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Underused roadways candidates for diets

May 5, 2019 GMT

Diets. They’re not just for waistlines. 

Street and road engineers routinely analyze city roadways to determine whether shrinking or widening the pavement is appropriate. Reducing the number of travel lanes and physically shrinking lane width are examples of what the department calls a road diet, Fort Wayne Public Works Director Shan Gunawardena said. 

“Whenever we do a rehabilitation of a road, we look at what the current traffic conditions are and whether the roadway is designed for the appropriate traffic,” he said. “A lot of the streets that we’ve found, that we’ve performed road diets on, are not.” 

When officials find a street where traffic counts are less than what the roadway was designed for, crews have two options: rebuild the entire street or keep the curb where it is and reallocate space for bike lanes or other improvements. Public Works has done both. 

Road diets began in 2008, Gunawardena said, and have been performed throughout the city. 

Rudisill Boulevard in particular presented a safety issue, Gunawardena said, prompting Public Works to move forward with a road diet. With no dedicated left turn lane, drivers were stopping in the travel lane to turn left. 

“There was a lot of weaving, a lot of stopping and turning in front of one another because of the number of driveways and public streets out there,” Gunawardena said. “Four lanes without a center turn lane is not a good design for an urban environment.”

Rudisill eventually went from four travel lanes to three with a center turn and bike lane. 

One example of a recent road diet, Gunawardena said, is McKinnie Avenue between Anthony Boulevard and Hessen Cassel Road. With four travel lanes, McKinnie saw about 5,000 vehicles a day. Four travel lanes, Gunawardena said, are typically used for road volumes between 17,000 and 20,000 cars per day.  

“So we rebuilt the street and narrowed the pavement down and we were able to reallocate the remaining space to put in a trail where there wasn’t any pedestrian infrastructure around there,” he said. 

Along with traffic counts, Public Works tries to use the potential for future growth : residential, commercial, industrial : to determine the size. One example is Hobson Road from State Boulevard to Stellhorn Road, Gunawardena said. That section of road is already developed, with little potential for increased traffic. That section is also overdesigned for the amount of traffic it serves, but needs bike lanes. 

City crews have completed a section of Hobson from State Boulevard to Coliseum Boulevard, and are planning to do the rest of the corridor, from Coliseum to Stellhorn Road, next year.

“We not only narrowed the pavement, we narrowed the pavement and put in bike lanes,” Gunawardena said. “So, we recovered green space, put in bike infrastructure and reduced the number of lanes.” 

Roads that are overdesigned for the traffic needs could have at one time served a higher number of vehicles, Gunawardena said. It’s also possible, he said, that development and growth did not occur in the way transportation planners predicted. 

“When you look at South Anthony, it has six lanes of traffic when you go south of Paulding, but there isn’t the traffic to support six lanes,” Gunawardena said. “At one point there was a lot of traffic out there; not anymore.”

Other roads on the south side being considered for road diets include Tillman and Paulding. 

To monitor the effectiveness of a road diet, Public Works monitors accidents and travel times and talks to drivers for input. 

“Initially it was a challenge for us when we proposed road diet projects because neighbors were very hesitant, but now we get requests for them,” Gunawardena said. “They’d rather see us put in bike lanes or pathways or something because it has a tendency to reallocate that pavement for multiple uses.”

Reader questions

Q. At the light from West State Boulevard to Hillegas Road, the straight lane and left turn lane are combined. Why? More cars turn left off West State onto Hillegas than go straight or turn right. The other three directions at this intersection have a left turn only lane, so why doesn’t West State have the same?

A. The volume of turns made onto Hillegas Road was considered when making lane designations at that intersection, Gunawardena said. The intersection has a high percentage of right and left turns onto Hillegas, with little through movement. Since cars can turn right on red or when the signal is green, separating that lane was preferred. Separating the lanes allows traffic turning right to do so freely, increasing the efficiency of the intersection, Gunawardena said. 

Q. Are there any plans to improve the Cook Road and Huguenard Road intersection? Three corners have been developed with the fourth corner to come. Traffic is terrible and you cannot do a right on green because of the lack of room and the potholes.

 A. That intersection was improved about 10 years ago, when designated left turn lanes and a traffic signal were installed, Gunawardena said.

However, there has been an increase in traffic volume and development in the area. Traffic Engineering will be reviewing intersections and corridors to determine if improvements should be made for flow and safety.

“We will investigate traffic signal times during morning and evening rush hours and if we can make an adjustment to the signal times to help with traffic flow, it will be incorporated into the signal,” Gunawardena said.  

Potholes are handled by the city street department. Potholes can be reported to 311 or at cityoffortwayne.org. 

Road Sage is a monthly column. Dave Gong, The Journal Gazette’s local government reporter, provides updates on public works projects in the Fort Wayne area and answers selected questions from readers. Submit a question by emailing roadsage@jg.net or tweeting @JGRoadSage.