A (Road) Diet for the Future
By Alastair Bland
10 October 2017
Photo courtesy of Oakland Department of Transportation
Cycling advocates are prompting city officials to adopt plans to replace some automobile traffic lanes with bike lanes in an attempt to increase safety for cyclists and pedestrians, ease congestion, give a boost to local businesses, and improve air quality. These pro-cyclist initiatives have been dubbed “road diets” and have been implemented in parts of Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda. Presently, several dozen more road diets have entered the planning stages.
Dave Campbell, advocacy director for the organization Bike East Bay, asserts that road diets are often accompanied by sidewalk and intersection upgrades that make the street safer for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers, while also improving the local economy.
“This isn’t just about bikeways,” said Campbell. “This is about people, and this is good for you no matter who you are.”
Thus far, about four dozen road diets have been implemented in Oakland, and not one had been reversed due to unforeseen, negative impacts, Campbell said. In 2016, a road diet was implemented on Telegraph Avenue between 20th and 29th street. The modification reduced five lanes of traffic to three by replacing two of the lanes with bikeways. The road diet was also accompanied by the construction of eight, high-visibility pedestrian crosswalks.
Since the creation of this road diet, the Oakland Department of Transportation reports that the number of people walking along Telegraph Avenue has doubled, the number of people cycling has almost doubled, the retail sales in the Koreatown Northgate district have increased 9 percent, and the median speed of traffic flow has remained unaffected.
Daniel Rodríguez, Professor of City and Regional Planning at the College of Environmental Design (CED), says that compared to social and personal health benefits, the environmental benefit of road diets is hard to quantify. “That’s because, of the people you see cycling, it’s hard to know how many of them would have been driving or going by bus otherwise,” Rodriguez said.
In Berkeley, approximately 10 percent of commuters choose to ride bicycles rather than drive automobiles, and in Oakland, just 5 percent cycle to work. The cycling community is a minority in the East Bay and as a result, the road diets have received pushback from automobile drivers who believe more bikeways will worsen congestion, negatively impact businesses, and only serve the needs of handful of people.