Road diets – the practice of reconfiguring road lanes in an effort to improve safety for pedestrians, bikers and even drivers – are surging across the country as communities invest in transportation and look for ways to make infrastructure safer and more flexible for travelers of all types.
Traditionally, Road Diets involve reconfiguring a four-lane undivided roadway into three lanes, with two through lanes and a center two-way left turn lane. It provides a dedicated waiting space for left-turning traffic that’s outside the busy travel lane, and side street traffic can enter the roadway more easily because there are fewer lanes to cross.
The extra paved space is often converted into bike lanes, parking and improved pedestrian access – improvements considered valuable by commuters and residents alike.
Road diets can be a highly-effective enhancement that can be implemented quickly and at low cost, as the cost of retrofitting lanes to accommodate bike and pedestrian areas is less than adding traffic signals. Beyond traffic control, infrastructure improvements can be achieved simultaneously. In Chicago, the Chicago Department of Transportation and Department of Water Management upgraded stormwater systems by installing a new system of catch basins and underdrains under new curb extensions, alleviating flooding concerns.
But what’s the reaction of businesses on the skinnied roads? Mixed.
The Willow Glen Business Association, located outside San Jose, has been outspoken against the concept and formally opposed a road diet that they say has driven down business profits.
But businesses in Chicago’s Ravensworth neighborhood say, “the improvements to the walking and bicycling environment are a boon for the stores and restaurants,” noting that the roadway change and increased foot traffic appeals to business.
Safety improvements are positive – crashes and road speeds have decreased – although not without unintended consequences. In Silver Lake, a residential and commercial neighborhood in the central and northeastern region of Los Angeles, the initial reconfiguration yielded solid results: seven crashes in eight months – less than half of prior years. Yet traffic back-ups from less road space sent traffic onto quiet side streets instead. The city has introduced a far-reaching transportation policy – Mobility Plan 2035 – that “seeks to shift the city’s emphasis away from the automobile,” says the LA Times, adding “hundreds of miles of bicycle and bus-only lanes.”
Curious to see how road diets work? See it first-hand in a video by Jeff Speck Design:
Has your community experienced a road diet? What’s the impact on business – or on your real estate interests?
Kathryn Hamilton is Vice President for Marketing and Communications at NAIOP Corporate.