Road diets efficiently move people and goods while dramatically reducing collisions, particularly collisions that cause injuries. We know this. Study after study supports it from all corners of Seattle and from cities around the globe.
Yet every time they are proposed, they bring controversy. Once SDOT explains the studies and research behind the decision to redesign a road with excess capacity (often a four-lane highway style design) to one with one lane in each direction and often a center turn lane, some people simply do not believe them. Some say the city’s crazy, that it is somehow attacking people driving (by making it so they have fewer collisions?) and that there will be gridlock. Nothing SDOT says seems to satisfy the concerns.
And yet, each time such projects are completed, studies come back showing that they worked exactly as SDOT said they would: Traffic volumes remain the same, collisions go down and injuries go way down. Often, bicycle volumes go through the roof and more safe crosswalks are installed.
But the fact that SDOT’s recent redesign of Fauntleroy Way once again worked as predicted is not likely to prevent doom criers from spreading fear next time a similar project is proposed. I’m not talking about worried residents, whose fear of gridlock near their homes is understandable (and for whom the city’s outreach should improve, though that would cost money). I’m talking about voices in the media who will paint such projects as a bike project or another “attack” in the city’s “war on cars” conspiracy theory (Clearly these studies are made up to further the city’s nefarious goal of annoying drivers. “Safety” is obviously a smokescreen to justify the city’s ultimate goal of taking away your car).
In a recent post on the SDOT Blog, the department compares road diets to Copernicus struggling to gain acceptance for the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. A messy metaphor, perhaps, but their point is that road diets are counter intuitive. Though it may seem odd or even obviously wrong that three lanes can move traffic as efficiently as four, the science is clear.
Road diets work really well, and they’re really cheap. In a tight budget, road diets are more important than ever.
From the SDOT Blog:
The radio story made me wonder if SDOT staff might feel a little bit like Copernicus when they present a project to the public that, to some people, seems to defy common sense.
Lately SDOT has been doing some road reconfiguration projects, where we reduce the number of lanes in each direction from two lanes to one, usually add a left turn lane and sometimes add bike lanes. When some folks hear about these projects, they feel strongly that it’s just common sense that having fewer travel lanes will mean more backups and congestion. That argument seems as solid as the terra firma under our feet, right?
But the thing is, SDOT engineers only recommend these changes after doing their research and confirming that the data show that traffic levels are low enough for a reconfiguration to work.