Slowing traffic downtown

One of the biggest complaints people have about downtown Chico is the traffic, especially the fast-moving vehicles along Main and Broadway. The two streets are essentially thoroughfares for north-south traffic passing through downtown. At the 2006 Downtown Planning and Access Charrette, participants pointed out that both were hard to cross and that any bicyclist who tried to negotiate them was taking a big risk.

The subsequent report prepared by Nelson/Nygaard and HDR Town Planning, the consultants hired to conduct the charrette, offered several alternatives for dealing with this traffic problem. The most promising was to reduce Main and Broadway from three to two lanes and add left-turn lanes at appropriate intersections, a proposal that had the additional benefits of allowing bike lanes and either wider sidewalks or parallel (meaning more) parking spaces.

So far, however, the city has dismissed the recommendations altogether. On March 20, when city planners gave the council their implementation list based on the original charrette report, none of their recommendations addressed the traffic problem.

Indeed, their staff report states, in effect, that nothing can be done about it. Reducing Broadway and Main from three to two lanes, it argues, would divert some of the traffic to “already busy roadways” and would increase congestion downtown, “with reduced ability to accommodate left turns and commercial vehicle loading/unloading.”

That, it seems to us, is too facile a dismissal of what is potentially a good and reasonable way to slow traffic downtown. It seems to ignore the benefits of adding left-turn lanes, it speculates (without doing a study) about traffic diversion, and it gives too much importance to commercial vehicles and through traffic while ignoring the needs of pedestrians.

In fact, of the staff report’s 15 recommendations, only one even mentions pedestrians, and then only to state that new parking should “not degrade the pedestrian environment.” And the single item that addresses bicyclists’ needs concerns bike parking, not bike paths.

If the goal of the effort to improve downtown is to make it more attractive to shoppers and other pedestrians, their needs should have high priority and not be dismissed out of hand. The city should take a longer and more thorough look at the possibility of reducing Broadway and Main to two lanes—with the additional goal of making them more bicycle-friendly.