The Bike Master Plan is the planning document created to help the city of Little Rock in planning for bicycle infrastructure in the city. The plan can be accessed on BikeLR.com here. One contentious issue on that plan and a focus at the recent January BFCC meeting has been the place of 3rd street (which changes to Markham St. once past the State Capitol). 3rd street runs continuously from the far East side of downtown at the Heifer Village all the way until it hits Chenal Parkway in West Little Rock. Along the way it intersects other major streets like Kavanaugh Blvd, University Ave, and Rodney Parham Rd. For most of its length it is either a 4 lane road with 2 lanes for each direction or a 5 lane road with 2 directional lanes for both directions and a center turn lane. In particular the section from Stiff Station (where Kavanaugh meets Markham) through downtown is of interest because of relatively low traffic counts for the amount of roadway.
This particular street has long been a priority for the BFCC in the development of bicycle infrastructure in the city of Little Rock due to it being an major East, West corridor through downtown and midtown Little Rock. Because Little Rock is bisected by a rail line just outside of downtown it actually means that north of I-630 only three streets run continuously East, West through the city: Cantrell Ave, 3rd Street, and 7th Street.
Cantrell Avenue is one of the most highly trafficked streets in Little Rock for the morning commute and 7th street does not run anywhere near as far through midtown nor does it connect to other major streets. 3rd Street on the other hand runs completely through downtown Little Rock through midtown and eventually all the way out to West Little Rock. It connects to Kavanaugh Blvd, which has recently had sharrows installed, and is the easiest way to reach the Heights due to the road grade (It is a climb no matter what but by far the gentlest route). Furthermore, 3rd street runs through the heart of downtown meaning that it could easily connect some of the city’s major central neighborhoods.
For those reasons 3rd street has always been high on the BFCC’s list of roads for bicycle infrastructure with the Bike Master Plan calling for bicycle lanes for the downtown section which then switches to a separate multi-use path for the section that starts before the Arkansas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired and runs until it hits the Kavanaugh Blvd intersection. It was a major talking point at the January BFCC meeting with Mason Ellis presenting his research into traffic counts and the possibility of instituting a road diet on 3rd Street. A road diet would shrink the traffic lanes to 1 for each direction of travel, a center turn lane, and then bicycle lanes for each direction of travel. The same concept has successfully been implemented on Main Street from 7th street for its length continuing south.
According to federal standard’s roads with traffic counts under 18,000-20,000 vehicles per day are good candidates for a road diet. Mason looked at traffic counts for the area and found that counts on Markham drop form 21,000 at War Memorial Stadium to 13,000 by Pine Street. Traffic counts do not go up until East of the railroad tracks on Markham Ave, and then only to 14,000. Between the section of Kavanaugh Blvd that intersects Markham Ave. there are no daily traffic counts, but Mason proposed that a large percentage of the Kavanaugh traffic was turning onto Woodrow to access I-630 rather than continuing on west on Markham due to only a 1,000 vehicle increase between Pine Street, before Kavanaugh intersects, and the rail road tracks, after Kavanaugh intersects. If so, this puts Markham Ave below the 15,000 vehicle limit that makes it a potentially successful candidate for a road diet.
During the meeting Little Rock’s Traffic & Engineering Dept said that a traffic study would have to validate Mason’s claims before a road diet could be considered and that there are still other issues like E-Stem Schools downtown. The need for further study was agreed on by the BFCC board and it will be a continued point of focus but we would like to know what the public thinks. Does 3rd Street belong in the Bike Master Plan as a major East, West route? Would you like to see other methods of transportation incorporated into 3rd street which could have a calming effect on traffic speeds which commonly exceed the posted limit?