The agenda behind the push for road diets.

There are good reasons and good places to repurpose lanes. However, according to the FHWA guidelines, road diets should not be installed on streets carrying more than 20,000 vehicles per day. When decision-makers flout those standards, the above listed problems come into play, often with disastrous — if unintended — consequences. Cites that choose to install road diets on high-volume roads are inviting tragedy and expensive lawsuits.

So why the rage for road diets? Well, Traffic Calming is a cornerstone in the effort to reduce carbon emissions by forcing people out of cars and onto alternative transportation. Cash-strapped cities are enticed into a faustian deal — the state or feds will pay for road resurfacing only if lanes are removed. And frankly, there’s a lot of money to be made in repurposing roads.

Highly-paid consulting firms make millions giving glossy presentations promising city councils “revitalized” road dieted neighborhoods. They show how cities can receive federal funds for local streets projects — but only if plans are based on the “Living Streets” or “Complete Streets” initiative and reduce the use of roads by vehicular traffic. Of course, these consultants leave out a lot of information. First and foremost, that they are not unbiased advisors, but are active advocates for reducing the use of cars by any means necessary. They avoid any mention of the downsides of traffic calming. And they help control community response by limiting the release of information and public discourse.

Furthermore, developers benefit by buying distressed properties at a discount, then churning out high-density projects that forever change the face of long-established neighborhoods.

Those dirty little secrets make for a hard sell. So instead, road diet proponents make the story all about safety. They pretend that slowing speed is a panacea that will make everything better, instead of fixing the problems that actually cause accidents on a given stretch of road. In actuality, incorrectly applied traffic calming measures contribute to higher accident rates.

An example of the “upside only” approach to selling Living Streets proposals, from the  BCHD “Streets For All ” presentation.

An example of the “upside only” approach to selling Living Streets proposals, from the BCHD “Streets For All” presentation.