After months of debate, the Board of Aldermen passed a resolution at its Thursday night meeting urging Route 34 planners to take bikers and pedestrians into account when redeveloping the highway.
The Downtown Crossing project, which received federal funding last October, will replace the end of highway Route 34 with commercial and residential real estate around College and Frontage Streets. The resolution, originally proposed by city cycling advocates, was amended before passing unanimously at Thursday’s meeting. The amended resolution incorporated the concerns of aldermen and economic development administrators that the original proposal would be impractical.
The resolution that passed urges the highway redevelopment to demonstrate equal prioritization of vehicles, bikers, public transit and pedestrians. This is a significant change from the initial proposal passed the Board of Aldermen’s community development committee in September, which called for a two-lane road with a third lane for turning, in order to allow bikers and pedestrians to cross more easily.
Opponents to the original proposal voiced concerns that implementing amendments to the Route 34 project would endanger it fiscally and cause delays.
The resolution has been revised to eliminate the two-lane component and is now “a resolution both sides support,” said Ward 24 Alderman Marcus Paca. The amended version passed unanimously after a brief discussion at Thursday’s meeting.
The text of the amendment urges “roadways designed for the narrowest lane widths” and “crossing distances as narrow as possible.” It calls for pedestrian safety elements such as “pedestrian refuge islands, raised cross-walks and exclusive pedestrian walk phases that grant as much time for pedestrian crossing as can be reasonably accommodated.”
At Thursday’s meeting, Ward 6 Alderwoman Dolores Colón said she opposed the initial proposal because a two-lane road is not realistic. She explained that as the route currently stands, cars do not exit the freeway near a residential district. But reducing the number of lanes would encourage traffic to exit earlier, she said, increasing the smog in her district, which has a high rate of asthma.
But proponents of the original resolution such as David Streever, board member of biking advocacy group Elm City Cycling, said the construction models the city uses are outdated and overestimate traffic. He added that people tend to drive at the traffic capacity, so while fewer lanes would divert people to public transportation options, a wider road would only increase congestion.
Despite the amendments, Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, who supported the original resolution, said he still supports the altered resolution. He pointed to the additions of raised intersections, sidewalk bump-outs, pedestrian islands and bike lanes in the Route 34 plans as changes that balance out the weakening of the resolution. Elicker said the board should pass the current resolution “in the spirit of compromise” and move forward with the project.
“I don’t think that the project goes far enough but I think it’s important to move the project forward because this project has the ability to transform the neighborhood,” Elicker said.
The resolution states that there is broad public support for the advancement of the Route 34 Project.