Boy, those new bike lanes really came in handy last week, didn't they?

Let the record show that I'm not the only person who thinks Akron's "shrink the streets" fetish is ridiculous.

In a recent column in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles writer Christopher D. LeGras described what has happened in L.A. since the city started reducing the number of traffic lanes to slow down traffic and promote biking and walking.

A massive project dubbed "Vision Zero," launched in 2015, has featured precisely the same things that Akron planners began to implement last year in a handful of neighborhoods around the city.

The headline on the WSJ column: "Vision Zero, a 'road diet' fad, is proving to be deadly."

The word “deadly” is not used figuratively.

"By almost any metric," the author writes, "it's been a disaster. Pedestrian deaths have nearly doubled, from 74 in 2015 to 135 in 2017, the last year for which data are available.

"After years of improvement, Los Angeles again has the world's worst traffic, according to the transportation research firm Intrix. Miles of vehicles idling in gridlock have reduced air quality to the 1980s levels."

The author noted that the "road diet" fad is sweeping the country — and in most cases has been counterproductive.

He said New York City has instituted "traffic calming" measures in numerous neighborhoods. The result: more deaths among bicyclists, motorcyclists and people in vehicles.

And it's not just big cities. The WSJ reported that places as small as Waverly, Iowa — population 9,837 — and as cold as Fairbanks, Alaska — average January high temperature: zero — have fallen for the idea, apparently because it's hip in traffic-planning circles.

One of the biggest problems with all of this is an apparent disregard for its impact on safety forces.

Waverly's police and fire chiefs are angry that the city has ignored their pleas to give them enough space to function. In Fairbanks, the city had to install new traffic signals in front of a firehouse to try to mitigate the danger introduced by new bike lanes.

The WSJ column opens with a story about a 65-year-old woman sprawled on the sidewalk in West L.A. with a compound fracture of her leg. Although the rescue squad was a mere five blocks away, and the siren could be heard almost immediately, the ambulance didn't arrive for 10 minutes because it had to negotiate streets that one year earlier had been reduced from four lanes to two, along with the addition of "bike lanes separated from traffic by parking buffers."

Sound familiar? That is precisely what was done in Kenmore. And the same problems are evident there.

Cliff Musgrave, a firefighter at Station 10 in Kenmore, sent me this email last fall:

"The planners, who argue that one of the reasons is safety, somehow overlooked the flow of emergency traffic.

"Kenmore Boulevard is a main thoroughfare and the best route to certain parts of the neighborhood. However, during any traffic period at all, it has become impassable for emergency traffic.

"If there are vehicles traveling in both directions of the boulevard, they have no way of moving out of the way of emergency vehicles when cars are parked on the side. There is nowhere they can go! Nor can we get around them.

"One metro bus picking up riders turns what was two lanes into impassable.

"So not only is this frustrating to the daily drivers, inevitably it is going to affect response times for police, fire and EMS."

But the city says the change is permanent.

When it comes to modern traffic design, Akron is right there on the cutting edge. But it's cutting the wrong way.

 

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or bdyer@thebeaconjournal.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.