Monday, June 30, 2014

Big Opportunity to Promote Active Transportation in Central Arkansas

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  When AHTD gives you traffic nightmares, promote active/alternative transportation!  Already jokingly dubbed #LRpocalypse by @ArkansasBlog, it is looking like traffic in Central Arkansas could get really nasty for much of 2015-2019.  Here is why:

1.  Broadway Bridge replacement - Scheduled to start in 2015 and take two years to complete.
2.  I-30 Downtown Bridge Replacement - AHTD says they will try to wait until the Broadway Bridge is done to begin this $300-400 million project, but they may not have a choice due to funding-related requirements.  I've heard reports that preliminary work on the I-30 bridge will start while Broadway Bridge is still out of service.
3.  I-630 widening/"improvements" - I've written extensively on my opposition to widening I-630 and this is just one more reason for people to hate the project.  Though plans are still being finalized (and will hopefully be canceled) construction work is scheduled to begin in 2017 and run into 2019.

So to recap, starting sometime in 2015, maybe the spring, the Broadway Bridge will close, making traffic in downtown Little Rock worse.  Before the bridge is finished (don't these things always take longer and cost more than predicted?) it is likely that work on I-30 in the downtown area will begin.  Around the same time, AHTD will probably be closing lanes of I-630 in order to add lanes that won't offer any long-term congestion benefits.  In short we are looking at 4 years of at least one major highway project (Broadway is Hwy-67/70b) impacting traffic in Little Rock/North Little Rock and probably 2-3 years of overlapping projects.

So, what's the upside?  Well, if you look at a map of downtown Little Rock, you'll notice that there are two pedestrian bridges near the Broadway and I-30 bridges, and these won't be closed! Nor will the pedestrian lane on the Main St. bridge.  People tired of sitting in traffic forever will be looking for better ways to get downtown.  Those that live within 2-10 miles might be looking at biking.  People who live closer could walk or take the trolley.  This 4-5 year traffic nightmare presents a great opportunity to increase the number of people who commute by bike, foot, or bus in Central Arkansas, but there are some things Little Rock and North Little Rock should do in order to make this time easier on residents and to make it simple for people interested in exploring new modes of transportation to do so:

1.  Improve the Trail System - Little Rock needs to "Close the Loop" on the River Trail and build more spur trails to link more neighborhoods to the trail system.

2.  Expand education and outreach efforts - People need to know that trails exist and can get them where they want to go.

3.  Encourage employers to provide shower facilities.  The city could even build a public facility downtown, maybe at the Bus Terminal, the River Market, or on the River Trail.

4.  Create a Bike Share program.  People are more likely to use bikes if they don't have to worry about storage, parking, maintenance, theft, or large upfront costs.  Lots of cities have these, but the City of Little Rock claims they are too difficult to implement. With more cities adding Bike Share programs all the time, this argument doesn't seem to hold any water.

If you care about active transportation, help get the word out.  Little Rock is looking at years of horrible traffic congestion and residents do have other choices for getting to work.

Here is a piece I did on when bike commuting beats driving in Little Rock (and elsewhere):

Nice background on benefits of Bike Share programs:

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