We were not thrilled when Ashland officials announced plans to narrow North Main Street to a single travel lane in each direction with a center turn lane. But now that the new configuration has been in place for a year, we'll admit it's worked better than we anticipated.
Ashland City Council members apparently think so, too. The council voted unanimously this week to keep the configuration in place.
The project consisted of re-striping the road from the railroad trestle to the edge of downtown, creating a single turn lane in the center, two travel lanes and bike lanes on both sides. The idea was to make motorized traffic flow more smoothly while making the street more bicycle-friendly.
Judging from many of the nearly 400 comments left on the city's Open City Hall web page, it appears the project had its intended effect. Many respondents said they find the street easier to drive because cars no longer stop in the traffic lane waiting to make left turns. Cyclists said they felt safer having a wide, dedicated lane to use.
That's not to say the change was entirely positive. As Councilor Greg Lemhouse noted, the road diet is not a perfect solution. Still, he voted to leave it in place.
Most residents attending the Tuesday council meeting also supported continuing the new layout. That didn't please opponents, some of whom muttered about a large number of cyclists who made a point of riding their bikes to the meeting to show support.
And, while more residents appear to support the change, a sizable number disagree. A survey in the fall found 48 percent of respondents said the road diet was an improvement, while 42 percent said it wasn't.
The critics have legitimate concerns, which ought to be addressed. Many who live in the neighborhoods off North Main complain about traffic backing up at busy times, prompting some drivers to detour onto side streets. They also report difficulty turning onto Main from those side streets at busy times, and say the street could be more pedestrian-friendly.
Like it or not, Ashland is a popular destination, especially at specific times such as the Fourth of July and the Christmas parade on Black Friday. Even the old configuration was a snarl of traffic on those days. It may simply not be possible to avoid that.
Most of the time, however, traffic seems to flow more smoothly because of the center lane for vehicles waiting to make turns.
More crosswalks for pedestrians would be an improvement. City planners also could consider a third signal somewhere along the stretch between the existing lights at Maple and Laurel streets, or a crosswalk light warning drivers to watch for pedestrians.
No change of this magnitude can satisfy everyone. But on balance, it appears to us that the road diet has improved traffic flow and overall safety, and the council was right to leave it in place.