Royal Oak Needs a Road Diet

A 4-lane road that was converted to a 3-lane road (middle turning lane) and 2 dedicated bike lanes.
A 4-lane road that was converted to a 3-lane road (middle turning lane) and 2 dedicated bike lanes.

Are you happy living in a Royal Oak where most people drive their cars most places?  Even places that are close enough to walk or bike? 

You shouldn't be happy, for many reasons. 

First, it is a public health catastrophe.  Our streets, unfriendly to bicycles and pedestrians, have helped make us the least-active generation in American history.  The statistics are horrifying--a third of us obese, another third overweight, and our children on track to live shorter, more disease-racked lives than their parents.  By engineering our streets to scare away non-motorized transportation we have engineered heart disease, strokes, type II diabetes, ADHD, bone loss, cancer, and all of the other consequences of physical inactivity.  

Look at the huge traffic jams in front of every Royal Oak school every morning.  The streets are clogged with parents driving their children to class--children who are often suffering ill health effects from lack of exercise.  Shouldn't we do everything possible to encourage these kids to walk and bike to school?  

The public health catastrophe extends to traffic deaths (the number-one cause of death for young people) and asthma from automobile exhaust.  Our streets are literally sickening.  

But set aside public health.  Think only of money.  85% of auto spending leaves the community.  That's a huge drain.  Shouldn't we do everything possible to reduce that drain?  Like making walking and biking an attractive alternative?  

Consider the enormous cost of parking, even "free parking." A single parking space costs anywhere from $4,000 on a cheap parking lot to $10-$20,000 for a spot in a garage.  As a country we spend more on parking than we do on cars.  Shouldn't we do everything possible to reduce the need to build more parking spaces?  

A walkable, bikeable Royal Oak would also increase demand for Royal Oak houses, condos, and apartments.  People want to live in walkable, bikeable communities.  Bike lanes would boost Royal Oak property values.  

Bike lanes would also make Royal Oak more attractive to businesses.  You may have heard the owners of Vectorform recently testify to the many intangible benefits of having a business in downtown Royal Oak.  Bike lanes would amplify that vibe.  Businesses who hire young people are increasingly attracted to walkable, bikeable cities. 

Finally, consider our environment.  Oil drilling, refining and burning has lain waste to huge swaths of our world, poisoning land, sea and air.  Shouldn't we do everything possible to reduce this damage? 

So, we have a proven way to: 

  • improve public health 

  • increase demand for our houses, condos and apartments    

  • save money 

  • help local businesses 

  • prevent environmental destruction  

...and all we need to do is paint some lines on asphalt.  Why aren't we doing it?  

Here is a place Royal Oak can start: last year the city conducted a traffic study which shows that Main Street is eligible for a "road diet."  A "road diet" is when the portion of a road for cars is reduced and dedicated bike lanes are added.  

 Picture Main Street reduced to 3 lanes all the way from the Clawson border to Catalpa, continuing the 3-lane road that Clawson has already established, but with bike lanes running down each side of the street instead of on-street parking.  That is what a "road diet" would look like on Main Street. 

Thousands of streets have undergone "road diets" across the country, and they have proven wildly popular with both cyclists and motorists. 

Motorists like them because road-dieted streets are safer and less stressful.  A 4-lane road is inherently unsafe--the left lane is simultaneously the passing lane and left turn lane, making accidents common.  Everyone reading this probably knows someone who has either been rear-ended making a left turn on a 4-lane road, or has rear-ended someone else.  A 3-lane road with a middle turning lane eliminates this problem. 

The dedicated bike lane created by the road diet makes cycling feel much safer.  When cycling feels safer, more people ride their bikes.  When more people bike the accident rate drops dramatically (the well known "safety in numbers" phenomena), which makes people feel even safer biking, which leads more people to ride their bikes, and so on in a virtuous positive feedback loop. 

A road diet is not just a "win-win," it is a "win-win-win-win-win-win...".   The cost?  The amount of money it takes to paint some lines on asphalt. 

Let's do it.  Royal Oak, it is time for a road diet on Main Street. 



