Stanley Street: A closer look at a controversial topic
By Joe Bachman
STEVENS POINT — On Wednesday, Bicycle and Street Safety Commission officials will review bids, speed limits, as well as the design for the likely conversion of Stanley Street from four lanes to three. Final bids for the project have a deadline of Tuesday, Aug. 7.
While this topic has created a sore spot for many of those who inhabit Stanley Street, as with any two-sided issue, biases must eventually be set aside for facts and statistics to make their way to the top. Will Stanley Street be good for the city, and will the city benefit from the 4-3 change? While nobody can look into the future to see how this potential project could work out, data from dozens of studies across multiple cities and towns are available to dive into to see what the future may hold.
Stanley Street, compared to other roads in the area sees a lot of traffic. According to 2017 Wisconsin DOT traffic counts, the street can see as high as up to 12,900 drivers per day near the I-39 exit. In comparison, Division Street near Exit 161, actually sees less traffic, with 11,800 drivers. As a note, the intersection of Division Street and Clark Street does have a higher traffic count with 13,400.
With the exception of Main Street/U.S. Highway 10, Stanley Street contains some of the highest traffic counts in the city on a street less than half the size of Main Street and Division Street.
Major concerns among those in opposition of the 4-3 measure include fears of slowed and congested traffic due to one-less lane, safety concerns over those backing out of Stanley Street driveways onto a street with one-less lane, and whether or not the city simply needs to put time and effort into such a project.
Creating a narrower driving lane for residents has come with push-back, especially among those who believe the project serves as nothing more than a way for bike lanes to be installed down Stanley Street. However, the larger question has to be ultimately asked — is this going to be safer, or more dangerous?
According to the Federal Highway Administration, (FHWA) road diets are “deemed a proven safety countermeasure and promotes them as a safety-focused design alternative to a traditional four-lane, undivided roadway”. These same studies state that road diets statistically reduce crashes from anywhere from 19-47 percent when put into place in an area. This is mainly due to the fact that in road diets, drivers are statistically more likely to drive at lower speeds if caught in slightly higher traffic.
There is another word those interested in this subject may want to get accustomed to: ‘Conflict-Points.’
In 1999, a road study was done for a highway in the city of Fort Madison, Iowa. In this study, they observed a highway that increased the lanes from two to four — and what they found was that every measurable category increased. Traffic volume and driver’s speed on this road increased from anywhere from 2-4 percent, while accidents jumped to a 14 percent increase. Furthermore, the injury rate jumped to an astonishing 88 percent.
This is mainly due to four-way roads having more conflict-points, or in other words, areas on the road in which a crash is likely to occur. Multiple officials in the Department of Transportation have teamed with the FHWA to conclude as such from various studies — that in most cases, 4-3 lane conversions create a safer driving environment. This also ensures that drivers making a left-turn will only have to cross one lane of traffic, as opposed to two.
The same group of officials concluded that safer roads could lead to safer access to businesses on that road.
From 2012-2016, 70 accidents were reported on Stanley Street, comparable to numbers on larger nearby roads, such as Michigan Avenue, Clark Street, and Maria Drive.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, figures report that in 2010, vehicle accidents cost the country $871 Billion dollars. These are accidents mostly caused from distraction, speeding, and drunk driving. According to the same figures, taxpayers fitted the bill for these accidents, making up approximately 7 percent of all crash costs. In total, this cost taxpayers $18 billion dollars in 2010. This includes city cleanup costs, traffic delays, rising insurance costs, gas consumption due to accidents, and environmental degradation.
According to the FHWA, road diets that have been installed in roads as early as 1979 have come back with mostly positive economic results. Cities such as Indianapolis, Brooklyn, and Charlotte, have all measured economic success due to road diets. This is due partly in “changing the corridor from a place that people “drive-through” to one that they “drive-to.”
This could also allow for easier travel for bicyclists to safely reach surrounding business on Stanley Street, especially those on-campus at nearby UWSP.
Who owns the road?
Many of those who live on Stanley Street feel that they have more of a say in this matter due to the fact that they live on this road. However, numbers tell a different story of ownership.
With 10,000 – 12,000 drivers using Stanley Street everyday, it’s safe to say that these are not exclusively Stanley Street residents. The majority of city street projects come from all taxpayers from all 11 districts, with approximately 16 percent coming from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
While some may use Stanley Street more than others, it statistically belongs to all residents.
Do they work all of the time?
The short answer: No.
Road diets have been reversed in some areas such as Gainesville, Fla. and have received some backlash in parts of Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Raleigh. According to the National Motorists Association, a grassroots alliance of motorists that are not federally affiliated, the answer for safer streets doesn’t involve re-painting the roads, but improving the traffic handling capabilities of main thoroughfares. In other words, increasing speed limits, and synchronizing traffic controls.
However, while no known wide-ranging studies or statistical data is available to support this theory the FHWA has estimated that as many as 75 percent of all traffic signals could easily be improved by updating their equipment or adjusting timing plans — this could lead to safer roads.
A study in York County, Va estimated that drivers have saved a combined $65,000 a year from efficient traffic signals from the calculated costs of wasting vehicle time. Fuel consumption in this study also decreased by 11 percent. In Abilene, Texas, updated traffic signals resulted in a 13 percent reduction in travel time and a 37 percent reduction in delay, as well as additional fuel savings.
In one study in Troy, Mich., collisions causing serious injury were cut by 50 percent after adaptive traffic signals were implemented there.
However, such upgrades, including the installation of new traffic control system can range up to $250,000-$500,000 per signal, with an average upkeep cost of $8,000 per year. Road diets, in comparison, cost considerably less depending on the stretch of road with some estimates not even hitting the six-figure mark.
Stevens Point Public Works director Scott Beduhn’s March presentation concluded that a road diet is not something Stanley Street needs, however, he concluded that there is a likelihood accidents would be reduced, as well as increase efficiency.
The debate will undoubtedly rage on on both sides as this process continues, regardless of facts. Statistics and studies show that road diets do historically work. However, no city road is built exactly the same, and in the case of Stevens Point, we truly do not know if this road diet, if ultimately passed, will be a benefit or a detriment to residents.