Seattle does want bike lanes … but not if they take lanes away from cars. This is according to a survey by Survey USA. Only 46 percent of respondents said the city needs more bikes lanes (43 percent say the city has enough). However, if you mention taking out car lanes, people knee jerk and respond like the sky’s falling. From Publicola:
Once the questions start getting in to the issue of bikes vs. cars, people—predictably—were less bike-friendly. In general, a fair number of people support more bike lanes, but when you ask them whether they’d support the kind of changes that would make more bike lanes possible, they’re less generous. Just 28 percent said they’d support replacing car lanes with bike lanes, with 63 percent opposed; and just 38 percent said they’d support replacing parking lanes with bike lanes, with 54 percent opposed.
This, of course, is a reaction without seeing individual facts and studies. Once people read things like the Stone Way study and realize that many four-lane streets can be changed into streets with one lane in each direction and a turn lane without losing vehicle capacity, most of them calm down. I know it doesn’t make sense at first that often you can lose one net vehicle traffic lane and still maintain capacity, but that’s how it works.
On top of that, the study shows that cars start traveling closer to the speed limit and pedestrian and bicycle safety improves greatly. The number of people who choose to ride a bike also goes up, some of whom may have chosen to ride instead of driving, taking one more car out of the traffic congestion.
With each so-called “road diet” case so far, this seems how things have gone. People hear a vehicle lane will be removed to improve pedestrian and bike (and vehicle!) safety and they freak out. They imagine giant traffic jams and ten minutes added to their commute. But that does not happen. Most logical and understanding people can see the value in making a change that dramatically increases safety for everyone without decreasing vehicle capacity.
We need to ditch the term “road diet” because it is not exactly accurate. People hear diet, and they imagine painful starvation. I like “complete streets,” but it’s a little clumsy to use in a sentence. “SDOT has proposed plans to complete Nickerson…” doesn’t really work.
The idea we need to get across is that the road is currently overbuilt. The city is making the street layout a better fit for the kinds of users who are already using it. Right now, Nickerson’s pants are three sizes too large, so SDOT is going to tailor it so it fits properly.
“Road tailoring!” Could it catch on? Any ideas out there for a better term?