Road Diet Treatment in Ocean City, NJ, USA

Daniel A Kueper
Institute of Transportation Engineers. ITE Journal

Jan 31, 2007 19:00 EST

INTRODUCTION

West Avenue is the most important north-south roadway in Ocean City, NJ, USA. This four-lane roadway is 60 blocks long; 34 blocks are owned by the city and 26 blocks are owned by Cape May County. A three-lane "road diet" treatment for the county-owned section was recommended in a 2001 pedestrian safety study in Cape May County to better accommodate both pedestrians and bicyclists.

Because West Avenue had just been resurfaced and new markings had been installed, it was deemed impracticable to convert the roadway to a three-lane cross-section at that time. However, a new circulation plan commissioned by Ocean City in 2003 provided the opportunity to consider a road diet treatment on the cityowned section. A trial section eventually was implemented in 2005.

An extensive before-and-after data analysis was not conducted because the road diet was recommended as part of the city's circulation element, which, in New Jersey, is comprehensive by definition. The Ocean City circulation element focused on conceptual strategies to improve conditions for all travel modes in various parts of the city, and resources were not available to conduct a major data collection effort at any one site.

Although the conclusions on the effect of the road diet treatment in Ocean City are limited, the intent of this feature is to focus on the process followed in implementing the treatment, which proved satisfactory to municipal officials and residents alike.

BACKGROUND

Ocean City in Cape May County is one of New Jerseys most popular resort communities, due to its extensive beaches and a boardwalk with a wide variety of amusements. The yearround population is 15,512, and the annual influx of vacationers increases the summer population tenfold to more than 150,000. The city is laid out as a grid upon one of the barrier islands that constitute the Jersey Shore. It is less than one-half-mile in width. A large majority of residents and visitors are within walking distance of the Atlantic Ocean beaches and boardwalk.

West Avenue, a four-lane roadway, traverses 60 blocks, or virtually the entire length of the island. It is under two different jurisdictions. From 1st Street to 34th Street, the roadway is owned by Ocean City. From 34th Street to 60th Street, the roadway is owned by Cape May County (see Figure 1). In an effort to fulfill then-Governor Christine Whitman's goal of creating 1,000 miles of bike trails in New Jersey, the county decided to stripe bike lanes on its portion of West Avenue in 2001.

Prior to this re-striping, the cross-section of West Avenue on both die county and the local sections had been the same for many years, as depicted in Figures 2a and 3. To maintain the existing four-lane cross section while providing bike lanes within the 70foot cartway, the county decided to eliminate the painted center median and reduce the parking lane and travel lane width. The results are depicted in Figure 2b.

A number of residents complained about the re-striping, stating that they no longer had use of the striped median as a pedestrian refuge and found it more difficult to cross West Avenue. This issue had not been considered before the re-striping, partly because a 5-foot-wide striped median, unlike a physical island, is not ideal in serving as a safe pedestrian refuge.

However, these complaints proved an important point. Residences line nearly the entire length of West Avenue, leading to regular pedestrian activity across the roadway for its 6-mile span. In the summer months, it is common to see groups of people carrying beach gear across West Avenue toward the Atlantic Ocean in the morning or early afternoon and returning in the late afternoon. Ocean City is well known as a family resort, and many of these pedestrians are young children.

Given the 70-foot-wide cartway and posted speeds of 30 and 35 miles per hour (mph), West Avenue can be intimidating for pedestrians to cross. Along the roadway, signalized intersections are provided every four or six blocks, which are too far out of the way for most pedestrians.

Responding to pedestrian concerns, the Cape May County requested a transportation consulting firm to recommend solutions as part of a pedestrian safety study commissioned by the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO). Partly because traffic volumes on West Avenue diminish considerably toward the southern end of the island and because roadway capacity was not perceived to be an issue, it was suggested to convert the roadway into a three-lane cross section with medians and bike lanes.

The timing was not fortuitous. Although the roadway re-striping had prompted residents to request a different roadway design, precisely because the county had just resurfaced the roadway and installed new markings, it was not practicable to change roadway markings in the near future.

As an alternative measure, the installation of "Yield to Pedestrian" signs on flexible stanchions at key crosswalks on the roadway centerline was recommended along with curb extensions.

