Forest Park ‘road diet’ rolls on, public opinion split

A. Lee Graham

The embattled Forest Park Boulevard “road diet” is moving forward despite opposition among some residents. Opponents hoping that city officials would put the brakes on plans to restripe the roadway between Park Hill Drive and Rosedale Street walked away disappointed after a May 14 City Council briefing, where transportation officials outlined a completion timeline for the project. “It should be up and running … in August,” said Doug Wiersig, the city’s transportation and public works director. Plans call for restriping the current four-lane, undivided roadway with a three-lane configuration: one lane in each direction, north and south, a center turn lane and room for bicycle lanes. The term “road diet” denotes a reduction in lanes. Safety concerns spurred the idea after 41 traffic accidents were reported between 2009 and 2011, Wiersig said. Most occurred at intersections such as Park Place Avenue, but some happened between blocks. “There are a lot of accidents occurring out there,” Wiersig said. Despite fears among some residents that fewer lanes would yield bumper-to-bumper traffic on an already busy roadway, Wiersig used a computer simulation of the Park Place intersection – a major Forest Park feeder road – to show that traffic would flow freely with little backup, even at what he cited as periods of peak volume: early morning and especially evenings. That’s based on empirical data from recent observations, Wiersig noted. “Why does it peak more in the evening? Because in the morning, people are reluctant to take it (Forest Park) all the way into (downtown) because they have to go through the Paschal High School area,” Wiersig said. Though Paschal stands south of the project area on the northeast corner of Forest Park and Berry Street, it is among several landmarks that motorists pass in making the northward commute from neighborhoods along Granbury Road and McCart Avenue, among other thoroughfares to the south. Some residents fear that the “road diet” project area could cause a ripple effect and slow traffic along the entire length of Forest Park from Cleburne Road north into downtown. “Forest Park is a main artery for thousands of people. Travel time to downtown has already doubled or tripled due to the I-30 ramp closure, and will take even longer with this proposal,” one resident wrote on a petition to protest the restriping plan. Circulated by a Facebook group known as Stop Forest Park Road Diet 2013, the petition opposes the plan. It describes the effort as reacting to safety concerns among some Berkeley Place and Mistletoe Heights homeowners along the roadway instead of concerns of many more residents not living in the area. About 66 residents had signed the petition as of early Wednesday May 15, the day after the council briefing. They hope that a document planned to be sent to Mayor Betsy Price and District 8 Councilman Joel Burns, whose district includes the project area, will be considered. Price acknowledged differing views on the plan, but emphasized that restriping can be undone. “If it doesn’t work, in three months, it can be re-evaluated,” Price said. “It can be restriped.” Transportation officials already have explained the plan at several neighborhood meetings, with more planned in coming weeks, Wiersig said. Comments made at those meetings will be discussed at a regular council meeting in June, with the projected expected to be scheduled in July and complete before the Fort Worth school district resumes classes in August. City officials report receiving about 300 emails, letters and phone calls regarding the project. Residents sending those comments favor the project by a two-to-one ratio, Price said. Although cost estimates total $70,000 – exceeding the $50,000 minimum at which capital expenditures require City Council approval – the project requires no council approval because its expenses were authorized in the city budget.