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Matt Turner January 25, 2014 at 09:43 AM
Tom, while I agree that a large number of Americans could use more exercise, I think your proposal is catering to a minority of people who live within a 3/4 of a mile or so of downtown. If I were to guess, the majority of patrons at downtown establishments do not live in Royal Oak and travel here by car from other areas of Oakland, Wayne and Macomb County. Parking is already tight and traffic between Lincoln and Catapala gets backed up. Making it a hassle for people to visit downtown is just going to draw business out of the city and to other communities.
Pete Rogan January 25, 2014 at 08:23 PM
While I can agree that Americans are too obese and not active enough, eliminating two lanes of traffic for the sole purpose of bike lanes can in no way achieve this, and will produce more congestion and aggravation in an already narrow thoroughfare. Frankly, I find this proposal bizarre, not to mention a little strident. It's also more than a little precious. I think if it were implemented, we would find hostile drivers using the bike lanes as traffic lanes, and woe betide the cyclists who tried to use them. This simply won't fly. We need realistic solutions. Not this.
Aaron January 25, 2014 at 11:51 PM
If we are the least-active generation in American history, how is it reasonable to conclude that more people will bike if bike lanes are added in the community? Logically, the reduction of car lanes will merely increase congestion on the roads, because there will be less space for the same number of vehicles. Increased congestion will ultimately heighten road rage, which will make roads less safe for both drivers and bikers. This decreased safety on the roads is unlikely to attract additional bikers to the community. Royal Oak is walkable and bikeable in neighborhoods where much of the population lives and exercises. Unfortunately, as our community developed, the main thoroughfares were not maintained in a manner that permits both motorized vehicles and safe bike lanes. The main roads developed in a manner that permits only motorized vehicles. Consequently, the main roads and accompanying public right-of-way areas in Royal Oak do not permit the addition of a bike lane -- there simply is not enough space.
Bob January 27, 2014 at 09:30 AM
This post must have come from the land of make believe. How would those bike lanes work out in a winter like this?
Tom Regan January 27, 2014 at 10:40 AM
Cities much more congested than Royal Oak (New York, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Minneapolis, etc) have successfully implemented road diets. The predictions of catastrophic congestion are simply inaccurate. Traffic counts on Main indicate that a road diet could be implemented successfully on that street.
Pete Rogan January 27, 2014 at 11:08 AM
We need to encourage more people to bike, if we want them to be more fit. We need to encourage drivers to be courteous to cyclists, especially as our numbers are growing. We need cyclists to obey traffic laws and not behave as if they were accelerated pedestrians, if we want to be responsible. There is a great danger of a growing antagonism between drivers who don't like bikes on the street and cyclists who feel they can do no wrong. If this antagonism is settled on the street there is little doubt of the victor, and yet cyclists will still be here. We need non-confrontational tactics and means to keep order and encourage more people to bicycle. We should start with more and better bike education for all drivers and riders.
Philip January 27, 2014 at 05:26 PM
All well-said comments. Bicycles can be just moveable exercise machines and it is best to keep them out of the main streets. I think it is hard enough to be aware of car and truck traffic when either driving or walking. Adding hard to see bicycles propelled by self-righteous riders to the mix is just asking for disaster. Bicyclist in the downtown area for the most part should only ride in the streets and at their own risk. In the neighborhoods, there may be room for bicycles, but they should be subordinate to other traffic there, too.
Ed Callahan January 27, 2014 at 07:29 PM
I would guess that traffic is heavy in front of the local schools because the city did away with busing. I have no desire to let my 6 year old son walk 1.5 miles to school, have you ever looked up the sexual offender listings for Royal Oak. The blogger also mentioned that fewer cars on the road would help the environment. While this statement is most likely true, I suggest that he disconnect from the power grid and submit his blog via mail because otherwise it's somewhat hypocritical to submit his blog via a computer powered by a coal fired electric plant.
Andrew Mutch January 29, 2014 at 10:04 AM
People are assuming that a reduction in a travel lane in each direction will increase congestion. But the traffic volumes on Main Street range from 5,000 - 10,000 cars per day, well within the capacity of a 3 lane road to handle. The only thing that excess capacity does in that area is to encourage speeding. Adding a center turn lane would decrease both the number and severity of accidents, an effect that has been well-documented. Even if bike lanes were not added, a conversion from a 4 lane to a 3 lane road would be a net positive for Royal Oak. As Tom noted, the only cost to the city is to put paint on the street. If it doesn't work, it can always be changed back. But few communities ever do that because the claims of the sky is falling by detractors rarely comes to pass.


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