Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says that as a 2015 New Years resolution, the U.S. should put itself on a “road diet.” “A road diet, after all, is one that can do more than improve your life; it can save it,” he writes on the DOT’s Fast Lane blog, in an article titled “A Diet You Can Live With.” Foxx gives examples of what a road diet is:
A typical road diet takes a segment of four-lane undivided roadway and reconfigures it into three lanes with two through lanes and a center two-way left turn lane. Often, a road diet creates space for bicycle lanes. The newly configured stretch improves safety by including a protected left-turn lane for motorists, reducing crossing distance for pedestrians, and lowering travel speeds with very little increase in travel times.
Having first heard of road diets when he was the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., Foxx writes that the Federal Highway Administration has said that road diets are “one of nine proven safety countermeasures for cutting fatalities and serious injuries on America’s roadways.” The FHWA recently published a Road Diet Informational Guide, he notes, which gives communities a way of deciding if a road diet would work for them.
Road diets do not have to cost a lot, Foxx writes; sometimes all it takes is a few gallons of paint for new lane markings. And the benefits are a reduction of crashes ranging from 19 to 47%, and a decrease in crashes involving drivers under age 35 and over age 65, according to the Road Diet Informational Guide. The guide says that the percentage of reduction of car accidents depends on such factors as the history of crashes on the road before it was put on a “diet,” details of the design changes, and whether the roadway is in a rural or urban setting. The guide offers an overview of the recent use of road diets:
Road Diets increased in popularity in the 1990s, with installations occurring in Iowa, Minnesota, and Montana, among many other states. In some instances the appreciation for Road Diets was shown first in urban areas, such as Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. More recently, FHWA deemed Road Diets and other roadway reconfigurations a ‘Proven Safety Countermeasure’ and promoted it as a safety-focused alternative cross section to a four-lane undivided roadway.
Bicyclists are among those who can benefit from a road diet, the Guide says, because often putting a road on a diet means the addition of bicycle lanes to streets that have had little to no accommodation for bicyclists. Thus a road diet can open up new routes for those bicyclists who were too intimidated to travel on such roads previously. Pedestrians also benefit from road diets, the Guide says, because the diets help to reduce vehicle speeds and speed discrepancies in the middle of a block, making it easier for those on foot to cross the street safely. The effects of road diets on quality of life are discussed further in the Road Diet Handbook: Setting Trends for Livable Streets, the Guide says.