Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The City of Benbrook
Dear Honorable Mayor and City Councilmember’s,
Please, Do Not Widen 377!!
If you think drivers are crazy on 377 now, making the road wider will make people more comfortable with speeding and will draw more traffic congestion. And when the congestion does come (and it will), you’ll have a lot more cars clogging the road than you do now, because of those extra lanes. Road widening is almost always done in the name of “reducing congestion,” but in fact they have the opposite effect: widening roads increases traffic. The old saying goes “widening roads to control traffic is like loosening your belt to control your weight,” and it’s pretty accurate.
Traffic will swell to fill capacity. It’s a phenomenon called “induced demand.” Build more lanes, and you alert drivers that there is now more capacity on the road. They will use that capacity. Because the road now “flows better,” people will take advantage of that capacity. This, in turn, creates more congestion, bringing us back to the starting point. How many years after 377 is widened from four to six lanes will it be that TxDOT comes up with a plan to widen it from six to eight? There will never be enough lanes for the highway crowd. Benbrook must make a choice - would it rather have four lanes of congestion, or six lanes of congestion? There will be congestion, sooner or later, in either design - the six lane configuration will just have that many more cars in gridlock. In addition, the wider road will increase congestion on surrounding local streets feeding into it.
So widening roads does nothing to solve traffic problems - it, in fact, makes them worse. As part of the increase in traffic, it will also create more pollution, and in a time when the FW/D region is constantly battling with air quality concerns (due in large part to our car usage), does encouraging even more traffic really make sense? Beyond making traffic and pollution worse, road widenings also tend to lower the quality of life for other residents. With a wider road, drivers will feel comfortable driving at higher speeds (when the road’s not choked with more cars). It makes the roads less safe for all users. Drivers already speed on 377 - does Benbrook really want to make it worse?
The writing is on the wall all across the country that the old post-WWII model of growth embraced by cities like Benbrook - ever-wider roads, increasingly-segregated uses, ever-increasing car dependency - is at a dead end. It eventually chokes on traffic congestion and car dependency. Rather than continue on the same path that will keep Benbrook tied to huge oil consumption, speeding traffic, and complete reliance on the car, the city ought to be thinking about how to reorganize itself into a more livable form. It’s not a process that can happen overnight, but it has to begin somewhere - and stopping the widening of 377 could be that first step. TxDOT road widenings tend to destroy far more than they improve.
I’d like to see 377 transformed into something akin to Lancaster Avenue in Downtown Fort Worth. Highways entering towns should become boulevards. Keep 377 four lanes, add a brick & landscaped median with turn lanes at intersections & major destinations, and add wide sidewalks with trees along the street edge. Instead of two extra lanes, add protected bike lanes, add clearly defined entry & egress for businesses but design the street such that it would become a classic town boulevard in the future with new development taking a more traditional “main street” orientation rather than the parking lot & box model that exists now.
In short, make 377 a place that can become a real part of the city of Benbrook, rather than a traffic sewer that just shoots cars past as quickly as possible. It might take years and years afterwards, but the built environment along this new 377 could slowly start to transform into something better than the strip malls & gas stations model that’s there now. You have to plan for years and generations to come - it might seem incongruous at first, but making 377 a real boulevard rather than just a six-lane speeding highway could have a profoundly positive impact on Benbrook for many, many years to come. I don’t think that TxDOT’s design is concerned with improving the surrounding built environment – rather, just pushing cars through as fast as possible. Again, for an example just look at Rosedale in Fort Worth’s Near Southside. TxDOT’s remade six-lane Rosedale is a disaster, a wasteland of pavement, tiny sidewalks, and speeding cars that serves as little more than a barrier to good growth. Fort Worth is actually spending money to *undo* what TxDOT did and take the street back down to four lanes with better pedestrian & bike facilities. Benbrook could use a real sense of place - as long as the roads passing through it continue to be treated as simplistic highways, which will be difficult to achieve. 377 might *technically* be a highway, but where it passes through Benbrook the city should take hold of its own interests and control its own destiny, and not let the state traffic engineers who don’t care about the city’s sense of place decide for it. Make it a real “Benbrook Boulevard.” Letting TxDOT make it a six-lane highway won’t do that - there’s nothing “Boulevard” about it.
I moved to Benbrook 6 years ago because it was different. Benbrook has a small town feel and it’s light years away from Hulen and Bryant Irvin. Let’s keep it that way.