Atlantic Avenue is the Main Street of Atlantic City. Unfortunately, it is also the main vehicle through street in a town with millions of visitors a year.
The two are incompatible. Among the bad results are accidents, far too many pedestrian deaths, a stunted business district and a vehicle-dominated streetscape unpleasant for people.
The city and New Jersey, which oversees it, finally are planning the changes needed to greatly reduce Atlantic Avenue’s problems.
This month, the city announced it will reconfigure Atlantic Avenue with a version of one of traffic planning’s most popular improvements, the road diet.
Roads have been put on diets for four decades with excellent results. The original and now considered classic version was reducing four-lane highways to two lanes, adding a turn lane in the middle and picking up some extra space for parking, pedestrians and cyclists.
This reduced vehicle crashes by 20% to 50%, improved mobility and access for all road users by slowing traffic, and enhanced quality of life, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Then road diets became a way to rescue downtowns from the problems of ever increasing traffic loads. This is the sort of plan for Atlantic Avenue outlined by Atlantic City municipal engineer Uzo Ahiarakwe.
The need for the project is too obvious. In just four years recently, there were 829 crashes on Atlantic Avenue. New stories about pedestrian and cyclist deaths sadly have been too common, the latest in January.
The avenue will have two through lanes, retain lanes for turning left, have a median to discourage pedestrians from crossing in mid-street, keep parking for cars, and add bicycle lanes.
Atlantic Avenue is a wide boulevard, so there is room for plenty of improvements such as bumping out the sidewalks at the corners to make crossings safer and easier for pedestrians.
“It’s the full package,” Ahiarakwe said. Since the safety improvements will be significant, the federal government will cover 90% of the cost, estimated at about $9 million. An engineering firm is designing and planning the project, which is expected to commence about year’s end and finish in the second half of 2022.
The overall plan looks good except for placing the bike lanes between the through traffic and the parked cars. That would subject cyclists to cars constantly crossing their lane and to drivers opening their doors into the path of cyclists after they’ve parked. The easy fix for this, as pointed out by avenue businessman Abdullah Anderson, is to put the bike lanes next to the sidewalks. That’s how much busier New York City does it and it works well.