“Slower Traffic Keep Right”

Durham Regional Rd 2, looking west (Google street view)

Durham Regional Rd 2, going west from downtown Bowmanville (Google street view)

Cycling west out of downtown Bowmanville, I passed a sign – “Slower Traffic Keep Right” – and wondered if I had veered onto a hitherto-unknown expressway.

But I soon guessed that there was a story behind this sign – a story of someone’s plans to create a speedy route between towns, and someone else’s plans to pack the same route with turning lanes into parking lots.

In other words, this sign told the sad story of a “stroad” – to use the coinage of StrongTowns founder Charles Marohn – a route that tries to be a high-speed connecting road, and also a business-district street, and does a poor job at both.

Area within 1 km west of "Slower Traffic Keep Right" sign

Area within 1 km west of “Slower Traffic Keep Right” sign. Red Xs represent stop-lights.

As noted on the above Google map, within one kilometre of the “Slower Traffic Keep Right” sign, there are many businesses – fast food restaurants, gas stations, big box retailers – on both sides. Traffic is split fairly evenly between cars turning to the left, cars turning to the right, and through traffic – so “Slower Traffic Keep Right” makes no sense.

Not only that, but there are three stoplights within one kilometre; “Slower Traffic” is the only kind of traffic there will be.

Once you’ve travelled this stroad a few times you know what a poor job it does at moving traffic smoothly and swiftly. During business hours, a bicyclist can keep up with the cars and trucks here without breaking a sweat (though the heavy fumes and frustrated, impatient drivers make the bike ride far from pleasant).

So this six-lane divided highway produces stop-and-go traffic instead of high-speed passage. But in return for the congestion, do we at least get a high-density business district? No such luck.

Basic sketching of free parking lots (yellow highlite) and commercial buildings (red highlite).

Basic sketching of free parking lots (yellow highlite) and commercial buildings (red highlite).

In fact, the number one land use in this business district is free parking.

In the Google satellite view above, the commercial buildings along the stroad are highlighted in red, and their parking areas are highlighted in yellow. As tallied in Photoshop, the red commercial buildings total 11% of the image area, while the yellow parking areas take up 14% of the image (and that parking figure doesn’t include loading-docks, nor any of the intra-parking lot roadways necessitated by such a sprawling design).

There is still a fair bit of land in this district to be “developed”. But if the current pattern holds – parking lots that take 30% more area than the businesses they serve – the stroad will continue to produce high-density traffic congestion, without high-density commerce.

How can that be a good investment?