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"But We've Got To Do Something"

Five communities that resolved their traffic problems without more roads

June 1, 1997 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Tree-lined medians and sidewalks, and raised intersections would transform Route 50 through Middleburg, Virginia, under a citizen-designed "traffic calming" proposal.

Beaufort, South Carolina -- In the late 1980s, state transportation officials proposed spending $10 million to turn rural Highway 21 on Lady's Island and St. Helena Island into a five-lane thruway.

Citizens by the hundreds opposed the plan. They gathered persuasive evidence that neither population growth nor traffic congestion justified the project. They also asserted that the road would encourage the construction of strip malls, and ruin a sensitive landscape of tidal creeks, farm fields, and African-American historic sites.

Last December, as a direct result of citizens' efforts, the project was redrawn to eliminate widening on St. Helena, and in the rural regions of Lady's Island.

The struggle over the road also helped to prompt changes in local views about transportation and land use. Beaufort County now is considering a new land use plan designed to preserve rural areas by confining investments in new roads, sewers, and water projects to regions that already have been developed.

Contact: Dana Beach, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, P.O. Box 1765, Charleston, SC 29402- 9940; Tel. 803-723-8035.

Cathedral City, California -- In the 1970s, when old state Highway 111 was widened outside the city, it attracted rampant strip development, and most of the downtown shops closed. The city formed a 30-member task force, which hired planning specialist Michael Freedman to make the commercial area along the highway more appealing to pedestrians, and thereby improve business downtown.

Mr. Freedman's plan, approved in June 1995, is turning the highway into a handsome tree-lined boulevard with through traffic in the center, parking along the sidewalks, and shops with benches out front. The "adaptable boulevard" plan also is designed to accommodate other transit, like bus and rail.

Contact:Michael Freedman, 47 Kearney St., Suite 500, San Francisco, CA 94108; Tel. 415-291-9455.

Middleburg, Virginia -- Middleburg lies along Route 50, which connects the suburbs of northern Virginia with Washington, DC. In 1995, when commuter traffic through Middleburg and two other towns had become a major problem, the state transportation department proposed building a $34 million, four-lane highway bypass.

A coalition of citizens opposed the bypass, and hired a consultant who specializes in reducing congestion through "traffic calming." The coalition then sponsored a series of public workshops to design a community plan, which calls for constructing landscaped medians, raising intersections to slow traffic, and erecting gateways to clearly mark town borders.

With strong support from the mayor of Middleburg, the Virginia Department of Transportation agreed to put the bypass on hold until the alternative plan had been fully considered. In June of this year, the Loudon County Commission voted unanimously to support the plan.

Contact: Route 50 Corridor Coalition, P.O. Box 1555, Middleburg, VA 22117; Tel. 540-687-4055.

Chicago, Illinois --The Illinois Department of Transportation and the state Toll Highway Authority have proposed several extensions of the existing tollway system into the suburbs of Chicago. The new roads would form a second, more distant beltway to downtown.

A coalition of business, environmental, and civic groups is developing an alternative plan. It includes proposals for more rail capacity, the widening of existing roads, and building traditional transit-oriented neighborhoods near rail stops.

Contact: Environmental Law and Policy Center, 203 North LaSalle St., Suite 1390, Chicago, IL 60601; Tel. 312-759-3400.

Prince Georges County, Maryland -- US-301 east of Washington, DC, is a heavily congested route. In the mid-1980s, the Maryland Department of Transportation proposed building an Outer Beltway beyond the existing Capital Beltway.

Public opposition to the project was immediate. The transportation department responded with a study of alternatives. Completed last summer, the study called for expanding US-301 by two lanes, and reserving options for future rail transit. Other recommendations included focusing new development in compact planned communities, increasing parking fees, and establishing tolls to discourage traffic. The Outer Beltway now is on hold. G

Contact: Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 111 Annapolis St., Annapolis, MD 21401; Tel. 410-268-8833.

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