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CPBJ Extra Blog

Will the road diet survive in Carlisle?

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When I bought a home in downtown Carlisle in April 2006, I looked forward to the immediacy of living close to everything.

I walked to the library. I walked to breakfast. On the weekends, I never had to worry about having one beer too many. In short, I enjoyed town living.

But when I had to drive to Home Depot way across town, I could get there fine, providing there wasn’t a car show happening at the time. The only problem with town driving is that the two main thoroughfares, High and Hanover streets, often resembled a racetrack.

Both carried two lanes of traffic each through town and drivers often pushed speeds up to 35 and 40 mph. In other words, way too fast for the walk-around kind of town Carlisle wants to be.

So officials decided to do something about it. In 2007, the borough began studying a “road diet” plan as a way to reduce the speed of vehicles and to better accommodate walkers and bike riders.

The $2.8 million plan reduced travel lanes to one each way on Hanover and High streets, with turn lanes at intersections and a dedicated bike lane each way. Traffic signal timing changed and sidewalk “bump-outs” cut down on intersection crossing distances.

But once the public heard “reduced to one lane,” the predictable howling ensued. Without any knowledge of what a road diet is, or how it works, the carping commenced. It struck me as short-sighted and I decided to withhold judgment until I understood the concept.

I found, and continue to find, that road diets are immensely popular and growing more so with time. The idea was fairly radical when first conceived by traffic engineers in the 1970s. After all, how is traffic congestion to be helped by reducing lanes? It seems to work against common sense.

Yet, it does work. First of all, larger traffic-clogging vehicles -- such as tractor-trailers -- tend to avoid a road diet. Secondly, better traffic signal timing and dedicated turn lanes mean the through traffic keeps moving, albeit at a reduced speed.

Finally, all that speeding and lane changing produces accidents, and accidents cause congestion.

Some cities and towns have gone wild for the road diet concept, which is limited to roads carrying less than about 20,000 vehicles per day. San Francisco neighborhoods have adopted more than 40 road diets since the 1970s and the idea spread to nearby Palo Alto and San Jose. Pottstown is one of several Pennsylvania towns and cities to adopt the concept.

I lived downtown before, during and after the road diet and noticed few changes to my driving experience. Perhaps it does take a minute or two longer to get to Home Depot now -- I haven’t timed it -- but I’ve never really noticed.

Still, the critics remain. My favorite accompanies every big car show, when they take to Twitter and Facebook to eviscerate the road diet for the traffic tie-ups across Carlisle. Of course, car-show congestion is an annual summer occurrence that long predates the re-engineering of the roadway.

Recent news that Carlisle Borough Council plans to evaluate the road diet in the coming weeks gave the critics new blood. But the exercise looks to be routine, with minor tweaks possible, such as adding crosswalks.

Those tweaks no doubt are needed. What do you think will happen with the Carlisle road diet?

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