Road Diets, Part 1: Why Roads Could Be Leaner

The first in a series discussing road diets, their benefits and drawbacks – starting with a discussion of the use of road diets, followed, in a second post by ‘case study’ of sorts: East Marginal Way by Boeing Field in the Sodo District of Seattle.

Among U.S. cities, Seattle is known for greenness, and not just because its other name is The Emerald City.  pedestrians and cyclists find many beautiful and efficient trails  connecting their paths, and the city’s department of transportation approves of road diets.

Posted by Megan RisleyApril 9, 2011

Wait.  Hold on, you might say.  (First of all, what’s a road diet?)  And what do road diets have to do with Seattle’s reputation for sustainability – in a (buzz) word, ‘going green’?  A road diet is the process of converting one (or more, depending on the need) lanes from motorized vehicle usage to cyclist use.  And, one of the reasons they are considered an imperative piece in sustainability (and thus, walkability) is that they provide for more foot and bike traffic, discouraging the use of vehicles.  This, in turn, promotes health – not only is walking is undoubtedly healthier than driving, but walking in cleaner air is healthier than walking in smog and safety – bike lanes actually make sidewalks safer for pedestrians since there is a larger ‘buffer zone’ between cars and people on foot.  Plus, the multiple threat lane crossing is reduced, making it safer for a person to cross the street. And – ask any business owner – foot traffic is proportional to revenue, at least in some noticeable way.

Of course, road diets should be considered on a case by case bases.  Resources for road diets should be diverted to the places on the transportation grid that carry large volumes of cyclists and pedestrians, not so much to areas where cyclists are fewer and father between.  The most obvious use for road diets is to provide more options for bike travel and cut down on the dangers to pedestrians in a particularly busy area.

Road diets also, however, can benefit cars.  While it make seem as though road space is being taken away from drivers, road diets can be used to improve driving conditions.  A road diet might be a solution to cramped lanes – since bicycles require narrower lanes than cars, converting one car lane to a bike lane would then allow for the remaining lane to be wider, allowing for safer passage of both vehicle and bicycle.  Fewer lanes also cuts down on the amount of traffic through which drivers have to navigate, also promoting safety.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is listening.  While road diets are not the solution for every traffic problem, SDOT’s support of them as an option for our city is encouraging to people who choose to go by foot or need to drive – even as controversies arise (as we’ll see with further discussion).

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