By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate Implementing creative road planning standards can help Ohio’s local leaders who seek to build neighborhoods where travel by car, bus, bicycle, or foot is safe for everyone. In order to maximize the public’s benefit in using streets and sidewalks, cities around Ohio, the country, and the world have begun to reduce the width of street lanes and lower speed limits to improve safety for all roadway users.
Adjusting the width of street lanes creates room to introduce various modes of transportation or other amenities in that particular space. For instance, reducing each lane of a 4-lane road from 12 feet to 10 feet creates an extra 8 feet in width, which cities have converted into a dedicated bike lane or sidewalk protected by a buffer zone. Some cities have chosen to cut down lane space in order to create a row for parked cars, especially in retail and entertainment districts.
Research shows that narrower lanes are no more dangerous than wide roads, and in many cases are actually safer for drivers, bikers and walkers. With narrower roads, drivers are forced to be more mindful of the relative position of their car on the road and potential obstacles and are therefore more cautious while driving. Moreover, by reducing road lane width, cities are able lessen the distance pedestrians and bikers must travel to cross the street, which shrinks their risk of being struck by a vehicle. Such a change in traffic design and the added safety features are likely to encourage more people to choose to walk or bike as a result of feeling more secure when travelling on or near the road.
It is important to note that traffic engineers widely recognize the safe usage of 10-foot wide roads in areas where the speed limit does not exceed 35 miles per hour. In Ohio’s urban areas, most city roads operate with 35 miles per hour limits or less and could accommodate this change. Because not all drivers travel at the posted speed limit, traffic engineers design roads so that they still accommodate motorists travelling a few miles an hour over the speed limit.
In situations where road lane size cannot be reduced (due to other infrastructure considerations, financial constraints or political will), lowering speed limits can reduce the risk of injury or death for all users of the road; a 10 mph reduction in travelling speed is shown to have a significant effect on reducing the seriousness of a pedestrian’s sustained injury after having been hit by a vehicle. In Ohio, the Revised Code dictates the speed limit for a number of road types, including those that run through municipalities. Many of main “in-town” arteries that connect a community have posted speed limits of 35 mph, even as these arteries become used by more and more bicyclists, transit users, and pedestrians.
GOPC supports policies that enable communities to make their roadways safer for all users. Giving communities more local control over posted speed limits and instituting Active Transportation policies that support and promote multimodal usage, results in safer streets, has minimal impact on the flow of cars, and often increases economic activity along the modified route. Learn more here about GOPC’s research and advocacy on this important issue!