Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hitting the Nail on the Head

At one point during the walking portion of Dan Burden's trip to Little Rock earlier this week we were all discussing the potential of putting University and Asher Avenues on road diets and replacing the 29 lanes of traffic and 15 stoplights (it's 29 lanes if you walk all the way around) at the intersection with a simple traffic circle. Someone said something along the lines of "but University is an arterial road that brings lots of people into Little Rock from the suburbs" implying that chaos will ensue if we inject some common sense and livability into that space. I find that to be a common theme of responses to proposed change and don't blame the people making those statements at all. "But all these cars are here as the result of the natural forces of growth. Progress means more cars and more lanes, not less. We're pro-growth, pro-development, pro-progress, by golly!" It's how we've all been taught to think for the last few decades, and changing that paradigm is going to take some time and effort.

Read this. Today. Right now

First of all, replacing big wide roads and traffic lights with smaller roads and traffic circles to keep traffic moving often doesn't reduce capacity much, if at all. Secondly, our car-centric policies of the last half century have led to people making more trips by car than they used to. (surprise!) If we make University and Asher more people-centric and promote dense, safe, walkable development there, then a lot of people will choose to live there instead of out in the boonies. They'll be able to take care of more of their daily needs very close-by instead of having to drive back and forth all over creation. They'll still be able to drive anywhere they want, but they won't need to drive as much as they do now. Plus, that area is already decently served by CAT buses; a walkable, livable design will only make that service even more effective and efficient, further reducing people's reliance on driving.

Yes, right now University Avenue is an arterial road that lots of suburban commuters and shoppers and hospital visitors and students and concert goers and diners use, but let's not allow an arbitrary label to limit our future.

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