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Using Road Diets to Advance Healthy, Safe Communities
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is advancing a low-cost proven safety countermeasure called a Road Diet, which can improve safety, livability, and health for communities across the nation. A Road Diet is an innovative approach to addressing high crash rates and other issues facing motor vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. In fact, studies have shown that implementing a Road Diet can result in a 19 to 47 percent reduction in overall crashes, and allow for a bounty of additional community benefits.
FHWA's soon-to-be-released Road Diet Informational Guide offers insights into this unique approach, drawing upon research and practice from across the country. With a focus on classic Road Diets, the guide walks practitioners through the decisionmaking process, including safety, operational, and quality-of-life considerations, providing all the information needed to plan, design, and implement a Road Diet. The guide also references real-world examples from a variety of States and localities to showcase how different agencies have developed, employed, and evaluated Road Diets.
Anatomy of a Road Diet
A Road Diet removes travel lanes from a roadway and allocates the available space for other uses. The most common type of Road Diet is a “classic Road Diet,” which converts an existing four-lane undivided roadway to three lanes—two through lanes and a center two-way left-turn lane. This opens up space, allowing the extra width of the roadway to become bicycle lanes, pedestrian refuge islands, on-street parking, transit stops, and more. The new configuration improves safety by including a protected left-turn lane for mid-block left-turning motorists, reducing crossing distance for pedestrians, and reducing travel speeds, which in turn help to decrease crash severity.
Across the United States, many roads were constructed with peak flow in mind, when in reality these roadways may have excess capacity for most periods of the day. In some cases, practitioners have adopted a “less is more” attitude for these roads, putting superfluous four-lane highways on a diet. However, Road Diets are not the right solution for every roadway.
FHWA's Road Diet Informational Guide summarizes numerous factors to consider when determining the feasibility of a site for a Road Diet. For example, one of the operational factors to consider is Average Daily Traffic (ADT), which provides a good first approximation on whether or not to consider a Road Diet conversion. FHWA advises that roadways with an ADT of 20,000 vehicles or less may be good candidates for a Road Diet and should be evaluated further for feasibility.
Case Studies Emphasize Safety, Livability, and Economic Benefits of Road Diets
Road Diets Offer Benefits Across the Board
As highlighted in the Road Diet Informational Guide, FHWA sees Road Diets as a win-win for quality of life, creating healthier communities via several key areas:
Road Diets date back to the late 1970s, becoming more widespread and popular during the 1990s. In recent years, more and more States and localities have installed and evaluated the impact of Road Diets. The following case studies are drawn from the Context Sensitive Solutions webinar on Rightsizing Streets, which was sponsored by FHWA. The case studies provide examples of how Road Diets offer communities safety, livability, and economic benefits (see the text box to the right for more details on the advantages of Road Diets).
East Boulevard, Charlotte, North Carolina
The Charlotte Department of Transportation (CDOT) saw the opportunity to implement a Road Diet along a 1.5-mile stretch of East Boulevard. To advance the project, CDOT understood the importance of community involvement in planning. Consequently, they created project advocates by working with local residents and businesses early in the process and conducting detailed traffic simulations to test and show expected results.
CDOT carried out the project in several phases. Phase 1 focused on the conversion of a 40-foot-wide segment of East Boulevard from four lanes into two 15-foot through lanes with a center two-way left-turn lane and traversable medians throughout. The redesigned roadway also included bike lanes in both directions.
In Phase 2, a 70-foot-wide portion of the four-lane roadway was similarly converted, creating two through lanes with a center two-way left-turn lane and adding traversable medians, crosswalks, and a bike lane.
Finally, Phase 3 focused on the stretch of roadway connecting Phases 1 and 2, and included a two-way center lane for left-hand turns, mid-block pedestrian refuge islands, and bike lanes.
The completed project led to less speeding, a decrease in crashes, and praise from the community. More specifically:
Stone Way, Seattle, Washington
As part of the completion of Seattle's bicycle and pedestrian network, SDOT prescribed a Road Diet for Stone Way, a 30 MPH, 1.2-mile long street with four general purpose travel lanes, uncontrolled marked crosswalks at four intersections, and no bicycle facilities. Within five blocks of Stone Way, there are eight schools, two libraries, and five parks. The street's ADT prior to the Road Diet was 13,000.
Stone Way was rechanneled to two general travel lanes, a two-way left-turn lane, and bike facilities (a combination of bike lanes and shared lanes). After implementation, Stone Way's Road Diet proved to be effective as:
Overall, Stone Way's Road Diet reduced collisions and aggressive speeding along the roadway, made pedestrian crossings safer, increased bicycle volume, and kept traffic from diverting to neighborhood streets.
Determining If Road Diets Are Right for You
A Road Diet is a valuable, accessible tool for addressing highway challenges and advancing community wellness. With safety, livability, and economic benefits, a Road Diet can be a truly effective solution, but it is not right for every road. FHWA's Road Diet Informational Guide helps practitioners evaluate whether or not a roadway is a good candidate for a diet, and acts as a one-stop-shop for information and guidance when moving forward with planning and implementation.
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