The city is thinking of going on a diet, but it won’t be counting calories. Instead, it is considering what is called a road diet, which is a traffic-calming technique used nationwide to slow and improve the flow of traffic, reduce accidents and make streets friendlier to pedestrians and bicyclists.
The city is looking at putting College Avenue from Needham Street to Briggsmore Avenue – a distance of about 1.7 miles – on the diet. College is four lanes along that stretch and has street parking on both sides nearly all the way.
The diet consists of changing the lane markings so there would be one lane in each direction for cars and a center lane for left turns. The city would use the space from reducing four traffic lanes to three to create more room for cars parked along the street, a 6-foot-wide bike lane on each side of the street and a 21/2- or 3-foot buffer between the bike lanes and traffic.
City officials say this configuration would cause drivers to reduce their speed but traffic would flow better and there would be fewer accidents. For instance, a driver making a left turn does not have to worry about being rear-ended because instead of trying to turn while in a traffic lane, he will be in the center left-turn lane.
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Officials from the city’s Community and Economic Development Department unveiled the proposal Wednesday at the College Area Neighborhood Alliance meeting. Several dozen people attended, including representatives from Modesto Junior College.
Audience members liked the concept but had lots of questions about the details and how the city would implement the diet. The chief concerns included having enough bus stops and how to connect the Kansas Avenue traffic turning left from two lanes onto College Avenue.
Assistant Engineer Michael Sacuskie said Thursday the city has solutions for those issues and will present them and other details in a follow-up meeting in several weeks with CANA members. He said the city will keep the two left-turn lanes on Kansas. He added College will not lose any street parking.
Sacuskie said if the College Avenue community embraces the road diet, the next step would be to get input from the City Council. He said if everyone signs off on the project, it could take place this fall or next spring, depending on the weather. The work would be done in conjunction with another city project to resurface that stretch of College Avenue.
Community and Economic Development Director Brent Sinclair told audience members this effort falls under what is known as complete streets, a concept championed by the federal and state governments. A complete street is one that can be safely used by different modes of transportation, from cars and buses to pedestrians and bicyclists.
The road diet concept has been around for a while and has been used in Fresno, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and communities across the nation. City officials say there is a lot of evidence and experience that shows the concept works.
City officials say the road diet is designed for roads that don’t average more than 20,000 cars a day and is ideal for roads that average no more than 15,000 cars a day. They say that segment of College Avenue averages about 14,000 cars a day when MJC is in session.
Sacuskie said if the College Avenue proposal becomes a reality, the city would consider more road diets on other four-lane roads where it makes sense.
More information about road diets and the city’s proposal can be found at www.modestogov.com/ced.