Monday, November 23, 2015

A Better Plan

No concrete has hit the ground yet,
so let's be as open as possible right now.
Most people who've thought very much about 30 Crossing probably have some sort of plan in their heads as an alternative to the Arkansas Highway (and Transportation) Department's preferred ten-lane monstrosity. A lot of us have taken to Facebook, public meetings, blogs, emails, and complaint sessions over adult beverages to share various bits and pieces of what we envision for the future of transportation in downtowns Little Rock, North Little Rock and the larger region, but putting enough of the individual pieces together into one cohesive whole that's also practical and actually achievable has proved elusive for our ragtag group of loosely-affiliated armchair planners. Imagining sending rockets to the moon is easy; coming up with something a little more more down-to-earth... not so much. Gallingly though, some of the paid professionals on the highway side have cited this lack of good response from the amateur-citizen-volunteer side as reason to keep plowing blindly forward. The nerve! But out of the blue this morning, lo and behold, a completely unsolicited email graced my inbox with just such a plan laid out logically and concisely. The sender asked not to be identified for various reasons, but what follows is this person's reasoning and outline for a path forward. I've been told that the basic structure has been approvingly bounced off other knowledgeable people who also would prefer not to be identified. Note again that some of the individual components below have already been stated by many people. The Chester Street bridge has been discussed for years! However, this is the first time I've seen such a short but complete list assembled into a package that folks at the Highway (and Transportation) Department could conceivably sit down and have a serious discussion about next week. This doesn't solve all the problems, but it does address all of the issues AHTD says need to be dealt with by their current project. And, this simple plan goes about that task in a much more affordable, adaptable, resilient, and frankly better way than ripping up six-lane I-30 and replacing it with ten-lane I-30.

Don't worry- my multi-part critique of AHTD's 30 Crossing plan and methodology will continue [as a quick aside- boy oh boy there's some really nice, juicy stuff hidden down deep in AHTD's traffic modeling data and assumptions, stay tuned...], but right now I'm ecstatic to be able to finally share a real alternative that makes sense. I've copied the email below with only minor edits of my own, and underneath that you'll see a few maps that I whipped up as rough draft illustrations. There's a lot to think about here, so view this as a beginning instead of a final version that anyone thinks AHTD should break ground on tomorrow. Shoot me a line with your thoughts and reactions. Folks at StudioMAIN: I know you're playing nicey-nicey with AHTD right now, but if you could spare a bit of your design and planning expertise for A Better Plan please chime in. I'm happy to post your ideas here anonymously if you'd rather not ruffle any feathers. 

Who knows, this could turn into a recurring weekly post of updates and explanations as feedback and suggestions come in. 

But hey, enough of my yackin'. What do you say? Let's boogie!

