Putting Roads on a Diet to Help Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrian Safety for Road RulesSlimming four-way travel lanes down to three lanes is a diet every pedestrian and bicyclist can get behind. A road “diet” reconfiguration significantly increases pedestrian safety while adding beautiful landscape and wider sidewalks on many streets in the community. Redesigning the street can create bump outs to provide extra space, while significantly shortening the distance when a pedestrian crosses the street.

According to DOT Federal Highway Administration, changing traditional four-lane roadway configurations to three lanes is a significant improvement to public safety. The space accumulated by removing one lane can be reallocated for various other uses including street parking and/or pedestrian crossing islands and bike lanes.

Increasing Pedestrian Safety By Making Roads Narrower

In many Northeast Illinois communities, reducing four-lane roads down to three lanes makes good sense to improve public safety. While many might believe the reconfiguration causes the road to become more congested, in fact, road diets offer a variety of operational safety benefits for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists alike. These include:

  • The redesign decreases traffic speed, making it easier for pedestrians to cross the street in shorter time
  • The redesign eliminates the potential of a multiple vehicle collision when one vehicle stops completely in their lane to allow pedestrian to pass, and vehicles in the other parallel lane traveling in the same direction continues to move
  • The redesign improves bicycle safety when the road is designed with newly installed bike lanes
  • Newly installed bike lanes also provide a much-needed buffer space between moving vehicles and pedestrians, making the area safer for children using the sidewalk
  • The new design can diminish sideswipe collisions and rear end crashes
  • Fewer lanes ensure speed limit compliance while decreasing the severity of any crash that could happen on the street

An Affordable Solution For Many Cities With Heavy Pedestrian Traffic

Many communities incorporate road diet schemes with street overlay plans or roadway reconstruction projects on existing streets. Integrating a new reconfiguration when roadwork is already required can make the change of four lanes to three lanes highly affordable.

This is because most road diets mainly involve re-striping the street in a new configuration without any physical change to the road’s infrastructure. However, it is important for the community to consider various factors when determining which roads and side streets are ideally suited to a redesign. The community should perform a feasibility evaluation that would include:

  • Affected transit routes
  • Driveway density
  • The types and designs of intersections affected by the redesign
  • All operational characteristics of the roadway

The total costs involved are usually determined by the amount of improvements made along the roadway. Some of these include:

  • Signage
  • Intersection turn lanes
  • Traffic control devices
  • Pavement markings including crosswalk demarcations
  • Transit stops
  • Bicycle and pedestrian facilities

Reduced Motorcycle Collision Potential When Streets Are Narrower

The positive impact on public safety is one of the main reasons communities pursue road diet solutions. In areas with high pedestrian traffic crossing the street, changing the configuration to increase public safety can save lives and reduce the potential of pedestrian/cyclist/motorist injuries. The positive outcome of improving public safety can significantly outweigh any negatives including the potential of extra delay to street traffic within the reconfigured corridor.

Certainly one of the best crash-related benefits of redesigning streets using a road diet configuration is the reduced potential of accidents with injuries or fatalities. According to statistics from HSIS (Highway Safety Information System), collision rates on streets reconfigured using a road diet formula are reduced by approximately 20 percent compared to traditionally designed roads.

Individuals in opposition to reconfiguring existing four-lane roads to three lanes often do not consider the benefits to public safety. Traditional roads with multiple lanes with vehicles moving in the same direction invite faster traffic and dangerous conditions. When pedestrians are attempting to cross a wide street or sharing the roadway with fast-moving cars is the only option available for the bicyclists, accidents are bound to happen.

Alternatively, reconfiguring the road with installed buffer bike lanes and brighter crosswalks creates a safer environment for everyone sharing the street. Narrowing an existing roadway to eliminate travel lanes has proven to slow traffic down and make it easier to share the street with bicyclists and pedestrians. Studies show that reallocating existing road space limits a driver’s ability to travel faster than the speed limit, which reduces pedestrian and bicyclist crash risks.