? At least one local expert thinks so.

“I think Calgary’s approach is a great idea,” said Harvey Miller, director of OSU’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis. “Studies have shown that the great benefits of cycle paths result from network effects. People ride a lot more when separate bike lanes are interconnected in a network, because it makes the system useful for getting around town. »

“It can be very difficult to see one item at a time: instead, people only see local costs and not the larger, larger gains of the network,” he added. “And if a sprawling, auto-focused city in a conservative region like Calgary can do it, so can Columbus.”

For more information on the Downtown Strategic Plan, including the opportunity to submit ideas and comments, see downtown-columbus.com.

David H. Henry