A Road Diet is when the overall width, lane width, or number of lanes on a road is reduced. The goal of the Road Diet is to reduce the speed of traffic and improve safety and or capacity for pedestrians and cyclists.
There are many streets in Providence that need to go on diets, and we will profile some of them here. The first one I’d like to show is Thomas Street.
Thomas Street runs between Benefit Street and North Main Street, connecting Angell Street to Steeple Street. Currently Thomas Street is set up to have up to three lanes, the lanes are rather wide, and there is a right turn lane at the bottom of the street onto North Main. As a result of the wide lane width and number of lanes, traffic tends to move at a very high rate of speed down Thomas Street. Recently a car went through the front of the Providence Art Club taking a street light down along the way.
The sidewalks on either side of Thomas Street are very narrow, the sidewalk on the Baptist Church Street side is only wide enough for one person (when two people pass, one has to step into the street). On the Art Club side, the sidewalk is wider, however steps into buildings and streetlights and fire hydrants and the like make the effective width of the sidewalk similar to that on the other side (i.e. very narrow).
At the bottom of the hill, the radius of the right turn lane means that traffic tends to roll through the right turn, not yielding to pedestrians trying to cross North Main. Often drivers only look left while rolling through the right turn, never looking right to see if there are any pedestrians. Remove the right turn lane and shallow radius, force traffic to stop before making a right angle turn and drivers will be forced to be more aware of their surroundings, including pedestrians when turning.
As shown in the images above, putting the road on a diet reduces the width of the road where it meets North Main Street. Reducing the road width reduces the gap that pedestrians need to cross. A northbound pedestrian no longer has to fear a car speeding down the street and sliding through that third lane right turn without stopping or looking (as often happens now).
Putting Thomas Street on a diet gives more room and more safety to pedestrians without a large hit to traffic capacity. The impact on traffic is to basically slow it, and in practice traffic is mostly going as fast as it can down the hill to get to a red light (behavior you’ll see all over the city).