PennDOT claims the number of head-on collisions on Butler St in Lawrenceville has been increasing. Indeed, just weeks ago I watched two people taken away in ambulances after a sedan crossed the centerline and lost a fight with an SUV directly in front of my apartment building.
Thus, it was recently announced center-line rumble strips would be installed as part of the rush to complete a long-delayed repaving project. However, center line rumble strips, a treatment often seen on rural highways with long stretches of pavement with few crossings, fewer bikes, and no pedestrians, will not fix the problems on Butler Street, an increasingly walkable urban district with dozens of storefronts and restaurants, several times that many apartments, increasing numbers of bikes, and intersections every couple hundred feet.
Guidelines published by Maryland’s State Highway Agency (PDF) indicate centerline rumble strips are inappropriate for low-speed (under 45mph) roads, roads with many intersections, roads in residential areas, roads where bicyclists are expected or wanted—in short, our neighbors to the south think nearly every characteristic you could think of for the Butler Street we have or want to have makes center line rumble strips inappropriate for Butler Street.
If PennDOT is actually serious about reducing collisions on Butler Street, they need to make the road less like a rural highway, not more. Add curb bumpouts to prevent parking at intersections and tighter corners to force drivers to slow down while turning. Add raised crosswalks and speed tables to force drivers to slow down and pay attention at intersections and pedestrian crossing areas. Time traffic signals to a 20mph or lower speed, so that drivers don’t benefit from treating the road like a drag strip. There are many other ways to make a two-lane road in a major business and residential district safe. Treating a high-traffic, low-speed street like a high-speed highway isn’t one of them.
It’s said that when all you’ve got is a hammer, all your problems look like nails. It’s time for PennDOT to buy some new tools.
This project has, from end to end, been imposed upon Lawrenceville by PennDOT. We were informed last year that reconstruction of Butler Street would begin at mid-summer, and then, long after it was supposed to have started, we were informed it wouldn’t happen that year. Finally, we were informed it would happen this year–and then, without anyone asking the many residents of the Butler Street corridor or the street itself, we were informed nearly all construction activity would take place at night. Right in keeping with this track record, we discovered the center-line rumble strips plan when PennDOT provided a final construction schedule to Lawrenceville United, nearly two weeks after the first date on that schedule.
In other areas, projects have featured public meetings, but long after all decisions had been made, so that the meetings were simply announcements, rather than opportunities for comment and refinement. I’ve recently been reading The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s 1974 biography of Robert Moses, New York’s 20th-century parks and highways titan. PennDOT’s habit of deciding what to do and announcing it will be done without asking the people who will actually be affected by the changes what they might think of them, or asking but not actually giving anyone a chance to respond, reads like a page from Moses’ manual, and is utterly inappropriate for the 21st century.