The ever-present myth of widening roads

A drive down 82nd street in Castleton during rush hour is an exercise in futility. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. Lights at every major and mid-major intersection. One could probably walk (or maybe jog) from Allisonville road to I-69 faster than drive it. And what is the constant refrain from people frustrated with this set-up? The road isn’t wide enough to handle the traffic.

Compare this area to Broad Ripple Avenue. A popular nightspot that attracts a good number of people, especially at night. It is 3 lanes wide, with a turn lane in the middle. Why doesn’t it get as congested as Castleton? It’s pretty simple, really. There are other options. If a driver sees a back-up, they can just turn on to a small side street. Also, you can park your car in one place and let it sit until you leave Broad Ripple for the evening. This also helps cut down on car trips. Could you imagine going anywhere without your car in Castleton?

There’s another aspect of widened roads that seems forgotten by planners. The wider the road, the less safe it is to cross, even by car. So, all the out-lots and strip malls need to have their own traffic light. This slows down traffic on the main thoroughfare.

The problem with the anti-widening viewpoint is that it is basically counter-intuitive: The wider the road, the more congested it gets, because all other options are eliminated. I believe this counter-intutiveness is a main reason why for every positive traffic-calming step in this city, there are 10 roads being widened in the suburbs. The reality of poor planning still has not set in.

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