Road Diets Prove Divisive for Cities

Road diets reduce traffic lanes to increase pedestrian safety and add bike lanes, according to FHWA.
Image: FHWA

Road diets may make streets safer and increase cycling, but some implementations generate motorist and surrounding neighborhood outcry. Can road diets still work?

The U.S. Department of Transportation launched its road diets guidance in 2014, and since that time many cities have tried them, while others shy away from road diets because they can be a divisive transportation issue. A recent road diet test on Curry Road in Orlando, Florida, was cheered by neighborhood cyclists, while inciting anger in some motorists, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel.

The Orlando road diet may or may not result in the kind of road alterations that are a nightmare public relations problem for transportation officials in southern California.

Despite debate reported by StreetsblogUSA over what has or has not been accomplished by the recent Venice Boulevard road diet in Los Angeles, Seleta Reynolds, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, said the road re-engineering strategy still has a future in the region:

When we do a road diet the safety benefit comes from doing two things. One is we reduce the number of lanes. So there is no longer jockeying for position when the road is not congested. There’s no longer the fastest driver setting the speed limit. It’s the most prudent driver that sets the speed limit for that particular lane,” she told radio KCRW.

Is Slowing Traffic Always Safer?

The primary goal of a road diet is to slow traffic down to make roads safer for pedestrians — a government transportation initiative known Vision Zero in Los Angeles and other cities that incorporate road design features that have been shown to result in reduced traffic-related fatalities.

However, slowing traffic is sometimes perceived as making traffic worse. Neighborhoods also have said that road diets can shift commuter traffic from the main thoroughfare to side streets.

Road diets don’t belong on major commuter corridors,” according to KeepLAMoving, a coalition from Los Angeles neighborhoods.

But the Federal Highway Safety Administration regards the idea that road diets make traffic worse as a myth — when the strategy is applied correctly in the right location.

KeepLAMoving said collisions have increased on side streets adjacent to Venice Boulevard, and that it was a poor choice for a road diet.

The city of LA, according to the recent StreetsblogUSA coverage, said more collision data is still needed and will be presented after one year.

Complete Streets May Get Undone

Road diets are also implemented to incorporate bike lanes as part of Complete Streets initiatives.

Complete Streets projects integrate pedestrian and bicycle facilities and transit options along corridors to improve both safety and quality of life for citizens, according to FHWA.

The road diet on the Queens Boulevard in the Bronx, New York, is one transformation that may have helped New York City mark its lowest number of traffic-related fatalities on city streets ever measured in 2017.

But wherever bike lanes are added, Treehugger said in a recent article there is always “bikelash.” Despite whatever advantages they may bring, newer bike lanes have been ripped up from Baltimore to Seattle.

Get Technical Support for Road Diets

FHWA offers free Road Diet Technical Assistance. The Federal agency will help states and their local government partners:

  • Review State’s Draft Road Diet policy or guidance documents
  • Develop a road diet presentation aimed at either leadership or the general public
  • Produce animations demonstrating how road diets improve safety
  • Provide design guidance about unusual road diet configurations
  • Provide examples of road diets that are similar to proposals
  • Provide guidance about implementation, including siting locations, capacity constraints, public outreach response, evaluation metrics, EMS, slow moving vehicles and costs or funding opportunities

FHWA can also host a road diet workshop for transportation officials, pedestrian and bike safety program coordinators, public safety officials and community leaders. In the workshop, participants are introduced to FHWA’s road diet guide and will:

  • Learn about the different types of road diets and why they work
  • Understand the characteristics that make road diets the right choice
  • Identify roads that are good candidates
  • Learn what segment and intersection design elements are affected by a road diet
  • Practice reallocating street space for other uses, including non-motorized user needs

Learn more about FHWA road diet workshops technical support on the DOT website.

USDOT Local Gov Safety Plan

About the author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is Editor of EfficientGov.com and Senior Editor at Praetorian Digital. She is based in Massachusetts.