Road Diets: Why Are They Not Used in Every Community?


by Dom Nozzi

September 13, 2006

Road diets involve removing unneeded, unnecessary travel lanes, travel lane width and turn lanes. If such “diets” are an affordable way to create a profoundly beneficial transformation in the communities that have found the courage and wisdom to try them, why are they not transforming roads in every city and town in America?Road-Diet

In general, there are at least five types of elected officials who do not direct their communities to put their overly-wide, over-capacitied, overweight roads on a diet:

  1. The Uninformed. This is the category of officials who have not been made aware of the benefits of road diets. Over the course of the past few decades, as evidence of the merits of road diets has become so overwhelming throughout the nation, this category is now a rapidly diminishing group. Those who don’t know are not paying attention.
  1. The Trapped. A great majority of our residents have chosen to live in a location that is so utterly car-dependent that nearly every trip must be made by car. Without transportation choices, such a resident has little choice but to rationalize their travel behavior. Excessive car travel becomes a god-given right to be defended at all costs, and the person becomes impervious to evidence showing harms associated with such travel.
  1. The Old School. As Thomas Kuhn points out in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, some people have devoted so much time and effort into the old school of thought (the old paradigm) that even an avalanche of evidence supporting the new paradigm and rejecting the old paradigm is insufficient to convince members of The Old School. To reject the old paradigm is to reject everything they have believed and worked for during their entire lives. Often, to do so is to have to reject their entire life’s work as a waste of time. For most people, this concession would be too awful to accept. Instead, they stubbornly hold on to their old views. The new paradigm is only accepted when this old school dies off and is replaced by a new generation which has not been immersed in the old paradigm.
  1. The Motorist. This category includes the elected officials who “get it” with regard to the merits of road diets. But their suburban upbringing, their suburban lifestyle, or both, has convinced them that it is naïve or undesirable to strive for a return to a more traditional, walkable, compact community design. Of course, these car-happy views are not openly, publicly expressed. They are simply manifested in the votes such an official casts. It is perfectly acceptable for such a person to opt to continue living the car-dependent, suburban lifestyle (as long as they are paying their fair share of costs). But shouldn’t other citizens have an opportunity to live in and enjoy a different, more walkable lifestyle? One that is rapidly vanishing from America?
  1. The Spineless. There is another category of officials who “get it.” These are the officials who, while they are strongly supportive of road diets, always run for cover and cast a pro-car vote whenever the opportunity arises. Such a politician is terrified of the thought of an unhappy constituent – including those unhappy about the loss of those things that are detrimental to the community. These are the politicians who never make anyone unhappy.

And therefore never get anything done.




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