"Road Diets" are when roads are reconfigured to reduce the number of travel lanes. This typically happens when high-speed 4-lane highways (2 lanes in each direction) are converted to 3-lane highways (1 lane in each direction, with a center turn lane). These programs are done to improve safety, because a center turn lane helps reduce collisions on high-speed roads, especially as turning volumes increase. And it is much cheaper to simply re-stripe a road than to rebuild to a full 5-lane width. Techniques like road diets help departments of transportation get the most out of limited dollars.
However, modern road diets, especially those we are facing in Medford, look quite a bit different than this. First off, we are applying these diets to medium-speed roads. And secondly, we are not doing them specifically to add a safe center turn-lane, but rather to add bike lanes, or other non-motorized transportation capacity. This has flipped the practice of road diets on its head, and turned it into a bike vs. car fight. Unfortunately, both sides lose with these modern road diets.
According to the National Association of City Transportation Official's Urban Bikeway Design Guide, a key element to a successful bicycle infrastructure plan is to design for "All Ages & Abilities". Especially in communities like Medford, where very, very few trips are made by bicycle, most bicyclists are low skill and inexperienced with road-going traffic. If we don't design bicycle infrastructure for these riders, then we will never get more people bicycling. To achieve this design goal, we must plan for bikeways that are Safe and Comfortable. This means that we want bikes on low-volume roads that have speeds lower than 25 mph. Adding unprotected bike lanes to medium-speed, high volume roadways does neither.
Instead of road diets, we should be investing in "bicycle boulevards". This type of bicycle infrastructure takes existing, low-speed, low-volume residential streets, and configures them to be shared with bicycles. This includes road markings that reminds motorists to share the road, signage that helps bicyclists navigate, and better crossings to help bicyclists safely cross the busier main streets. A network of bicycle boulevards actually creates a Safe and Comfortable environment for bicyclists, encouraging more people to bicycle, and without the consequences of taking away lanes.
For example, instead of applying a Road Diet to East McAndrews to take away needed traffic lanes and add unsafe or uncomfortable bike lines, we could instead create a Bike Boulevard alongside McAndrews using the many slow, safe neighborhood streets (I mean, who wants to ride a bike right next to cars on McAndrews!?). This would make bicycling much safer, since these shared spaces are slow-speed and low volume. And with a small investment in markings and signage, we could help bicyclist feel welcome on these routes, so we might actually get more people to choose to make trips using bicycles.
As City Councilor, I will push for Road Diets to be used as a low-cost safety tool, not a tool to boost non-car transportation. I will also push for the use of bicycle boulevards, that will improve the value of our neighborhood streets and actually encourage additional ridership.