The Backlash Against Road Diets

By Dom Nozzi

May 16, 2018

In May 2018, Citylab.com published an essay entitled “How to Kill a Bike Lane.” It was one of the most depressing articles I have ever read.

Road diets (usually removing 2 car travel lanes on a 4-lane road for enormous safety, retail, and neighborhood benefits) is suffering a severe backlash by frustrated, angry, heavily subsidized, entitled and pampered motorists all over the nation. Losing a few seconds or minutes of motorist travel time appears, in America, to be utterly unacceptable, even though it saves human lives, promotes small-scale retail, beautifies the street, and enhances housing quality of life.

Here in Boulder, huge numbers are still furious after an attempted road diet was crushed by motorist rage a number of years ago, as can be seen in the weekly published newspaper letters to the editor that continue to appear to this day (many of their arguments are identical to those found in this article). “Vision Zero,” which Boulder recently adopted, is a sham when one sees such hostility from the community.

Speaking as someone who has been academically and professionally involved in transportation for 38 years, I can say that I know of no transportation reform that is anywhere near as beneficial and cost-effective as a road diet. It is extremely telling, then, to consider how grim our future is when we learn how extreme the community opposition to road diets tends to be.

In my many years of academic and professional work, I have seen no term that is better or more commonly used than “road diet.” The article I refer to above, at one point, refers to a community that calls it “road toning.” That is a goofy term, in my view. I do not at all believe the problem is based on not picking a term that resonates. I think “road diet” and even Boulder’s use of “right-sizing” is fine. Road diets are brutally attacked throughout the nation regardless of the term used, or how much public education or data gathering the community engages in (Boulder did about 10 times more educating and data gathering than I have ever seen anywhere in the nation, yet huge numbers angrily attacked the City for doing a poor job on those two fronts).

The fact of the matter is that for people used to traveling in ridiculously oversized metal boxes that inevitably lead to frustrating slow-downs (even when roads are 20 lanes wide), a loss of 3 seconds in travel time is far worse than saving lives or making a community less car happy and more people-friendly.

How many hundreds or thousands of family members and friends will have to die on car-happy Boulder roads before the community says “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”? A huge number have died over the past few years in Boulder, but that does not seem to bother very many at all in Boulder, given the on-going crusade to keep motoring a happy way to travel.

Lots of folks in Boulder HATED the term “right-sizing.” Many said it sounded like corporations cutting jobs. But no one suggested a better term in Boulder. I think many were looking for a way to scapegoat the project by latching on to the idea that the term was offensive. It was too embarrassing to say that their 60 seconds of lost time was more important than saving lives or improving shops or neighborhoods near an oversized road.

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