A conversation between an engineer and a home-owner – Part 4/7

One of the frequent justifications for making the roadway improvements is a tragic incident, especially a death. While those cases often seem random, they form a powerful justification for doing an improvement project, especially where you can tap into available federal or state funding. Multiple incidents can even create a sense of urgency. Since there is a seemingly endless list of roads that need improvement, prioritizing by death rate or accident rate can almost seem natural.

That wasnʼt the case here. We were proactively making the improvements to this street to make it safer – to bring it up to an acceptable standard in a way that would ultimately save lives. We werenʼt waiting for the accident rate to rise; we were getting out in front of that. It gave me a feeling of satisfaction in my work.

Eng.: This street is not safe because it does not meet the standard.
Resident: So, today cars drive slowly and it is safe, but you want to flatten the street, straighten the street, widen the street, and remove all of the trees so that cars can drive fast? Only afterwards will you post a speed limit so that cars will slow down? And you say this is safer?

It was a clever recitation, but while the woman with whom I was speaking was clearly sharp-witted, she lacked the background knowledge and understanding that allowed her to grasp the situation fully. I would try one last time to enlighten her.

Eng.: Yes, it will meet the standard. And please understand that there are high traffic projections for this street.
Resident: What do you mean by a high traffic projection?
Eng.: We project that a lot of cars will use this street in the coming years.

Weʼve all been on roads that lack capacity, where the traffic was at a standstill. From the perspective of the traffic engineer, this is an absolute failure. We even give it a grade of F.

Traffic engineers use a scale to measure “level of service” that runs from A, for “free flow condition” where all the traffic is moving unhindered, to F, where the flow of traffic breaks down and travel times are unpredictable.

Cities spend a great deal of time and resources analyzing and projecting traffic patterns. For this project, our models suggested a large increase in traffic, something that would create congestion and reduce traffic flow to Level of Service D – or potentially worse. All of the improvements underway were a proactive attempt to avoid bottlenecks and keep traffic flowing. We were being proactive with this project and I was proud of that.

Resident: Why would a lot of cars drive down this street? It is a small narrow street where you have to drive slow.

Now we were getting somewhere. Now she was asking the right questions – the ones that explains exactly why this project was so important. And I could surely sympathize with her not understanding what was coming. She hadnʼt seen the models my colleagues and I had put together. She wasnʼt the expert working on this every day. I felt a renewed sense of optimism. We were making progress.

Eng.: That is why we have to improve the street – to meet the standard.
Resident: Wonʼt thatʼs just encourage more people to drive?
Eng.: We have anticipated that, and we are adding two more lanes to handle the additional cars.

That insight was not received in the way that I anticipated. There was an uncomfortable period of silence – the kind where the person expected to speak is too startled to do so. Her eyes widened and she stared at me, not blinking.

Resident: You are adding two more lanes?
Eng.: Yes.
Resident: For cars?
Eng.: Yes. An additional two lanes will allow the street to meet the standard.

I looked down at my feet. I wasnʼt sure how to react to this conversation. It was clear that the woman with whom I was speaking was upset, but certainly she didnʼt want traffic congestion in front of her home. I bet sheʼd be the first one calling City Hall if she was stuck in traffic every day at a Level of Service F.

I just needed to help her understand what was already so clear to me. Yes, she might have to give up some trees and a little bit of her front yard, but she didnʼt want things to be safe? Didnʼt she want the road to work for everyone? She spoken next.

Resident: Let me see if I understand. You are projecting a high volume of traffic where there is none today and then building a street to handle this traffic. Arenʼt you just encouraging more people to drive?
Eng.: No. We are anticipating a lot of growth and need to make this improvement to handle the growth.

While Iʼm an engineer, Iʼm really into growth business. All of us who work for the City are in the growth business in one way or another. New growth is how we get the money we need to fix the streets, pay for police officers and firefighters, keep the library open, and all of the other things that taxpayers say they want. Growth is how people get jobs. Itʼs the unifying focus that we more or less all seem to agree on.

To be continued …

Report an error, or send a question or comment by e-mail to:
newcharlottetownproject @ eastlink.ca

Author: New Charlottetown Project

Barbara Dylla has lived in Charlottetown since 2017. The aim of this blog is to inspire and encourage Charlottetowners to be more aware of municipal affairs, to participate as engaged citizens, to support an issue close to their heart, so that together we create a sense of the larger community we live in. And, along the way, become a united community passionate about making Charlottetown the best it can be.

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