If in doubt about the need for safer streets, consider this: Traffic is a far greater threat to people walking on city sidewalks than crime. This is the case in many urban areas including Mobile, where efforts are being made to improve these conditions.
An extensive study was conducted in Mobile to combat these problems. The result is the Street Optimization Plan, created by renowned city planner and urban designer Jeff Speck and Alyson Fletcher, a principal at Boston, Massachusetts-based Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates Inc. Using Google street view, their team studied every block in Mobile’s downtown street grid in order to make the city’s commercial core safer, more livable and economically vibrant.
Among the many proposed solutions are safer pedestrian crossings and improved signals, reduced speed limits, reducing the number of lanes, proper width of lanes, avoiding one-way streets and continuous on-street parking.
“Downtown Mobile has an over-supply of lanes on its streets, too many one-way streets, and streets that are wider than necessary even when the number of lanes is appropriate,” observes Carol Hunter of the Downtown Mobile Alliance, the nonprofit organization that assisted the Street Optimization team in their study. Even before the study began, Speck had visited the city several times because his brother Scott Speck is conductor of the Mobile Symphony Orchestra.
Discouraging speeding and calming streets so they become part of a walkable environment are also part of the plan, along with converting extra lanes into on-street parking or bike lanes, or both. Also, converting one-way streets to two-way where possible. Replacing traffic lights with four-way stops except on streets with more than 10,000 vehicles a day. And providing crosswalks and signals for pedestrian safety.
“The city converted one block of our widest one-way street a couple of years ago, and the process to convert the remaining blocks is fairly far along,” explains Hunter. “The other streets mentioned in the plan are being studied and we expect the conversion to begin in the fall.” Replacing unnecessary traffic lights with four-way stops is planned along the same timeline, she adds.
The team’s recent Mobile presentations were unveiled on Zoom. Fletcher said that the kickoff and the final presentations were two of the highest attended public events in the hundreds of meetings Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates has conducted nationwide this past year.
Clearly, Mobile residents are keen on safer streets.
A key project in progress is a joint effort by the city and ALDOT to transform the “ring road” that defines the downtown area. The six-lane highway has been reduced to four lanes and bicycle lanes are being added.
Undergoing significant change is Broad Street, the city’s western edge and the highway that separates downtown from surrounding neighborhoods. This Reconnect Mobile project is rebuilding the roadway, installing sidewalks and bike lanes, adding on-street parking and changing the traffic flow through certain intersections.
Hunter says, “The goal is to create a pedestrian-friendly environment that will encourage high-quality development along what has been a generally moribund stretch of road for many years.”
Cyclists are also working on safer streets in Mobile, including local bike advocate John Blanton who says after years of high incidents of cycling injuries the city is striving to improve its cycling infrastructure and taking other measures to improve cycling and pedestrian safety.
The city has passed the USDOT’s Complete Streets, a guideline for streets designed and operated to enable safe use and support mobility for all users. Additional 3-foot passing signs are being installed, and additional cycling lanes added downtown.
“Off road cycling paths are in the works and more are planned such as the 3 Mile Creek Project and the Crepe Myrtle Trail down by the Bay,” says Blanton. “One of the most noticeable challenges that affect cycling and pedestrian safety are car speeds and distracted driving. Adding more protected bikes lanes where feasible is another need.”
Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of the Downtown Mobile Alliance