East Avenue between the Rochester city line and its junction with Route 31F in Pittsford is overbuilt. It has capacity for far more cars than actually travel it and, because it's so wide, it psychologically enables people drive faster than they should. So the State Department of Transportation wants to put it on a road diet, which is shorthand for reconfiguring it to encourage slower speeds and to better control traffic.
The DOT wants to covert the 40-foot-wide thoroughfare from a four-lane road to one with two travel lanes, a center turn lanes, and wide shoulders that can accommodate cyclists. Leaders from Brighton and Pittsford, as well as area cycling and environmental advocates, are on board with the concept. But the town leaders and advocates are split with DOT on the actual design.
Initially, the DOT proposed 11-foot travel and turn lanes, with 3.5 foot shoulders, which they said could accommodate cyclists. The shoulders wouldn't be marked as bike lanes, however. Brighton and Pittsford leaders banded together with cycling advocates to press the DOT for proper bike lanes. They asked the department to reduce the width of the travel and turn lanes to 10 feet apiece, bump the shoulders up to 5 feet, and mark the shoulders as bike lanes. Federal transportation guidelines recommend a minimum 5-foot width for bike lanes.
"Really, when the state Department of Transportation builds a road, it's not a road for cars, it's a road for people," says Scott Wagner, a Rochester Cycling Alliance member. "And so you accommodate people in whatever form of transportation they're using."
After some back and forth, the state has budged, but not enough to make the locals happy. Pittsford Supervisor Bill Smith says he received a letter from DOT Regional Director Kevin Bush last week stating that the agency has settled on 10-foot travel lanes, an 11-foot center turn lane, and 4.5 feet wide shoulders for East Avenue. The shoulders still wouldn't be marked as bike lanes. The letter has "an air of finality about it," Smith says.
Smith says he wants to give the DOT credit "for moving part way toward accommodating us." And the federal transportation guidelines do allow for bike lanes for less than 5 feet wide. But the sticking point is marking the shoulder as a bike lane. Instead, the DOT is proposing using a 6-inch white line to separate it from the travel lane rather than a standard 4-inch line.
"Is it better than nothing? Yes," Smith says. "Is it really what we want it to be for the purpose of being able to facilitate and encourage safe bicycling along a pathway that could easily accommodate it? The answer is no."
Robin Wilt, a Brighton Town Board member, likes the idea of the road diet but is frustrated that the DOT is stopping short of a full bike lane for East Avenue. Plenty of research indicates that 10-foot travel and turn lanes would be safe, she says. Local officials and advocates struggled to get the DOT to compromise on the center-turn lane width, though Wilt says county roads already use center turn lanes narrower than 11 feet.
The DOT is getting ready to close the design period and put the project out to bid. But the Cycling Alliance, the Rochester People's Climate Coalition, and Brighton and Pittsford leaders still hope to convince the DOT to go with true bike lanes alongside East Avenue.
"It is literally just paint on the road, and they could reconfigure it if they find that there's an adverse outcome," Wilt says.This morning, the state Department of Transportation e-mailed this statement from Bush:
“NYSDOT is committed to providing a safe environment for everyone using our roadways. As part of this commitment, NYSDOT plans to create shoulder space for bicyclists on East Avenue by means of a ‘road diet,’ which has been very successful in enhancing the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists across New York. Thanks to feedback from the towns of Pittsford and Brighton, NYSDOT plans to narrow the width of the two proposed travel lanes from 11 feet to 10 feet each. This will result in two 4.5-foot shoulders for bicyclists to use, and will allow us to maintain a center turning lane approximately 11 feet in width. In addition, Bike Route signs and wider edge lines will be provided. We believe these proposed changes will provide the best configuration for both motorists and bicyclists to travel safely.”This article has been updated from the print edition to include a comment from State Department of Transportation Rochester/Finger Lakes Reigonal Director Kevin Bush.