After evacuations bogged down during 2008 wildfires near the town of Paradise, California, a grand jury warned that Butte County needed to upgrade evacuation routes, which then consisted of three two-lane roads and a four-lane road. Instead, officials put the four-lane road on a “road diet,” reducing it to two lanes of travel. Obstacles known as “traffic calming measures” were installed throughout the town, including bulb-out’s, center medians, and extended sidewalks.
These measures were taken in the name of safety but they were far from safe. When the Camp Fire obliterated the town in 2018, many people were unable to evacuate due to congestion. Eighty-six people died, some of them in their cars as they tried to flee.
Despite experiences like this, more than 1,500 American jurisdictions, ranging from New York and Los Angeles to small towns like Waverly, Iowa, are using road diets and similar measures that reduce the capacity of streets to move traffic. It’s all in the name of “vision zero,” a planning fad that claims slowing traffic will reduce accidents and fatalities. In fact, it is increasing them.