However, because pedestrian activity is so diffuse along West Avenue, assisting pedestrians only at key crossings was an obviously limited solution. There seemed few options to improve pedestrian conditions on West Avenue when the final pedestrian safety report was presented to SJTPO.

INVESTIGATION

In the summer of 2003, Ocean City decided to initiate a circulation plan. This provided the opportunity to resurrect the idea of putting West Avenue on a road diet, this time on the city-owned portion. The idea was reinforced when the Ocean City Police, responding to comments from residents, requested consideration of traffic calming for West Avenue south of 14th Street.

Current conditions first were investigated. It was quickly determined that pedestrian crossings on West Avenue, on sections both with and without striped medians, did not pose a significant safety problem. Only two pedestrian crashes occurred along the entire length of West Avenue in 2001 and 2002; one involved a turning vehicle at an intersection and the other involved a parking vehicle. Both occurred in the downtown business district. However, despite the fact that the data indicated no safety concerns, it was not always easy for crossing pedestrians to find a gap in traffic on West Avenue.

Ambient traffic speeds were determined through radar spot readings at two points along West Avenue in the late afternoon in late August 2003. As indicated in Table Ia, 85th-percentile speeds were 8-9 mph above the speed limit. Residents who requested traffic calming on West Avenue were justified in their perception of high speeds.

However, traffic calming options were limited because of the roadways status as an arterial and its significant width and length. The consultants recommended against using speed humps, which were suggested by one planning board member. These are undesirable on arterial roadways and, like other physical measures, are less effective on long roadway segments.

The consultant suggested that re-striping West Avenue from four lanes to three lanes could reduce average speeds because the fastest motorists would be controlled by the prevailing speeds of other vehicles on the roadway. The three-lane cross-section would better accommodate both pedestrians and bicyclists, by creating a wider pedestrian refuge than currendy existed and through the creation of bike lanes on the city-owned section for the first time.

It also was expected that by striping bike lanes on the entire length of West Avenue, the city could expand recreational opportunities and attract visitors interested in cycling along the chain of barrier islands that form the Jersey shore.

In the summer peak season, average daily traffic volumes on the city-owned portion of West Avenue reach 15,000. Studies have indicated that capacity can become a concern on road diets when daily traffic volumes exceed 18,000 to 20,000. ' Given the ambient traffic speeds on West Avenue, it was clear that roadway capacity could be reduced without impairing mobility.

A conceptual roadway plan was developed for the entire city-owned section of West Avenue, as shown in Figures 2c and 4. Very few residences have driveways along West Avenue, and a two-way leftturn lane was not required. A painted channelizing island was placed between the left-turn lane and through lane of the same direction at intersections rather than between opposing traffic flows. This scheme offers better sight lines to motorists waiting to turn left. View obstruction of left-turning motorists on multi-lane roadways is a contributing factor to leftturn crashes.

Although planning board members and local officials were intrigued by the road diet concept, they were concerned about creating congestion. When members of the public first hear that four through lanes are being reduced to two through lanes, they often assume that the roadway capacity also is being cut in half. It was explained that on a typical multilane roadway, the capacity of the inner lane often is reduced by vehicles waiting to turn left.

Furthermore, it was necessary to reduce the capacity to some degree to bring down vehicular speeds. A Highway Capacity Software (HCS) 2000 analysis was conducted to project the delays at typical unsignalized intersections along West Avenue. Delays on side streets (at stop-controlled approaches) were projected to increase by a range of 2 to 27 seconds per vehicle. This was not a major concern because under the grid system, vehicles could easily access West Avenue at signalized intersections. A minor increase in delay was expected at signalized intersections. This discussion helped alleviate planning board concerns.

IMPLEMENTATION AND RESULTS

To determine the effect of the road diet, the planning board subcommittee suggested a test on a six-block section of West Avenue between two signalized intersections at 18th Street and 24th Street (see Figure 5a). Although physical islands initially were recommended for greater pedestrian safety, it was decided only to paint the islands for this trial. Because the elevation is near sea level, roadways are easily flooded; in these situations, emergency vehicles sometimes need to drive in the roadway center because the roadway crown forms the highest point. If the roadway reconfiguration proved acceptable, the city ultimately could consider installing low-rise islands with mountable curbs.

