Myths about Complete Streets
Unfortunately, in today’s highly charged environment, even simple infrastructure and roadwork have become polarized. This page dispells myths that have been spread about the complete streets project so we can have a fact based argument about what’s best for Bethlehem and Delaware Ave.
Myth: A 2-1-1 road design will achieve the same goals.
A complete streets project consists of one travel lane in each direction and a center turn lane (a 1-1-1 road design) plus bike lanes and accommodations for pedestrians. Two travel lanes in one direction and one in the other (2-1-1) would not achieve the safety benefits of a 1-1-1 complete streets project
The purpose of the 1-1-1 design is to calm traffic by reducing to one travel lane in each direction. The 2-1-1 will not achieve this, so drivers will not reduce their speeds, no matter what the posted speed limit is. See “Myth: We could just lower the speed limit,” below.
Crosswalks across multiple lanes are dangerous because a car in one lane can block a driver in another lane from seeing a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Similarly, when turning across two lanes, one car can block the view of another car.
Due to the current width of Delaware Ave., a 2-1-1 design would either remove bike lanes, which eliminates the “complete streets” and sustainability aspects of the project, or require expensive widening of the road (including purchasing property).
The 2-1-1 design was considered at the 2017 public meeting during the planning phase and was overwhelmingly rejected.
Opponents of the complete streets project claimed that they were in favor of 2-1-1 as a “compromise.” However, after the town included a more in-depth evaluation of the 2-1-1 design (in addition to 1-1-1) in the planned engineering study at their request, the opponents then mobilized to get signatures to force the upcoming referendum to try to prevent the engineering study and construction from being funded.
Myth: It will cost too much.
The Town will only have to cover 20% ($728,000) of the $3.64 million costof the complete streets project. State and federal funding will cover the remaining costs. Bethlehem taxpayers will lose $2.91 million in state and federal grants if we don’t invest in this project.
Myth: It will disrupt traffic flow and cause backups.
Complete streets have been carried out across the country. The U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT) compiled 24 case studies and found that they successfully calmed traffic and improved safety while maintaining traffic flow. Case studies showed that complete streets work with greater traffic volumes than that of Delaware Ave. (U.S. DOT Informational Guide section 3.3.5.)
Bethlehem hired consulting engineering firm Creighton Manning to study the feasibility of the project; they used traffic simulation software and determined that the project will work. (Feasibility study p. 71.)
You can visit successful complete streets in this area with more traffic and judge for yourself.
Delaware Ave. immediately east and west of the project area are currently one lane in each direction and do not experience traffic backups. The complete streets project will just maintain one travel lane in each direction and will add a center turn lane, making traffic flow even more smoothly.
Even without the complete streets project, Delaware Ave. will be dug up to replace the water lines under the road and to repave the decaying surface. The complete streets project will influence only the striping stage of the project and not appreciably increase the length of the construction project.
Myth: The complete streets project will hurt businesses on Delaware Ave.
According to Creighton Manning’s computer simulations, “With the Road Diet alternative, about 3% of future westbound traffic [in the years up to 2030] approaching Elsmere Avenue would be diverted to alternate routes, such as Route 32 in the PM peak hour because the corridor will operate near capacity during peak hours. However, under the Road Diet Alternative, 2030 PM peak hour westbound traffic approaching Elsmere Avenue would still be greater than existing counts because of traffic growth.” (Feasibility study p. 49.) In other words, even with the complete streets project there will still be an increase in traffic volume in future years, not a decrease.
There are two 1-1-1 road designs in our region with comparable traffic volumes as Delaware Ave.: a portion of Altamont Ave. in Schenectady and a portion of Hoosick St. in Troy. You can see for yourself the large number of businesses along these stretches of road, ranging from small locally owned businesses to shopping plazas with Walmart and Hannaford.
Drivers seeking to save 30 to 50 seconds from their commute are unlikely to stop at a business on their way home, anyway.
Smart Growth America found “that employment levels rose after Complete Streets projects—in some cases, significantly. Communities reported increased net new businesses after Complete Streets improvements, suggesting that Complete Streets projects made the street more desirable for businesses.”
David VanLuven, Bethlehem Supervisor, said, “Businesses seeking to move into Bethlehem typically focus on the Four Corners area because they want to be in a walkable neighborhood. I fully expect that making Delaware Ave in Elsmere a safe main street for pedestrians and drivers will make that area a draw for new businesses as well.”
Myth: We could just lower the speed limit.
Just lowering the posted speed limit would not reduce actual speeds. A study conducted for the U.S. DOT Federal Highway Administration found that “Lowering posted speed limits by as much as 20 mph, or raising speed limits by as much as 15 mph had little effect on motorist’ speed. The majority or motorist do not alter their speed to conform to speed limits they perceive as unreasonable for prevailing conditions.” In other words, if people are given a four lane highway to drive on, they will drive on it like it’s a four lane highway.
In order to realize a lower operating speed, the environment of the roadway needs to change. The 1-1-1 design is needed to calm traffic.
Bethlehem’s Director of Planning, Rob Leslie, spoke about this at the July 14, 2021 Town Board meeting (starting at the 8:00 minute mark in the video). He stated that:
- Compliance with a lowered speed limit is highest with changes to the road. Drivers are mostly influenced by road conditions and their perceptions of the need to slow down. Lowering a speed limit below what drivers perceive as appropriate for the road design can result in greater differences in speeds and a greater likelihood of crashes.
- Enforcement on its own is a poor approach to slowing traffic speeds. Issuing tickets to drivers mostly generates anger. Without changes to the road design, speeds typically increase again when enforcement is decreased.
Myth: drivers will be delayed to create bike lanes for a small number of cyclists.
Complete streets don’t just benefit cyclists- it’s for drivers and pedestrians too.
The bike lanes will allow cars to more easily get around buses when they stop.
The bike path is not a substitute for bike lanes along Delaware Ave. The path does not go to the same locations as Delaware Ave. Also, some cyclists commute by bike all year round, but the bike path is not plowed in the winter