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Orlando Sentinel: ‘Complete streets,’ ‘road diets’ in Metro Orlando’s future

Take a look at the article below from the Orlando Sentinel about creating Complete Streets on Orlando roads. There are some great quotes from Bike/Walk Central Florida Chairman and FDOT District 1 Secretary Billy Hattaway, BWCF Board Member Eliza Harris, as well as BWCF Executive Director Amanda Day.

orl-street-traffic-20070208By Dan Tracy

Central Florida road officials are embracing a concept called complete streets, in which the car no longer rules — as it has in Central Florida practically since Henry Ford started mass-producing the Model T in the early 20th century.

As far as transportation leaders for the state and Central Florida are concerned, any new or rebuilt road outside of interstates will have to serve walkers, bicyclists and the disabled, not just the internal-combustion engine.

Bottom line: Reducing traffic congestion will no longer rate as the No. 1 priority and, in fact, jams might actually be allowed to occur without remedy.

Billy Hattaway, a top official with the state Department of Transportation, is in charge of the so-called complete-streets policy his agency is about to follow.

“Certainly,” Hattaway said, “there will be more delay.”

Backups, he said, are acceptable, even desirable, if they are the result of a road that slows traffic to the point that people can safely cross or a cyclist does not fear for his life because the cars are buzzing too close or too fast.

The state and local agencies, such as MetroPlan Orlando — which sets transportation policy in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties — are looking for “streets that work for everyone, whether they are walking, biking or driving a car,” said planning consultant Eliza Harris.

Though there are health and environmental benefits to such a policy (encouraging exercise and less pollution from cars), Hattaway and Harris say there also is an acknowledgment roads cannot be widened or built into new areas indefinitely.

They point, as an example, to the $2.3 billion Interstate 4 Ultimate rebuild that is getting underway and will last at least six years. FDOT officials say the 21-mile project will be the last of its kind for I-4 through downtown Orlando because there simply is no more room to expand.

Instead of nonstop road widening, Hattaway said, Metro Orlando residents are likely to start seeing what traffic engineers call “road diets,” or the elimination of lanes in an attempt to make the street more people-friendly.

A prime candidate is Robinson Street, from downtown Orlando, on the north edge of Lake Eola, to Orlando Executive Airport. The road is four lanes and often carries cars going 50 mph right by the city’s signature park.

One possibility being strongly considered is taking away a lane and adding on-street parking and bike lanes. There would only be one lane for going east or west, plus a dual turning lane in the middle.

Orlando City Council member Patty Sheehan, whose district includes Lake Eola, is all for narrowing Robinson.

“I like the idea of a road diet for anything. I say hallelujah,” said Sheehan, who contends the traffic often makes it too dangerous for people trying to cross Robinson to get to the park.

Hattaway said a study is about to launched on Robinson, which could lead to a change within three years. Repaving and re-striping the road from downtown to the airport would cost about $2 million, he estimated.

Major downtown streets such as Orange Avenue could be headed for road diet, too. Orange is four lanes going south and could someday be returned to two-way traffic with more on-street parking, according to civic group looking at downtown’s future.

Another road-diet candidate could be Corrine Drive, which straddles Orlando and Orange County and one of the streets feeding into the upscale Baldwin Park neighborhood. That road is four lanes, and some merchants and nearby residents are pushing for fewer lanes and more parking to reduce speeding.

Amanda Day, who runs Bike/Walk Central Florida, calls the move toward complete streets “a big step” but concedes years will pass before the full effects are felt in the region.

“It’s a long road, so to speak,” she said.

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