The re-striping was in place before the 2005 summer season, and an evaluation of its operation was conducted in August and September 2005, after motorists became accustomed to it. A before-and-after comparison is limited because the road diet concept had its genesis in the city circulation plan, which is comprehensive by definition. Although an intensive data collection on West Avenue was not conducted as part of this project, a number of observations on the effect of the road diet are possible.

Traffic Volumes Were Unchanged

Based on historic counts at intersections in the vicinity of 24th Street, northbound and southbound volumes on West Avenue were estimated to average 550 and 539, respectively, on a weekday peak hour. A weekday peak hour count at West Avenue and 24th Street was conducted in early August following implementation of the road diet and indicated that northbound and southbound volumes were 548 and 556, respectively.

A Modest Reduction in Speeds Occurred

Two radar spot speed readings were conducted on West Avenue at 20th Street; summary statistics are presented in Table Ib. After the road diet, both the 85thpercentile speed and the 50th-percentile travel speed were 1 mph lower (85th-percentile speed was 2 mph lower than speeds recorded at 26th Street, which has a very similar character to 20th Street).

As predicted, the greatest impact was in "capping" die highest travel speeds. In the speed reading before implementation of the road diet, 12 percent of motorists traveled at 40 mph or above; in the speed reading following implementation of the road diet, only 4 percent of motorists traveled at 40 mph or above.

The Reduction in Speed Was Welcome, Although Anticipated To Be Somewhat Larger2

The change in 85th-percentile speed was not found to be significant at a 95percent confidence interval using a t-test. The minor speed reduction may point to the difficulty of "calming" roadways with wide cartways and ample capacity.

Because the road diet treatment is presumably more effective in controlling speeds when traffic volumes are higher, it might be speculated that speed reductions are greater on the highest activity days in the middle of summer. The speed readings were conducted at the end of the summer, when traffic volumes had declined from their peak in July and early August. The Ocean City Police believed that speed reductions during the peak season were somewhat greater than indicated in diis report, but dieir observations are not formally documented.

Other observations on the effect of the road diet included:

* Some pedestrians were using the striped islands as refuges in crossing the street, although most preferred to conduct the crossing in one movement. With the addition of the two 6-foot bike lanes, the length of pedestrian exposure to motorized vehicles was reduced by 12 feet, making crossings in one movement more feasible.

* All movements at the two signalized intersections ofWest Avenue with 18th Street and 24th Street experienced minimal delay. Average deky per vehicle in the peak hour (calculated through use of HCS) increased by about 3 seconds at botli intersections. The two inter sections operated at level of service B before and after implementation of the road thet. Queue lengths increased; during the weekday peak-hour field observation, a maximum queue of 20 vehicles was observed southbound at 18th Street, coinciding with the 95thpercentile queue length predicted by HCS. Typical queues during the peak hour were much shorter. Increases in queue lengths are commonly seen with road thet treatments because the roadway storage capacity is essentially cut in half.

* Based on field observations, delays at unsignalized side streets were minimal.

* There was no change in the number of crashes following implementation of the road thet. There were two crashes on this section of West Avenue in the summer of 2004 and two crashes in the summer of 2005- It was noted that there was one crash on the 2500 block of West Avenue, just outside the road thet area, involving a bicyclist striking an opened car door. This crash would likely have been corrected with the new cross-section because the 6-foot bike lane would give a cyclist more room to avoid opened doors. Under the existing cross-section, the travel lane of 12 feet is immediately next to parked cars, and some bicyclists ride too close to parked cars in an effort to avoid moving vehicles.

Ocean City regarded the road thet trial as successful. Vehicular speeds were reduced, most noticeably of high-speed "outliers." Pedestrians and bicyclists have been taking advantage of the new facilities, and residents have requested implementation of the road thet treatment on their sections of West Avenue. The Ocean City Police have observed a reduction in speeding.

Based on these results, Ocean City has decided to extend the road thet treatment along West Avenue for 10 blocks to the south and is evaluating the feasibility of extending it to the north as well.

© 2007 Institute of Transportation Engineers Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Source: Institute of Transportation Engineers. ITE Journal