Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reminder: Road Diets (Plenty of fat left)

There are hundreds of things, known by thousands of names, that you can do with a little careful preparation and technical competence to move your city and its streets in a few months toward greater sustainability, without having to wait for good news and great gobs of taxpayer money from the capital. And they are not all brand new innovations just out of someone’s high priced laboratory (or still stuck inside).

One of these is an approach known in many places as “road diets”, also referred to variously and with variations as lane diets, street narrowing, road space reallocation, and eventually merging into broader approaches including complete streets, traffic calming, livable streets, etc.

A road diet is commonly defined as: a studied reduction of a roadway’s width or lanes, intended to change traffic patterns while improving safety and livability. If you get it right -- and that is both a technical and a communications task -- it brings local economic and even real estate value advantages along with the rest.

Ten years ago, March 1999, Dan Burden and Peter Lagerwey of the Walkable Communities project collaborated on a short (17 page) illustrated report under the title Road Diets: Losing width and gaining respect in which the authors ask: "Can our nation's roads gain efficiency, mode share and safety by getting leaner? Many are doing just that".

That was a full decade ago. In the meantime . . .

Back in 1999 Burden and Lagerwey explained to us that:

"Roadway conversions discussed here may be just the ticket to start remaking unhealthy, unsafe city neighborhoods or commercial districts and turn them into more robust, vital, economically sound places. Road conversion may be undertaken to create safer, more efficient ways to provide access and mobility for pedestrians, bicycle riders and transit users, as well as motorists. They improve livability and quality of life for residents and shoppers. Just as with human diets, road diets without doctors’ (transportation planners and engineers) analyses and prescriptions, might be foolhardy."

If it sounds like a nice idea but one destined to go nowhere fast, have a look at the following from the US:

First step the latest Wikipedia entry on road diets right here to get a running jump

“There are perhaps over 20,000 road diets in the United States, with another 500-1,000 being conducted each year. The city in North America with the greatest number of road diets (29) is San Francisco. The city with the greatest number of road diets, per capita, is Hartford, Connecticut (12). One or two new road diets are added to each of these cities annually. Retail merchants in Seattle are now some of the strongest proponents for these projects, since reduced travel speeds allow for easier and safer parking, improve store access and boost overall walking and livability conditions in neighborhoods ... all of which leads to improved commerce.”

A nice presentation by Jennifer A. Rosales, under the title Road Diet Handbook (February 2008) provides a good summary of the state of the art in the United States.

You might also want to check out(and possibly contribute) the Livable Streets Network StreetsWiki entry on road diets.

Next steps here: Three options. You are invited to comment just below. Alternatively, we can rewrite the entry together. Or best yet, crank up a road diet project in your city or neighborhood. Let us know.

The Editor

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