Some downtown Mobile streets could have fewer lanes, which would leave more room for improvements to make them more bike and pedestrian friendly, according to a multi-modal study commissioned by the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization.
After spending a week studying traffic flow, intersections and roadways, experts with Toole Design Group presented proposed improvements during a public meeting Thursday evening.
Hannah Pritchard, a traffic engineer with Toole, said traffic studies indicate that of the major streets studied in the downtown area, only Government Street would benefit from additional lanes for traffic. The portion of Government Street from Broad Street to the Bankhead Tunnel sees average daily traffic, ADT, around 20,000 vehicles.
“Government Street may need a few more lanes than it has now,” Pritchard said.
Water Street wasn’t part of the study, as the city is working with another group tasked with studying it.
As an example of streets that are overbuilt, Pritchard started with Canal Street. Despite being designed for for as many as 15,000 cars a day, Canal only receives an ADT of around 5,000 vehicles. This number equals about one car every 12 seconds.
During rush hour traffic, Canal only sees about 500 cars.
“Canal has seven lanes,” Pritchard said. “Even if traffic doubled it wouldn’t need seven lanes.”
Broad Street sees an ADT of 12,000 to 17,000, while Beauregard sees around 8,000 to 9,000 vehicles a day and Dauphin sees 3,500 per day.
City Traffic Engineer Jennifer White said the streets in question that are considered overbuilt now, were developed when downtown was a busy place and those streets had to support more vehicles.
Ken Ray, a landscape architect with Toole, gave the group ideas to focus on when it comes to bike infrastructure. For example, Ray brought up the idea of installing separated bike lanes, along many of the main arteries downtown, which are wide enough to support them.
“Separate bike lanes reduce the number of conflicts, as opposed to standard bike lanes,” he said,
For narrower, one-way streets, bike boulevards, or lanes of slower traffic designated for bikes, could be used.
A good way to install more bike lanes would be through “road diet,” or reducing the number of lanes, on streets, like Broad, Canal and Beauregard streets, Ray said. He used Broad Street, which is 74 feet from curb to curb, as an example. He suggested taking one lane from each side and turning them into bike lanes.
“There are a lot of lanes to work with,” Ray said. “The roads are overbuilt for what traffic you have.”
Canal Street, as another example, could be reduced to three lanes and could leave room for roadside design of a linear park with pedestrian and bike lane space.
Other suggested changes, which could help downtown become more multi-modal, involve the direction of traffic, Ray said. For instance, he suggested making the downtown portion of Dauphin Street a two-way street. He added that Lawrence, Franklin, Warren and Dearborn streets would also be good candidates for two-way traffic, as they’re wide enough to support it.
Some of those streets, even with two-way traffic, would be wide enough for on-street parking that could alternate from block to block.
John Dempsey, another landscape architect with Toole, told the crowd of several ideas that could improve the area’s intersections. For instance, he suggested straighting the intersection at Broad and Canal. The move would create a linear park on the south edge.
Dempsey also suggested roundabouts at several downtown intersections, including Springhill at Broad. He also suggested closing off State Street near Unity Point Park to make it a “bigger amenity.”
The intersection of Dauphin and Broad would be another candidate for a roundabout-style concept, he said. Springhill from St. Francis to Dauphin could become a shared space concept, he said, where bikes, pedestrians and motorists “mingle together.”
As part of the concept, the street would be raised to sidewalk level and paved with bricks, he said. Similar street concepts have been successful in Asheville, N.C., Boston and London.
Project Manager Ernie Boughman, Toole’s southeast regional director, said the next steps in the process include a cost analysis, which will help the city and MPO prioritize projects and more meetings with stakeholders.
Boughman also said the group would spend a month testing the design further and analyze them from an engineering standpoint, but added they all work, according to traffic models.
Boughman also gave information on a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER grant, the city would be applying for early next month.
The $13.6 million federal grant and $6.9 million local and state match would fund a $20.5 million project to make Broad Street and “complete street,” he said.
“This grant is highly competitive,” Boughman said. “This year there is $500 million set aside and there will be applications for 100 times that.”
The project would start at the intersection of Broad and Water streets and would run to Broad at Baker, near Interstate 10. The project would include improvements like bike lanes and pedestrian walkways and would link residents to “ladders of opportunity, or jobs at the Brookley Aeroplex, the port authority and the central business district, Boughman said.
The TIGER grant application is due by Saturday, June 6.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best,” he said.
White said overall she was pleased with the plan and said the ideas would tie in well to the ideas to improve Water Street.