Monday, December 24, 2007

Shrinking Padre Boulevard

For many years, the emphasis of urban planning was to create large, wide roads, even if they went right through the middle of a town. By installing extra lanes, the thinking was, roadway capacity and safety could be maximized at the same time. And if you look at what the Texas Department of Transportation did to Padre Boulevard, it is now well over 100 feet wide not including all the asphalt and sidewalks. What I’m proposing today it to literally shrink the width of the road.

I know, a horrible, insane idea with no traction, and almost universally opposed.

But let me make my case. In the future there will be a second causeway to the north, thus reducing a need for capacity in terms of thousands of vehicles per day. Second, narrowing the road, while perhaps delaying traffic a little, could make the roads safer. Thirdly, a narrower road would allow for more green space, sidewalks, turnouts for parking, and be more in keeping with the Vision Statement and planning goals of the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Board – not that I can speak in any way for the latter.

Let’s take a look at the roadway as it is today, from where the median ends up to Morningside Drive. We have two highway lanes each way, a center turning lane, two emergency lanes, and then eight feet of curb and sidewalk. No wonder it is hard to cross the road! Not only is this highway design unsafe for pedestrians, it looks as if it was a giant rolling parking lot, a bleak black desert with huge telephone poles on each side. The center turning lane is especially dangerous when two or more cars want to occupy it at the same time, a fairly common summer experience – especially if you are standing right where the cars want to be.

Two lanes – one each way – and an emergency lane on each side are probably all that we need. There would be no center turning lane. This is a fairly common design for the older towns along Old Route 1 which connects lower Florida with upper Maine. May I remind the reader that Route 1 handles much more capacity than South Padre Island; residents in such towns don’t seem to mind it. Typically the road is zoned 30 MPH and crosswalks are located every block, not spaced miles apart. The sidewalk can be up to 20 feet wide and in places cafes are allowed to have tables under nice shady trees. There are benches, shaded bus stops, attractive light posts, nice-looking garbage cans, and even cigarette disposal cans so as to prevent litter. As a measure of civic pride, shop owners clean their section of sidewalk every morning.

And interesting concept would be to close off most access to the “roll-over curb parking” along the boulevard and allow controlled driveways accessing a true parking lot, instead of a free-for-all where parkers back into oncoming traffic. The sidewalk would cross these smaller driveway accesses with white lines and ADA curb cut slopes. There is plenty of space to work with, and aside from the obvious construction costs and improving the drainage – did I say improving the drainage? This model could and should be considered. Remember, the TxDOT doesn’t own that land now paved over; the good citizens of Texas do.

There you have it. Either you actually like the way Padre Boulevard looks now, or you want medians all the way down to Morningside (a holy mess if you ask me), or you’ll do something radical and different. My purpose is just to provoke some thought ...

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