How is that? An example (taken from real life): a rural gravel road is widened and upgraded. The neighborhood becomes more attractive to developers. A cluster of suburban type houses are built right up on the road across from an active farm. The farmer moves away. More than likely, the farm becomes another subdivision. The "new people" drive faster on the country road and don't "give way" to oncoming traffic like the older residents. The remaining narrow spots on the road start to be thought of as "dangerous" (even though no accidents occur there). The residents petition for more widening so that drivers who exceed the speed limit can do so "more safely". People drive faster. The perception that the road is "improved" makes it more attractive to yet more new residential development. The new residents want trash pickup, plowing, street lights and - uh oh - paving. People drive faster. The cycle continues to escalate. Today's taxpayers pick up the bill because new residential development never pays its own way.
Yet there are several principles (outlined in the NH Municipal Association handbook on NH Law of Local Highways, Streets and Trails called "A Hard Road to Travel") that we often forget when we are thinking of road design and maintenance. Here are a few:
Streets are for more than just moving cars. They move pedestrians, they are the margins of the front yards of older houses which were built close to the road, they are the centers of our community life in downtowns.
Only certain types of roads are there to service through-travelers - such as route 11 - other, local roads are there to service the people who live on them.
Roads should not be sized to meet future projections unless the town actively chooses those future projections. If you build it, they will come - if you don't, they will go another way. Local roads should be built to the minimum required to meet local needs. Road size can be used to limit the rate of growth of neighborhoods.
Speed limits are the least effective way to control traffic speed. For local roads whose main use is neighborhood friends, spending time in your yard, pedestrian activities, and children playing, wide and straight is worse. "The tendency of many communities to equate wider streets with better streets . . . is an open invitation to increase traffic speeds." That's what the American Society of Civil Engineers says!
When I am late, I drive faster than the speed limit if I feel safe doing that. That's bad of me, I know that. But that is what the design of the road will allow, and we as a community should recognize that, regardless of the inadvisability of speeding, the manner in which we design roads is the largest determiner of how fast people will drive on them. Period.
Yet there are dozens of deliberate slow-down features that communities don't bother to incorporate into road design and maintenance: reduced width, reduced straightaway length, and reduced driver sight lines through curves; creating offset T's rather than through intersections; pairing one-way streets; creating landscaped roundabouts and diagonal parking.
Here is the problem: many of us want more convenience in our daily lives. Part of that convenience is related to roads. When we clamor for wider roads that make us feel safer (even if we aren't!) or for paving to reduce dust or to limit the number of days per year that we drive on washboard roads, we are unwittingly causing an increase in land use planning problems that will plague us in the future.
If history is any guide, we will eventually move away because we can't stand the traffic noise and excessive speeding or because we are disturbed by the new subdivisions that have come to our once-rural neighborhoods (now made more attractive to "city-folk"). Or, increased taxes could drive us out as we pay for million dollar traffic lights that we didn't used to need, increased road maintenance costs, new paving projects, or increases in costly residential growth brought on by "better" roads. This is not some whacky prediction of a future that won't happen - this is learning from the past, and from experts like the American Society of Civil Engineers, the NH Municipal Association, the NH DOT, and the American Planners Association.
Many of our choices are rash - made without adequate consideration of the impact:
If these measures actually make these roads less safe to drive on - if more accidents or worse injuries occur than formerly did - then there is the potential of an additional taxpayer cost: lawsuits against a town that knowingly - and therefore negligently - created less safe driving conditions on its roads.