East Medford property owners got their first look at a "road diet" proposal last week that would reduce a portion of East Main Street from four travel lanes to two.
The city sent out letters to 284 property owners, proposing to change the road east of Interstate 5 to provide bike lanes and a dedicated center turn lane. The reduction from four travel lanes to two would affect about a half-mile of the roadway, from Almond Street to Willamette Street. The street serves as a main connection between downtown and east Medford residential areas.
Ashland last year decided to experiment with a controversial "road diet" at its northern entrance on Highway 99 where the four-lane road was converted to two lanes, along with a turn lane and bike lanes.
"One of the responses we received is that, 'We don't want road diets like Ashland,' " said Cory Crebbin, Medford's public works director.
Crebbin said he wouldn't characterize the change as a road diet, pointing out that other streets in Medford, including Fourth and 10th streets, have undergone similar changes.
Crebbin said the city sent 284 letters to residents who would be affected by the roadwork.
Despite Crebbin's reluctance to label the change as a road diet, the proposal is nearly identical to the changes made in Ashland. According to a road diet handbook prepared by the consulting firm of Parson Brinkerhoff in Portland, "A road diet entails converting a four-lane undivided roadway to a two-lane roadway plus a two-way left turn lane by removing a travel lane in each direction. The remaining roadway width can be converted to bike lanes, on-street parking or sidewalks."
Studies by traffic engineers have concluded that roads with two travel lanes and a dedicated turn lane can carry as much or more traffic and do it more safely, the handbook concluded.
Scott Henselman, a local property manager who represents nine property owners along the East Main Street area, said the letter sent by the city gives the impression that the road diet is a done deal.
"What I object to is the attitude that we're going to dictate directly to you the public," Henselman said. "This is the same thing as the police radio tower."
Henselman referred to a radio tower designed to improve emergency services communications that was installed in 2010 in an east Medford residential area with no notice given to many of the neighbors. After area residents challenged the decision, the city in 2012 moved and shortened the large tower.
Henselman said he called the city to discuss the street proposal and got the feeling that his comments objecting to the plan would not have much affect in altering the proposal.
Henselman said he has issues with the road diet concept in general.
Along the affected section of East Main are four bus stops, which could impede traffic if the street is reduced to one lane in each direction, he said.
Henselman also questioned the creation of bike lanes. "Bicycle use on Main Street is insignificant," he said.
Larry Beskow, city engineer, said the city doesn't refer to the proposed project as a road diet, preferring to think of it instead as a way to accommodate other modes of transportation by adding bike lanes.
He said the bike lanes would also keep cars farther away from sidewalks and pedestrians, which would be a safety improvement.
The city hasn't decided how it will proceed with restriping the roadway. In some cases, the city has ground out the existing striping and painted new lines. But Beskow said the city could instead put a sealer over the existing asphalt, then paint on the new surface.
If the city decides to paint new striping on the road, it wouldn't occur until summer, Beskow said.
City councilors, who first heard about the project last week, appeared unconvinced.
"I don't see how it will improve the flow of traffic," Councilor Chris Corcoran said in a Thursday council meeting.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.