By Melissa Kuehne.

More than 225,000 Californians were injured in traffic collisions in 2012, according to the state Office of Traffic Safety. Local officials who want to help prevent such accidents in their communities are looking at road diets as a useful tool.

Road diets remove motor vehicle lanes to create space for bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, bulb-outs and safer parking. Essentially road diets make streets “complete” — designed to accommodate all potential users including bicyclists, drivers, transit riders and pedestrians of every age and ability. Typically, a road diet reduces a four-lane road to three lanes: one lane in each direction and a center turn lane.

Why Consider Road Diets?

Local jurisdictions, both statewide and nationwide, that have adopted road diets in their communities have seen numerous benefits, including increased safety for all roadway users, street beautification and greater numbers of residents using alternative modes of transportation.

Studies point to the many advantages of implementing road diets, including increased economic activity without reduced road capacity. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) found that road diets can reduce traffic accidents by an average of 29 percent — and in smaller towns can cut crashes nearly in half. Road diets reduce vehicle speeds and minimize conflicts, thus making other modes of transportation more attractive. Reducing lanes allows for wider bike lanes and bulb-outs, which reduce the crossing distance between sidewalks, and makes cycling and walking safer.

One barrier to implementation cited by local governments is finding a sustainable funding source. To date, active transportation projects such as road diets have been through a combination of sources, including grants and General Funds. Some agencies are hesitant to aggressively apply for grant funding as they do not have staff to continue to implement active transportation projects – and find it hard to justify hiring staff without a sustainable and dedicated funding source to pay them.

How Can We Implement Road Diets in Our Communities?

Recently California has made strides to give local governments more control of active transportation projects, such as road diets, in their jurisdictions. For example, Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills in 2014 that will ease implementation of road diets throughout the state. SB 1183 (Chapter 516, Statutes of 2014) introduced a potential stable funding source for counties and cities to invest in their own active transportation projects. This law allows local jurisdictions to propose a small vehicle registration fee on local ballots to fund bike paths and trails. The fee is capped at $5 and must be approved by two-thirds of the jurisdiction’s voters.

Last year, AB 1193 (Chapter 495, Statutes of 2014) was signed into law as well. It creates “protected bikeways” and requires Caltrans to develop design standards for these bikeways. Additionally, it eliminates the requirement that local governments apply for design exemptions through Caltrans for protected bikeways. These exemptions can often be very costly and difficult to obtain. This legislation allows local jurisdictions to build protected bike lanes without first needing to consult Caltrans.

Case Example: Fresno County

Fresno County in conjunction with the City of Fresno and the City of Clovis has implemented multiple road diets. Fresno County voters passed Measure C, a half-cent sales tax aimed at improving the transportation systems throughout the county and all the cities in the county in 1986. Staff has found road diets to be an especially viable option in older areas that were not designed to accommodate bike lanes. Road diets decrease the need to remove residential parking, purchase front yards or widen the street and relocate curbs and gutters.

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Originally posted at CSAC.