The 4 steps: 
1. Re-designate I-440 as I-30 to divert traffic between Memphis and Dallas as the main route through Little Rock.
2. Add additional ramp lanes to facilitate access from I-630 south to I-30 and Benton, Bryant, etc. and to the former I-440 for traffic to Lonoke, Cabot, etc.
3. Construct a new bridge between the northern end of Chester Street in Little Rock and Riverfront Drive in North Little Rock. Designate this new route as Highway 10 to take pressure off La Harpe (potentially even eliminating the need for it which would enable the City of LR to reconnect parts of downtown LR to the river) and to divert traffic away from the current I-30 bridge. Riverfront Drive (NLR side) provides connections to US Highway 70 going east, I-30 going north, and I-40 west via Pike Avenue. Plus, Riverfront is overbuilt for its current traffic loads.  
Simultaneously with Steps 1-3, work to reduce traffic demand by expanding Rock Region Metro (there's finally going to be vote on dedicated funding for transit some time next year), expanding biking and walking infrastructure, reducing or eliminating requirements that businesses provide off-street parking downtown, etc. and gain a more nuanced understanding of how autonomous vehicles might affect all aspects of transportation in the near future. 
4. Replace the current I-30 bridge. Daily vehicle miles traveled has flatlined or even gone down over the past eight years in contrast to AHTD's projected 1% annual growth from now until eternity. Regardless of actual future changes in VMT, autonomous vehicles are nearly certain to enable us to more efficiently use a given amount of road space. In other words, a six lane road 15 years from now might be able to carry as much traffic as what the engineers think we need a 10-lane road for today. So, there will likely be a point in the future when the I-30 Corridor in the downtowns could be converted to a wide boulevard on-grade with the surrounding city, with traffic lights every third city block (or not, if autonomous vehicles really take off. Think about it.) The boulevard would connect at street level with the rest of the downtown grid and would allow for bike and greenway trails, bus lanes, and exceptional opportunities for commercial and residential development with new corner lots and frontage property.  
This approach of de-emphasizing freeways in the city center is what cities are turning to throughout the country. More and more people are attracted to the quality of life offered by more urban, more walkable, less car-dependent neighborhoods. It is very apparent that many young people are attracted to this lifestyle by the influx of younger individuals and families to downtown. Our society is much more traveled and savvy than before, and people see examples of quality city and transportation planning in other parts of the country and want to see it here.  
The beauty of The Better Plan is that it will make it easier for commuters as well, by taking advantage of existing infrastructure and adding key links for traffic options, shortening commuting times, and increasing safety by diverting traffic to newer and safer I-440. It will also, if sequenced correctly, make it much easier to build the new I-30 bridge by reducing the traffic that uses it and by having another river crossing option already in place.  
The vision is that 30 years down the road Little Rock will have a first class downtown that is easily accessible from throughout the region but is pedestrian and bike friendly, environmentally sustainable and can compete with other cities across the country for businesses and visitors. The ultimate goal of building a boulevard where the I-30 Corridor is currently located need not be done overnight and may have to wait until VMT are lower, other transportation options are developed, and/or autonomous vehicles enable current road space to carry more traffic. But, whenever it's built the new bridge should be designed for the features to complement the future boulevard.  
The citizens and Cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock need to take some of the load off the I-30 Corridor through more bicycle commuting, transit options, carpooling and other traffic reducing strategies. The AHTD needs to abandon the plan for a 10-lane I-30 Corridor and built a river bridge at Chester Street. 

[The emailer included this next part first, but I moved it down here for no good reason.]
The main problem with the approach the AHTD is taking on 30 Crossing is that the problem to be solved was never publicly stated before a solution was proposed. An initial problem statement needs to be agreed upon. The following is a statement pieced together from AHTD presentations:
-There is traffic congestion in the I-30 Corridor, especially at rush hour.
-Most of the traffic, according to the AHTD, is local.
-VMT will increase at 1% per year.
-The exits and ramps in the downtown area do not meet today's design requirements for freeway speeds.
-There are safety concerns because of the congestion.
-The I-30 bridge needs to be replaced because AHTD built it with a pier in the middle of the navigation channel and because of structural concerns.
-AHTD would like to offer some minimum travel speed for commuters at rush hour. 

And now, here are some maps, courtesy of MoveArkansas's Division of Google Earth Manipulation within the Graphics Department. I drew an admittedly odd squiggle at the northern end of the Chester Street bridge. First, I know those curves are way too tight for a state highway. I'll fix that later. Second, I'll also explain later why I think veering a bit more east than some people envision might be better than going straight or even veering west on the NLR side. 

I-30 today

I-30 after updating some signs

Possible Chester Street bridge alignment

Chester Street bridge from the south

Chester Street bridge from the east

Chester Street bridge from the northwest

Until next time, keep dreaming! 

4 comments:

  1. I think this alternative would still be cheaper even though it adds a new bridge. Probably less that $600 million, definitely less than the higher cost estimates in the billions. AND since it involves a new bridge, they could use the CAP funds (at least for that part, not sure if they call it one big project if they could then use the money to also fix/replace the existing I-30 bridge).

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  2. I bet our downtown will start expanding more west if Chester saw a lot of the traffic which I think is a good thing.

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  3. I was thinking the same thing about switching 440 to 30 and focusing flow improvements along that route. Playing devil's advocate about Chester St. bridge: Chester street is very narrow along some blocks, what adjustments would need to be made to cope with the increased traffic the bridge would bring? What about an extension of Pike Ave. south across the river on the west side of the Barring Cross bridge, connecting the existing roundabout with a new one created on La Harpe? And finally, instead of turning the existing I30 corridor into a boulevard someday, what about combining a new Chester/western downtown bridge with a bridge east of the Clinton Center, say connecting an extended Riverfront Drive in NLR and the area by Carver MS where that random 6th & 9th st. boulevard is (and which could be connected directly to 630 in place of 15th st) and abandoning the I30 bridge & corridor completely; that would do wonders in reconnecting and rejuvenating the eastern neighborhoods on both sides of the river.

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