…at least not if you live on an urban street. This article infuriated me. I’ll explain below.
Residents look for trees in I-70/71 project plans
Tuesday, November 10, 2009 3:03 AM
By Bill Bush
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
To tree or not to tree?
Last night, the Ohio Department of Transportation unveiled its plans to enhance the $1.6 billion highway project planned for the I-70/71 corridor Downtown.
New one-way connector streets along existing Mound and Fulton streets, Parsons Avenue and Lester Drive will replace most exit and entrance ramps that get motorists in and out of Downtown.ODOT officials had promised to keep the roads from resembling typical freeway ramps. Instead, they are to be “urban avenues,” with decorative fencing, lighting and landscaping.
But the 50 or so people who gathered at the Lincoln Theatre to review the plan had a common question: Where are the trees?
“I’m not seeing an improvement as far as the landscape,” one woman told ODOT officials.
“If they are freeway ramps, then let’s just call them what they are,” said another woman. “It is not an urban avenue.”
Officials designing the project told the crowd that many trees were eliminated for safety reasons, with a concern that cars might hit them. The urban avenues, though, are to have a speed limit of 25 mph.
If trees are permitted, those with trunks that mature to more than 4 inches in diameter must be 10 feet off the curb, and trees less than 4 inches in diameter must be at least 5 feet from traffic, officials said.
Design officials representing ODOT repeatedly said that a federal standard prohibited many trees.
But Roger Ryder of the Federal Highway Administration said that’s not true. That’s an ODOT plan that can be changed, he said.
It is abundantly clear that ODOT has no clue how to design an urban street. To require trees to be 10 feet from the curb is insane [Edit: I’m told that ODOT is requiring trees to be 10′ from the edge of the travel lane, not the curb as the Dispatch reported. I still don’t like the rule, but on a street with parking, this won’t cause any reduction in trees on most of the street]. The 10′ rule is a rural standard that ODOT is mis-applying to the central business district of the largest city in the state. To anyone from ODOT reading this, please read AASHTO’s A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (known as the Green Book) more carefully. It specifically states that the clear zone is 18 inches in urban areas (see page 323 of the 2001 edition):
…For low-speed rural collectors and rural local roads, a minimum clear-zone width of 10 feet should be provided.
For urban arterials, collector, and local streets where curbs are utilized, space for clear zones is generally restricted. A minimum offset distance of 18 inches should be provided beyond the face of the curb.
Are they requiring all the light poles, fire hydrants, bike racks, parking meters, and newspaper boxes to be 10 feet from the curb too? Not likely. That much right-of-way just never exists. Even if it did, you wouldn’t want to follow such a standard.
They need to throw out whatever manual they are using and download a copy of Context Sensitive Solutions in Designing Major Urban Thoroughfares for Walkable Communities. This isn’t a manual written by one of those walking, biking, transit-riding environmental organizations. This is by the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the same organization that publishes the ridiculously car-friendly Trip Generation Manual that developers use to size big box parking lots. If ITE is okay with actual urban streets, why isn’t ODOT?
The ironic thing is that ODOT can never hope to achieve their 25 MPH design speed by designing to their standard. The roads are already one-way, that’s one strike against low travel speeds. That can be dealt with though, if there is on-street parking, multi-story buildings built up to the sidewalk, large and frequent trees, sidewalks bustling with pedestrians, abundant sidewalk cafes, etc… By removing the trees, the property values will stay low, the land will never get developed, and there will never be the urban atmosphere that is needed to create a 25 MPH street. We need to stop designing to ODOT standards and start designing how we want our city to look. I think most people would want trees on every street. I know I would.
I’ll leave you with an image that will make ODOT gasp. This street carries over 40,000 vehicles per day in four lanes. I’m currently working on a project to attempt to make it more safe and pedestrian friendly. I have reviewed all the crash data for the past three years. Guess what, nobody has hit a tree. And these people are going 35 MPH. So why would a driver on ODOT’s 25 MPH “urban avenue” hit a tree?