Here is a great article from Streets MN on why the 4 to 3 road diet makes sense. While this is controversial, it is clearly good policy for those willing to study the facts. We recently did this on 19th Street NW, and will do it on part of 2nd street SW this year. The city council voted 4-3 to override staff and not do it on 16th street which was at best a dumb decision.
Elton Hills Drive, 16th Street South, 4th St. SE, and 3rd Ave SE are perfect examples of places where we should do this if we can muster the political backbone.
For any 4-lane street under about 20,000 cars per day, cities should re-stripe the street to have one traffic lane in each direction, a center turn lane, and improved pedestrian and bicycling space. The costs of doing this are minimal, but the benefits for cities and the people who live in them are immense.
The main benefit of a 4-to-3 conversion has to do with safety and quality of life. While safety improves for everyone, including drivers, it dramatically improves for the most vulnerable road users, people who live and walk along these main arterials. At first, a simple change in the lane configuration may not seem like much, but to understand why they make such a big difference, think about the different road users and how they behave in each of these situations.
First, from a driver’s perspective: how you behave on a 4-lane configuration is really different from a 3-lane configuration. With two lanes in each direction, drivers are always thinking about passing each other. Driving down the road, you’re constantly scanning the cars ahead of you to see if they are slowpokes, or if they’re making a (dreaded) left turn. Cars are continually switching back and forth between the two lanes, glancing over their shoulders to see if the person in the next lane will let them in, speeding around turning and slowing cars and trucks. (For a good example, drive down Hennepin Avenue pretty much anytime.) This kind of situation means that car drivers aren’t paying much attention to the sidewalks, crosswalks, or looking out for bicyclists. This configuration facilitates speeding, and creates lots of dangerous automobile movements especially at intersections.
Contrast that wtih a 3-lane configuration. Here, each car has to follow the one in front of them. Left turning vehicles move to the center, and drivers are never stuck behind them. Nobody is passing anybody, and traffic moves along with the stoplights. Not only is the whole situation is more relaxing, but its far safer for everyone involved. Speeds are lower, and most importantly, you don’t have lane changes occuring at intersections or driveways.
From a pedestrian or cyclist perspective, the difference is even more palpable. Anyone trying to cross a 4-lane street has to deal with multiple lanes of traffic moving at different speeds in different directions. That’s a recipe for disaster.