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Road Diet: Life In The Fasting Lane

August 29, 2014, 9:55 PM by Perry Groten

Road Diet: Life In The Fasting Lane
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

The road diet that went into effect last month in downtown Sioux Falls has not only slimmed-down Main Avenue, but it's also trimmed readings on speedometers.  The city of Sioux Falls reports the average traffic speed on Main Avenue has dropped 10-percent from 22 to 20 miles an hour.

Lead-footed drivers are becoming a roadway rarity along Main Avenue in downtown Sioux Falls.

"Everybody seems to be careful and I haven't had any close calls or anything," driver Lee Ann Sievert said.

The city's road diet reduced Main Avenue from three lanes to two, creating space for diagonal parking between 6th and 14th Streets.  Bump-outs at the intersections are designed to make the stretch more pedestrian-friendly.  But the new layout is also cutting down on speeding.

"That's always good because it's always dangerous trying to cross the street when people are trying to get to their destination quickly and now they have to think about cars backing-out and the traffic around them, so it does slow it down," Main Avenue resident Frank Boerema said.   

A traffic study conducted before the road diet went into effect found 270 drivers a day were going faster than the 20-mile-an-hour speed limit on Main Avenue.  Since the road diet that number has dropped to 70 speeders a day.

"It says to me that people are driving more cautiously on Main Avenue; they're slowing down," Lt. Troy Lubbers of the Sioux Falls Police Department said.

Traffic is bound to slow when there's one less lane to travel, especially during rush hour.

"It gets bad at 4:30-5:00, 5:15, in that area, It's slow," driver John Fuller said.

But police think something more is at play than just the geography of a narrower street.  The novelty of the road diet may also be a factor.

"I think people are trying to adjust and learn the new flow and so I think that adjustment period and being unfamiliar with it makes people slow down, makes people more cautious," Lubbers said.

But not everyone's being so cautious.  Bad driving habits are tough to break, even while dieting.

"Like that gal that went on the other side of me.  She was probably going 25-28 and she was on her phone and went through the yellow light, so you got to be careful," driver Mary Wingen said.

Police recorded only one crash during the first month of the road diet.  And that wasn't even in traffic.

"It was a backing accident, where an individual backed out of a parking space and turned too sharp and hit the vehicle next to him," Lubbers said.

Police hope this trend of fewer speeders on Main Avenue will continue for the next two months of the road diet's trial run.

"I don't think people will just start using it as a racetrack or anything like that because there's so much more traffic and parking, you have to drive more prudently out there," Lubbers said.

And drivers agree.  They say they won't feel the need to speed once their comfort level rises along the newly re-purposed Main Avenue.

"Some people are in a hurry, but if you're slow, you're probably going to get there a lot safer," Sievert said.

Sioux Falls police say the number of parking tickets issued along Main Avenue is roughly the same as other parts of downtown. 

The trial run of the road diet goes through October.  After that, city leaders will assess what changes to make.

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