Two-Lane Backdrop

The raging street safety debate seems to have drawn its bead on the “bulbout.”

Essentially, the danger posed by streets like Milpas is that they are four lanes and consequently the traffic moves fast. The best a bulbout can do is to get drivers to, momentarily at least, behave for the sake of pedestrians as if they were on a narrower road. And that’s a tough order when drivers are clippin’ along in a double-lane mode.

Seems to me that the bulbout is nothing more than a device to make a road seem momentarily skinnier (and make drivers behave accordingly). In effect it makes a wide road a narrower one, just as crimping a fat pipe at a point makes the whole thing functionally narrower.

If bulbouts at points on a road make drivers navigate, at least temporarily, it as if the road were narrower, then why pussyfoot around? Just narrow the whole road down to two single lanes.

I remember [former race car driver and CEO of STP Corporation] Andy Granatelli, of all people, when baited into discussing the benefits of widening 101 through Montecito, reciting what is, in effect, a traffic engineer’s truism. He said that anyone who has hung over a racetrack railing long enough knows that a lot more cars get through a given point when they are going slower (as with a yellow flag).

Based on that, I’d propose we give the traffic engineers a theorem to test. (If computers have become powerful and sophisticated enough to contemplate Mandelbrot Sets they should be able to do this.) Set up a model that places some appropriately large number of cars randomly poised at various points on the periphery of the city, with the task of getting to cross-town points as quickly as possible. Have them run it once on the existing street configuration, then on a model with only two-lane roads. See which model gets more cars where they want to go in the least amount of time.

I really don’t have any idea which will prove quickest, but I have a hunch. And the exercise might prove enlightening enough to advance the debate beyond this “bulbout” sticking point.

Why not imagine the City of Santa Barbara as a city of no four-lane local streets? It sure would add to the cozy, intimate, walkable small town ambience that everyone swoons about. And it may – just possibly – not impede the carbound as much as they imagine.

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