Highways for Habitats #18: East Boulevard, Charlotte

East blvd charlotte

Transportation planning is tough. Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes. Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit). Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates. We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities. Check out more about our inspiration here.

East Boulevard travels through a historic district and connects areas of retail, housing, a regional park, and more.  Serving around 20,000 cars daily, it functions mostly as a commuter route.  In 2002 a Neighborhood Plan suggested the transformation of the corridor from a commuter route to a main street.  The Charlotte Department of Transportation (CDOT) conducted surveys and public meetings to gather input from stakeholders, and found strong support for downsizing East Boulevard.

Residents in the East Boulevard neighborhoods wanted many improvements.  To reduce pedestrian and bicycle accidents, improved biking conditions and pedestrian infrastructure were desired.  Reduced travel speeds were necessary to diminish the higher number of rear-end and left-turn collisions and enhance safety.  Creating a more pleasant experience for outdoor activities and in nearby outdoor restaurants was also a goal.

CDOT planned the project in phases, which were all completed in 2011.  The roads were downsized from four or five lanes to three: one lane in each direction and a center turn lane.  This reduces both accidents during turns and crossing distance for pedestrians.  Refuges with reflector markers were constructed in the median of some crosswalks to further enhance crossing safety.  Bicycle lanes were included in the designs.  Continual landscaping of trees and grass in the median and along the curbs beautify the area for all that travel to and through.  Pedestrian access to alternative transportation options – like bus routes and the light rail – was enhanced.

After two sections of the road were renovated, 77% of residents that participated in a survey appreciated the increased safety and wanted to see the implementation of the third and final phase of the project, which connected the sections completed in phases one and two.

Overall, community members consider the resulting streetscape project a success.  While automobile volume remained about the same, the average speed dropped a few miles per hour, and injuries were reduced by 68%.  With only one lane to travel in, unsafe and aggressive vehicle driving methods, like “lane jockeying,” are no longer options.  Outdoor dining has significantly increased, and pedestrian volume and sidewalk activity has become more prominent.  The healthier balance between people and cars is proving a better option for everyone.


Photo from Complete Streets on flickr.com