Development

Watching the suburbs become more unwalkable before your very eyes

If you’ve ever thought that the debate over suburban walkability was simply an abstract concept, now’s your opportunity to see it unfolding before your very eyes. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, an organization that “works to foster regional cooperation in a nine-county, two state area, to address key issues, including transportation, land use, environmental protection and economic development”, recently published the agenda for its July 24th meeting. On it is action item 2a, or, “Route 30, and Evesham Road Intersection Improvements”. The full text of this item can be found here, but the gist is this:

“This project will address safety and operational deficiencies of the Route 30 and Evesham Road (CR 544) intersection in Magnolia Borough by widening US 30 to add a two-way, center left-turn lane from Ashland Avenue to Evesham Road, as well as add exclusive left-turn lanes on both directions of US 30 at the intersection. This left turn movement will be protected by left turn signals (green arrow). On the eastern part of Evesham Road, the road will also widen to add two through lanes and an exclusive left turn lane. Similarly, the western part of Evesham Road will widen to add one through lane and an exclusive left-turn lane. The project will further include the installation of a new traffic signal, new signs, new curbs and sidewalks, as well as reconstructed pavement, drainage improvements, and the relocation of utilities.”

The projected cost? $6,805,000.

You might be thinking, “sounds nice, what’s the problem?” Let me explain. I’ve driven on this stretch of Route 30 almost my entire life. I understand that it’s sometimes boring to wait for people to turn left. But what this amounts to is spending nearly $7 million to turn a merely busy roadway into an extremely pedestrian-unfriendly “stroad”, which is a “very dangerous environment (yes, it is ridiculously dangerous to mix high speed highway geometric design with pedestrians, bikers and turning traffic), that’s enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive.” Basically, this means ignoring the mountains of evidence that show that walkable, pedestrian- and bike-friendly communities are the future, and that the preference for car-dependent suburbia as we know it is a thing of the past.

The imperative to foster walkability in South Jersey’s extremely car-dependent suburban environment is driven home at this very intersection by the fact that there is a recently-built mixed use “town center” style development called CooperTowne Village a short walk from where NJDOT wants to do this work. Millennials like myself have sent the signal that we’re driving less and choosing where to live based on walkability, retail density, and access to public transportation, and developers have listened. The fact that a previously suburban-style, drive-in retail center now hosts a mix of retail and residential shows that we’re slowly moving on from a car-only mentality. Unfortunately, the New Jersey DOT neither understands nor cares about this, seeing the throughput of cars as their only metric for success. Simply put, they aren’t concerned with, and actively work against, making New Jersey’s communities nice places to live.

The DVRPC agenda item highlights that this is a very dangerous stretch of roadway, that it “ranks 15th out of 100 intersections with the most severe accident history due to lack of any left turn lanes on US 30.” Improving a dangerous road is a great idea, but not at the expense of cementing this densely built up part of South Jersey as a completely unwalkable, and thus very much not desirable, place to live for decades to come. With substantial residential development extremely close to this stretch of roadway, the new mixed-use CooperTowne development, and the Ashland PATCO station nearby, there is just no excuse not to foster a genuinely harmonious relationship between cars and pedestrians. Widening this roadway to accommodate only cars is absolutely not the way to do that.

Ultimately, I strongly urge the planning commission to reject this $7 million bad idea and instead work to fix the dangers the roadway presents in a way that adheres to Camden County’s Complete Streets policy. If you feel as strongly about this as I do, you have until noon on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 to comment by email at public_affairs@dvrpc.org, or you can attend their board meeting on the 23rd by following instructions on their website at http://www.dvrpc.org/GetInvolved/BoardActionItems/.

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