When living in an area that historically has lost population, some of the infrastructure could be considered “overbuilt.” In the case of many of Akron’s roadways and intersections, they’re built for heavier traffic, and in some instances, non-automobile traffic from decades past. We end up with roads that are too wide, traffic that moves too fast in residential areas and fewer choices for pedestrians and bicyclists.
A “road diet” could reduce accidents and open the streets up to other modes of transportation, encouraging more open streets, modernizing infrastructure and reconfiguring lanes, according to the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (AMATS), which recently wrapped up a Road Diet Analysis that looks at areas in Summit County that could perhaps lose a few pounds of roadway real estate.
The road diet takes existing space and allocates it to other modes of transportation, which better controls the speed and flow, while being more welcoming to non-vehicle traffic. And it also could reduce accidents, states the report. “Road diets reduce vehicle-to-vehicle conflicts that contribute to rear-end, left-turn, and sideswipe crashes by removing the four-lane undivided inside lanes serving both through and turning traffic,” according to the report.
Potential road diet candidates in the Akron area could include Route 261, from Route 59 (MLK Boulevard) to West Cedar Sreet; Maple Street, from Glendale Avenue to West Market Street; Independence Avenue, from Home Avenue to Brittain Road; and Kenmore Boulevard, from East Avenue to Lakeshore Boulevard, states the Road Diet Analysis.
Road diets also are endorsed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), but a number of things should be considered when embarking on this project, the report adds.
The AMATS report does point out some caveats for road diets: “Before initiating a road diet, please note that several side effects could be experienced regarding some road diet designs:
• An overall reduction in the roadway capacity could lead to congestion on higher volume segments, particularly if a road diet is applied in a rapidly growing area;
• With only one through lane, stopped buses may put a temporary halt to traffic;
• Depending on road diet design, bike lanes and on-street parking could be in conflict;
• A reduction in the number of lane miles could result in a reduction in the allocation of federal funds for maintenance on some roadways; and
• Heavy use of the center turn lane due to a proliferation of driveways and cross streets could result in increased crashes or delays.”
However, it’s likely that the benefits outweigh the detriments, especially in the areas laid out by AMATS. For example, buses still cause congestion and backup on four-lane roads, and bicyclists already deal with on-street parking.
There are costs to this road diet, but they’re minimal when compared to the increase in safety and the benefit of encouraging more walkable neighborhoods and bicycling and other outdoor activities.
“Occasionally, limited right-of-way acquisition may be needed for right turn lanes or intersection reconstruction needed to enhance the roadway operation,” states the report. “The cost for road diet conversion is significantly lower when compared to a roadway widening.”
The report adds: “A road diet can be a low-cost safety solution, particularly in cases where only pavement marking modifications are needed to make the change. In other cases, a road diet may be planned in conjunction with a roadway or intersection reconstruction or overlaid onto currently planned projects. The change in cross section allocation could be incorporated at no additional cost.”
Better Block, which will temporarily convert the Temple Square block of North Hill with landscaping, bicycle lanes and popup businesses in vacant buildings May 15-17, is also a great time to get a taste of what a road diet could look like.
AMATS Director Jason Segedy says this corner of North Main Street and Cuyahoga Falls Avenue was built for streetcars and much more traffic than currently experienced. This makes the intersection difficult for pedestrians and bicyclists and could be in conflict with trying to develop safer and more walkable neighborhoods throughout Akron.
The report clearly maps out preferred areas for road diets, by tiers based on traffic volume. Areas with lower to moderate traffic, with less than 10,000 vehicles per day, are more ideal candidates for a road diet, the report notes.
Click here to read the full report, including AMATS recommendations.