Fort Worth officials debate whether to put road on a ‘diet’

Posted Tuesday, May. 14, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The City Council today will burn more than a few calories on a touchy subject — whether to put a four-lane section of Forest Park Boulevard on a so-called “road diet.”

That’s the nickname given to the project, which involves cutting the number of main lanes in half, while also adding a center turn lane as well as pedestrian and cycling stripes on both sides of the street.

The project — known as a road diet because it involves trimming the number of main lanes for automobiles — is a popular concept in adjacent neighborhoods such as Mistletoe Heights and Berkeley Place, where Forest Park Boulevard is the main way in and out. With reports of frequent speeding cars in the area, safety is a main concern.

But the plan is controversial in outlying areas where residents depend upon the road as a commuting route — and worry that cutting automobile capacity will increase congestion and travel times to and from work.

The proposal has been delayed several times, most recently in April after Councilman Joel Burns, who represents the area and supports the road diet, got crossways with city staff and Councilman Jungus Jordan, who wanted extra time to study the measure.

Although the road diet plan calls for cutting the four-lane road to two main lanes, supporters say there is far more to it.

Safety vs commute

The Rev. Brent Beasley, who lives in Mistletoe Heights, particularly likes the idea of having a center lane only for turning traffic.

“Right now, whenever I am stopped in the left lane waiting to turn left from Forest Park, I am always a little afraid someone is going to hit me from behind,” Beasley said.

Susan Pressley, who has spearheaded the effort to bring the road diet plan to Mistletoe Heights, said Monday that after recent conversations with city staff she believes that work could begin as soon as June.

“Children are about to get out of school and the Forest Park Pool is about to re-open,” she said. “We need a safer street now so that children who live and play in the surrounding neighborhoods can walk to the parks and pool without being subjected to speeding cars, or worse — getting hit by a car.”

But some residents who live further south and use Forest Park Boulevard as a commuting route to and from the downtown area oppose the plan.

“The people in Mistletoe and Berkeley are trying to turn this into their private thoroughfare,” said Mike Howell, who runs a Facebook group known as Citizens Against Forest Park Boulevard Road Diet 2013. Howell said he also will raise questions about whether the city can legally reduce the lanes on a street designed in the city’s master plan to handle large quantities of automobiles.

Council briefing

City Transportation Director Doug Wiersig is scheduled to brief the council this afternoon on the plan for Forest Park Boulevard, including a timetable for starting and completing the delayed work. The improvements, which include the re-striping of lanes, are expected to cost $100,000.

For Jordan, whose district encompasses many neighborhoods miles away from Forest Park Boulevard — but with residents who often commute on the road — said the key is doing a better job communicating with residents from across the city and not just the immediate area near a project.

Jordan denied that he had dropped his opposition to the Forest Park Boulevard road diet, as has been reported on neighborhood electronic chats. But he did say he would be receptive to the plan if the city staff could properly explain the need for, and benefits of, the project.

Jordan said he would prefer that the project not be undertaken until after next year’s scheduled completion of the Chisholm Trail Parkway, a 28-mile toll road from near downtown Fort Worth to Cleburne that cuts through the same area. That way, he said, the city could better measure the effect of tollway traffic on city streets.

“I would prefer that the timing be in line with Chisholm Trail Parkway, but I’ll listen,” Jordan said. “I do want to support Mr. Burns on this.”

At the same time, Jordan said, he was concerned about what effect the project will have on south Fort Worth residents.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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Forest Park Boulevard, Fort Worth, TX
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