Greensboro is considering spending a couple million dollars a year on making neighborhood streets more narrow and less straight.
That’s not what the Greensboro City Council or the Greensboro Department of Transportation is saying. What they are saying is that they are installing “traffic calming devices.”
But in the end, what most of the traffic calming devices–with the notable exception of speed bumps–do is narrow and un-straighten the street or intersection to force cars to slow down.
An example given by GDOT Director Hanna Cockburn of traffic calming devices that are working is Peach Orchard Drive in northeast Greensboro. What the city did at considerable expense was take an excessively wide and unnecessarily straight street and narrow it by building concrete barriers out into the street. The result, which slowed traffic, makes the street narrower and not so straight.
So the people of Greensboro first paid for an excessively wide and straight street and then paid for the city to come along and at considerable expense retrofit the street to be narrower and not so straight.
Here is a radical idea. Instead of insisting that residential streets be wide enough for two fire trucks traveling in opposite directions to pass each other at 60 mph with cars parked on both sides of the street, why not make the streets wide enough for two cars going in opposite directions to pass each other comfortably at 25 mph and, if a car is parked on the street, then one of those two cars will have to stop to let the other one by.
Voila! By spending less money, the city will solve the speeding through neighborhood problem for the future. This would also give developers more land to build on, which would increase the tax base, rather than taking that land and covering it with asphalt for the city to maintain at considerable expense. While moving the curb-line to narrow the street is expensive, when major street projects are undertaken, the curb could be moved to narrow the street. Most streetscape projects narrow the vehicular travel portion of the street, why not do the same on a smaller scale in neighborhoods?
A rule of development is promoted by some experts–which is not followed in Greensboro–is to take a look at the most expensive neighborhoods in a town and, if those neighborhoods couldn’t be built under the current development standards, then the development standards are changed.
If you drive around the highest priced neighborhoods in Greensboro, you will find narrow winding streets, where if there is car parked on the street one lane of traffic has to stop to let the other one go by. It’s been like that in Irving Park for about a hundred years, and yet even today people are willing to pay several million dollars for a house on a narrow winding street in that neighborhood.
If wide straight streets were so desirable, then wouldn’t these people who could afford a house anywhere in Greensboro live somewhere else?
What Greensboro is going to continue to do is insist that the new streets be wider and straighter than they need to be and then come back and spend millions of dollars to narrow the streets and make them not so straight in order to encourage people to drive slower.