SDOT on the offensive about road diets

After some recent opposition to SDOT’s plan to rechannel 125th St, in addition to the heavy opposition to SDOT’s rechannelization of Nickerson, SDOT has gone on the offensive, with the benefits of road diets.

There has been a lot of interest in rechannelizations over the past few months, especially with SDOT’s proposal for NE 125th and the recent work on Nickerson. SDOT makes such changes to a street’s configuration to reduce vehicular speeds and make the road safer, especially for vulnerable users like pedestrians.

Seattle has been successfully installing these “road diets” since the Uhlman Administration and we are not alone in doing so. Cities such as San Francisco, Portland, Orlando, Oakland and New York all utilize them to make their streets safer. Though a rechannelization also allows us to incorporate wider lanes to better serve freight or install bike facilities, these are secondary to our primary goal of enhancing safety.

We often hear that these rechannelizations will increase congestion, diminish roadway capacity or cause more crashes. However, those concerns never actually materialize on roads that have been improved in this way. What one can document here and elsewhere are lower speeds, less crashes and fewer injuries from collisions. These are changes that benefit everyone from pedestrians to motor vehicle operators.

The recent examples of Stone Way N and Fauntleroy Way SW highlight how these inexpensive striping changes improve safety with no additional equipment or personnel costs. In fact, we recently studied how Stone Way performed after the change in lane layout and documented that:

Motor vehicles now travel at speeds nearer the legal limit;
Total collisions dropped 14 percent with injury collisions down 33 percent;
Pedestrian collisions declined significantly;
Bike trips increased 35 percent but collisions per bicycle trip have declined; and
Volumes show the roadway still easily accommodates motor vehicle traffic.
(You can read the full Stone Way report here:

Having rechannelized 26 different roads in Seattle over the past several decades, SDOT can confidently state that “road diets” make our roads safer for all. And do so in a way that keeps traffic moving.

SDOT has linked to the Federal Highway Administration’s report on road re-striping, which shows that road diets increase safety with minimal impact to vehicle traffic.

They’ve also publicized some key safety statistics about 125th St – including that the vast majority of drivers speed on the road and that there have been almost 80 collisions with injury on this roadway.

And in response to criticism that SDOT did not publicize the 125th St road diet well enough, SDOT lists all the ways in which they reached out to the community.

Hopefully this communications effort will help refocus the debate – much of the discussion about road diets has been framed in terms of bikes vs cars, and SDOT is getting away from the term ‘road diet’, which may be a little alarming to drivers who fear for reading road capacity. As SDOT points out, road diets are nothing new, but they are still apparently controversial. Being more vocal in advertising these safety facts will surely help future road diets – excuse me, road rechannelizations – to generate less rancorous debate and anger towards bikers.

Not only will drivers and bikers benefit from increased safety, but reconfigured lane striping is welcomed by pedestrians who are able cross streets more safely both at marked and unmarked crosswalks, not be exposed to high-speed traffic right beside them, and overall feel more comfortable walking in their own neighborhoods.


2 Responses to “SDOT on the offensive about road diets”

  • From the perspective of a cyclist, motorist, and a bus driver, these rechannelization projects are a welcome improvement.

    As a cyclist, the bike lanes are obviously very welcome. They are in the door zone but riding carefully can minimize the danger of somebody dooring you.

    As a motorist I’ve rarely encountered significant delays on either Stoneway or Nickerson. Even when a slight increase in congestion is encountered, usually near a traffic light, it’s a small price to pay for the improved safety of ALL road users, including motorists.

    As a bus driver I can finally just drive in the lane instead of having to split the lanes – something we have to do when the lane it too narrow for us to safely occupy just our lane. When I stop to pick up passengers in a zone, there is plenty of room to safely get around my bus. (Just be sure to yield when I turn on my left turn signal to move back into traffic, please 🙂

    As for pedestrians, I’m not out on foot very often on these streets. That said, having to brave the massive crossings over here in Bellevue, I’d personally prefer to see some of our streets rechanneled. Some is being done, but there is more to do.

  • Agree wholeheartedly with everything said in the article and by VeloBusDriver. Also, as an engineer in the transportation field, I’d like to point out to “drivers who fear for road capacity” that city agencies do their homework before deciding to implement a rechannelization. They won’t go forward with such a project unless they know the new configuration will be able to handle the traffic.

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