Sometime right after our annual Strawberry Festival, something is going to go on a diet. After years of research and discussion, it has become painfully clear that something has just become a bit too large to manage. Unlike most diets, where the impacts are highly personal, the impacts of this diet may very well impact the lives of each and every one of the over 25,000 people who live in our community. At this point, I know you are wondering what in the world am I talking about.
Perhaps a little history is needed. Way back in the early 1800s, a surveyor by the name of Andrew Wallace laid out the first streets and lots of the City of Troy. By all accounts, he did a fine job. He incorporated a “Public Square,” a place where we can congregate as a new community. His streets were straight and the lots were organized in a clean manner. A solid piece of 19th century city planning.
And as good work generally does, it still survives today. If you travel downtown, you can still see the square. But you also find one Wallace’s most peculiar elements of his community building; it is pretty obvious Mr. Wallace liked really, really wide streets.
Back in the 1800s, transportation still consisted of horses and stagecoaches and one can’t help but wonder what Wallace was thinking when he made the two main streets in Troy so wide. I doubt he was clairvoyant enough to see the automobile. I’d venture to guess maybe he envisioned horse races downtown on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. The wider the street, the more horses that could partake in the action.
Nevertheless, Wallace’s wide streets have literally become a four-lane highway running right through the heart of town. And while these wide streets might be good for getting from point A to point B, they really don’t make sense in the downtown environment.
Starting this June, the city has committed to reducing the traffic lanes on portions of Market Street from four lanes to three. There will be one lane of traffic in each direction with a shared turn lane in the middle. This relatively small measure will undoubtedly have a huge impact.
For starters, the new road configuration is going to encourage folks to travel slower downtown, which will cut down on noise. Our community is looking to increase the number of residential units downtown and while that is an admirable goal, it must require that the appropriate measures are taken to make downtown a better place to live. With our four-lane highway going right through the middle of town, it’s not unheard of to have traffic go fast downtown. Those who don’t live downtown might not think this is a big deal. But I can tell you from experience, traffic travelling at 25 miles per hour is much quieter than traffic travelling at 35 miles per hour.
A second benefit is that with slower traffic, potential downtown customers will now have a better chance to actually see what is downtown. I am sure most residents know what business are downtown, but it’s hard to look at changing window displays or even signage when you are navigating a four-lane road. By reducing the speed downtown, I would venture to guess, this would attract potential customers to some of our downtown establishments.
And perhaps the greatest benefit to all of this is downtown parking. How many times have we collectively stayed out of the right-hand lane of traffic just so we could avoid the truck that has its back end sticking out in traffic? With the new road diet, there should be plenty of space for all passenger vehicles to park.
This new road diet will be a change and it will take some time to get acquainted. But our town has a history of this; we tried this same configuration on East Main Street a few years ago and from all accounts, it has worked well. This new traffic configuration may seem like a pretty simple solution, but I honestly believe a change like this can have a positive impact on our community for many years to come.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.