Speed vs Flow

Gil Cedillo and other mindless opponents of road diets invariably spout off about the horror of “slowing down drivers.” Of course, slowing down drivers is one of the main goals of a road diet, and the benefits of doing so are manifold and well-documented. A quick look at, say, NYDOT’s analyses of the effects of road diets in that intensely-congested city show not only health and economic benefits; they often reveal that transit times for car users are shorter than before. Yes, if all you want to do is get from A to B faster, and don’t care at all what’s in between, road diets often help you do just that—while opening the street to multiple modes of transportation, and to residents and local merchants as well. These streets now carry more people about, and increase neighborhood cohesion, health, and prosperity. Without impeding the oh-so-important tooth-gnashing, road-raging cut-through speeders that Cedillo seems to think stand with the archangels in the heavenly ranks.

Even when a road diet increases travel time, it’s almost never by more than a minute. On North Figueroa, whose road diet has been blocked by an intransigeant Cedillo, the LADOT’s worst-case scenario showed an increase in travel time of all of forty-five seconds…over five miles…at rush hour.

How can this be? How can driving more slowly get you through town faster? Simple: you aren’t constantly driving yourself into a jam at every red light, as you and your fellows all crowd towards the intersection like hogs at a feeding trough.

To quote the LADOT’s blog post on road diets:

Road diets can improve traffic. Seems a little strange, doesn’t it? When a 4 lane road is below a certain volume of traffic (usually 18,000-20,000 Average Daily Trips – ADT), implementing a road diet can actually make traffic flow more smoothly. Especially on streets that have cars making frequent left turns (like, say, a residential street with plenty of driveways), creating a two-way left turn lane creates a space for turning vehicles that won’t impact moving traffic. Think about it another way: when a left-turning car comes to a stop in 2 lanes of travel, that direction immediately becomes 1 lane of travel. Even worse, cars merging right will snarl traffic even further. A road diet gives that driver a place to turn that won’t impact the free flow of traffic.

On top of that, every person who is encouraged by the bike lanes installed to ride their bike (instead of drive) on local trips around their community means one less car on the road to create congestion.

I’ve seen the futility of high speeds on local streets many times myself. Just yesterday I turned onto Seventh from Broadway to go home from a series of business meetings. The street—which has been road-dieted, in fact— was nearly empty of cars at that time of day. I could see down nearly its entire length from the top of the hill just west of Figueroa. As I climbed that hill, though, I had to move into the mixed traffic lane, as construction had blocked the bike lane. Some typically irritable ignoramus in a town car roared around me and shot ahead…to the next red light, where I caught up with him. When the light turned green, he roared ahead again, unimpeded by any other motor traffic…to the next red light, where I caught up with him. Over and over again, for several miles. And I was tired that day, having already ridden thirty miles in very hot weather and sat through a couple of meetings.

I was eventually passed, though. By another cyclist. So Mr. Town Car was, despite his noise and fury, not going any faster point-to-point than a tired old man on a bicycle.

I enjoyed a similar incident not long ago while I was pedaling along Martel to a farmers’ market. Martel is a narrow residential street that, unfortunately for its denizens, possesses traffic signals at each intersection with a major arterial. Just north of Third, a pudgy gentleman in a black SUV roared around me and zoomed ahead to the next major street…where, of course, I caught to him as he waited for the light. This particular fool was also careering wildly around his fellow drivers, who apparently were not reckless enough for his taste. Nevertheless, I caught up to him repeatedly, all the way from Third Street to Santa Monica Boulevard, where he signaled to turn. There, I tapped on his window and politely informed him that one of his brake lights was burned out. He politely acknowledged the intelligence. Of course I really wanted him to know that his extravagant waste of fuel and nervous energy had gained him not one second over a greybeard on a beat-up old bike.

Do you think they’ll ever get it? Or does driving so much somehow flatten your learning curve, even as it broadens your butt?

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