The most controversial item on the election ballot in the Town of Bethlehem this past Tuesday was Proposition 6. If passed, a 1.3 mile stretch of busy four-lane road between Elsmere Ave. and the Albany city line would undergo a “Road Diet,” funded primarily by federal and state money.
Four traffic lanes would be reduced to two—one in each direction—plus a center turn lane, dedicated bicycle lanes in each direction, and signaled pedestrian crosswalks at several locations.
The appeal seemed obvious: increased safety for pedestrians and bicyclists along with improved aesthetics. Many successful road diets have taken place in other areas, notably Madison Avenue in Albany.
My personal experience with the whooshing traffic on Delaware Avenue mostly consists of walking to the hardware store, which requires me to cross Delaware where there are no crosswalks or traffic signals in sight. The endeavor is like this: look for an opening in traffic, make an educated guess about time and distance physics—and sprint! I haven’t gotten run over yet.
Despite risking the loss of that occasional derring-do in my placid suburban life, I voted for Proposition 6. Slowing the pace on a busy commuting corridor felt right to me. I would even start riding my bike into Albany, which I don’t do now (I’m not that derring-do).
But on Tuesday, proposition 6 got trounced in the voting booth. Virtually every business establishment on Delaware Avenue fought against Proposition 6, fearing, without evidence, their businesses would suffer if traffic slowed down because drivers would choose other routes. Opponents also noted that not many people ride bicycles on Delaware (maybe because to do so now invites death). And not that many pedestrians walk this corridor (maybe because it’s noisy and unpleasant).
I believe the major deal-breaker was that traffic studies showed a 50-second increase in commuting time in each direction if the road diet were implemented. Those 50 seconds are precious. No commuter wants to take extra time to reach their destination. No one votes for personal inconvenience.
Regardless, commuters should prepare to be inconvenienced. Even without the road diet passing, that section of Delaware Avenue is scheduled for sewer upgrades and repaving. But when it’s all done, things will be the same as ever: fast and dangerous, just the way we like to live.