Across the country and in some New Jersey municipalities (at least 50 in the last six years), road diets have been implemented as a low-cost safety countermeasure for motorists and non-motorists alike by reducing travel lanes, vehicle speeds and freeing up space for bicycles and pedestrians. Road diets are recognized by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as one of twenty “Proven Safety Countermeasures” to reduce serious injuries and fatalities on American highways and roads.
According to the FHWA, a road diet most commonly involves converting an existing four-lane undivided roadway to a three-lane roadway consisting of two through lanes and a center two-way left-turn lane.
Implemented across the US for at least two decades, road diets have become standard practice and increasingly widespread as their benefits, including economic development, have become popularized. Studies indicate a 19-47% reduction in overall crashes when a road diet is installed on a four-lane undivided facility. For some roadways, these improvements have reduced crashes by up to 70% (See Reston, Virginia case study).
In New Brunswick, a partial road diet has been installed on Livingston Avenue, prompted by concerns expressed by many residents in 2014 when three children in a crosswalk were struck by a vehicle. There are plans for a complete road diet in the future. According to the Middlesex County Engineer’s Office, the project is currently obtaining federal aid and state approval to begin work. This road diet was supported by a cost-benefit evaluation that found the benefits of safety improvements would overwhelmingly exceed the costs over a 20 year period.
In Burlington City, NJDOT implemented a road diet on Route 130 to create a buffer for vehicles and pedestrians after many years of work with local officials. For six consecutive years, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign named Route 130 as the state’s most dangerous road for walking with 11 pedestrians killed by vehicles between 2012 and 2014. These hazardous conditions particularly affected students, who had to cross the divided highway to get to Burlington High School. The death of 17-year old Antwan Timbers, a sophomore at the school, inspired classmates to fight for safer streets around their school and state with the “25 Saves Lives” campaign, which advocated for legislation to reduce speed limits to 25mph near school zones along Route 130. The road diet reduced the roadway from six lanes to four lanes. Large “School Speed Limit 25mph” signs and “No Turn On Red” signs were also installed at busy intersections. Additional improvements are planned for the spring of 2018.
In Woodbury, NJDOT converted Route 45, a multi-lane roadway into a road with one travel lane in each direction, a left turn lane and bicycle lanes. According to the FHWA, the roadway was plagued with excessive speeding, improper lane changes, parking difficulties, and safety concerns. The road diet succeeded in reducing crashes and vehicle speeds while helping pedestrians feel safer. The improvements had no negative effect on emergency vehicle response times, which had been an initial concern of the Woodbury Police.
Passaic County has been active in installing road diets on several of their oversized suburban throughways. In 2016, case study research examined more closely the approaches that the County had taken and explored the lessons that they learned and some outcomes of implementing successful road diet projects. For 2018, the County is working with the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority to bring road diets to three additional corridors – including narrowing a roundabout.
In Ewing, NJDOT and Mercer County and other local partners are conducting a study to identify and recommend improvements to make Parkway Avenue, near NJDOT headquarters, a safer corridor. Parkway Avenue was one of two corridors (out of 99 potential locations) identified as a feasible, suitable and beneficial location to implement a road diet in NJDOT’s 2015 Road Diet Pilot Program. The public may keep up to date and share input on the Parkway Avenue Safety website.
See more information on how road diets work, the benefits they provide, and New Jersey case studies: