The problem of too wide streets is rampant throughout the nation. This issue came up recently for us...LOA is currently working on a project in Chicago where the large berth of the street was simply too cumbersome and unnecessary. And when we looked at traffic counts we found that there was actually much less traffic on a road that was clearly designed to handle much more. So, what to do with so much excess "fat"? We suggested that roadway go on a road diet.
Road dieting is a term applied to skinny-ing up streets into leaner, more productive members of society. The ideal roadway candidate, as Burden and Lagerwey, of Walkable Communities Inc, note in "Road Diets: Losing width and gaining respect," is often a four-lane road carrying 12,000-18,000 auto trips per day. But as many of you know, road diets can be controversial in places where people think that a narrower road means more congestion - but in most cases the facts simply do not bear out.
|Before and after Road Diet pictures. Image source: |
With low-traffic counts, we knew that the replacement of a single rush hour lane with on-street parking would not only allow customers to stop more easily - picking up food or convenience items on their way to or from work - but that it would also result would be slower speeds for motorists in general. Narrowing the flow of traffic and adding bike lanes – aka a “road diet” - would help address some of the concerns that residents and businesses have with the sometime excessive speed of motorists who pass through the area. And taking this a step further by adding a lane for bicyclists would add another transportation option for a low-income community with very low car ownership rates.
|Much safer corridor for all. Image source: |
In addition to safety, a road that has dieted sees change in commercial activity around the road. The change can increase value of existing properties and some cases costs of reconstructing roadways are repaid in as little as one year through increased sales tax or property tax revenue.
|Image source: sf.streetsblog.org/category/|
In an opposite regard, a study by Thomas Welch “The Conversion of Four-Lane Undivided Urban Roadways to Three-Lane Facilities” demonstrates the problems and negative outcomes associated with increasing road sizes from a slimmer two-lane road to a wider four-lane road. Welch notes it led to increased accidents, increased speeds, increased corridor delays, and increased injuries. Not the results people want or expect - sometimes slimming down is the best remedy for the health of your commercial district.
If you want to read more...here are some additional readings:
- McCormick, C. York Blvd: The Economics of a Road Diet. http://la.streetsblog.org/wp-content/pdf/york_blvd_final_report_compress.pdf [a recent in-depth study of road dieting on a LA corridor, findings note economies and congestion not worsened]
- Improving Road Efficiency. Complete Streets: Prince Avenue. http://completestreetsprince.org/safety-by-design/improving-road-efficiency/ [analysis of travel time and capacity impacts]
- Tan, C. H. Going on a Road Diet https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/publicroads/11septoct/05.cfm [a 2011 study with many before and after pictures of road diet examples, sites improved safety and economics plus livability]
- Oregon Department of Transportation. Talent Area Road Diet Analysis http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/REGION3/docs/OR99TMRoadDietDRAFT09-04-12.pdf [recent 2012 study highlights improved safety and analysis going from 4 lanes to 3]