15.1.13

Today on Streets.mn: Road Diets are the One Thing We Can Do Right Away

Riverside Avenue in SE Minneapolis
January is dieting season, and I have a new post up at Streets.mn today about the greatness of road diets. Here's the key bit:

First, from a driver’s perspective: how you behave on a 4-lane configuration is really different from a 3-lane configuration. With two lanes in each direction, drivers are always thinking about passing each other. Driving down the road, you’re constantly scanning the cars ahead of you to see if they are slowpokes, or if they’re making a (dreaded) left turn. Cars are continually switching back and forth between the two lanes, glancing over their shoulders to see if the person in the next lane will let them in, speeding around turning and slowing cars and trucks. (For a good example, drive down Hennepin Avenue pretty much anytime.) This kind of situation means that car drivers aren’t paying much attention to the sidewalks, crosswalks, or looking out for bicyclists. This configuration facilitates speeding, and creates lots of dangerous automobile movements especially at intersections.
Contrast that wtih a 3-lane configuration. Here, each car has to follow the one in front of them. Left turning vehicles move to the center, and drivers are never stuck behind them. Nobody is passing anybody, and traffic moves along with the stoplights. Not only is the whole situation is more relaxing, but its far safer for everyone involved. Speeds are lower, and most importantly, you don’t have lane changes occuring at intersections or driveways.
From a pedestrian or cyclist perspective, the difference is even more palpable. Anyone trying to cross a 4-lane street has to deal with multiple lanes of traffic moving at different speeds in different directions. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Road diets are pretty much my #1 easy-and-cheap change that cities can make right now, without jumping through any bureaucratic hoops, if only we can muster a little political will. I'd like to see road diets on almost every 4-lane arterial street in Minneapolis and St Paul. Why? It's absolutely good for the people who live and get around in our cities (with or without a car). Anytime you have a 4-lane configuration, that street serves as a dangerous almost un-crossable moat for people walking anywhere.  (Unless there are tons of signalized intersections, in which case, why even have the 4-lanes in the first place?) Anytime you have a 4-lane configuration, it encourages dangerous lane changes particularly at intersections. Anytime you have a 4-lane configuration without a bike lane, you place bicyclists in the often terrifying position of having to 'take the lane' despite speeding traffic changing lanes. I'm as good a cyclist as you'll likely find round these parts, and just the other day I was almost run over by a speeding (and honking) pickup on the (2-block long) 4-lane segment of Marshall Avenue (ironically, right next to the 'Bikes May Take Full Lane' sign).

This is the #1 thing that cities and public works engineers can do today to improve safety and quality of life for the vast majority of citizens. We need to start prioritizing people who live and walk in our city's neighborhoods, instead of prioritizing people speeding through them.

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