A Reading Road Diet Moves From Pilot to Permanent

Google Street View imagery of Main Street in Reading shows the street before (from 2019) and after (from 2020) a road diet that reduced the number of vehicle lanes on the roadway. Images courtesy of Google.
Google Street View imagery of Main Street in Reading shows the street before (from 2019) and after (from 2020) a road diet that reduced the number of vehicle lanes on the roadway. Images courtesy of Google.

A test-run of a road diet on Main Street in Reading has been deemed a success, and will be implemented on a permanent basis later this fall when MassDOT finishes a paving project there.

Reading’s Main Street, also known as Route 28, connects suburban residential neighborhoods on the north side of town to Reading’s walkable town center. Continuing south past the Haverhill Line’s tracks, the street enters a district of highway-oriented strip malls before meeting a huge cloverleaf interchange at Route 128 on the town’s southern border.

The road diet removed one vehicle lane from two state-run segments of Route 28 to convert the roadway from a four-lane roadway to a three-lane street with shoulders and a center-running left-turn lane (the central section of Main Street in downtown Reading, which is under the town’s control, and the busier southernmost segment near the Route 128 interchange are retaining their four-lane layout for now).

A map of the Route 28 road diet project area in Reading. Segments in blue indicate parts of Main Street where the number of lanes on the roadway were reduced from 4 to 3. The orange segment, near Route 128, and the town-maintained central section in downtown Reading retained a four-lane cross-section. Courtesy of MassDOT.
A map of the Route 28 road diet project area in Reading. Segments in blue indicate parts of Main Street where the number of lanes on the roadway were reduced from 4 to 3. The orange segment, near Route 128, and the town-maintained central section in downtown Reading retained a four-lane cross-section. Courtesy of MassDOT.

MassDOT had implemented the road diet as a “pilot” project in the spring of 2020 with the promise that the reconfiguration could be reversed if traffic congestion or crash rates increased. The pilot was initially scheduled to end in the fall of 2020.

But because its implementation coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, and its associated collapse in traffic volumes, MassDOT extended the pilot into 2021 in order to collect more data and evaluate how the road diet would function in “typical” conditions.

The proposal initially attracted intense scrutiny from Reading’s drivers, who worried that fewer lanes would lead to more congestion on Main Street and other roadways.

But according to MassDOT data, the road diet did not affect travel times or traffic volumes on other streets nearby. And even after traffic rebounded to near pre-pandemic volumes this year, the average travel time to drive the length of Main Street is slightly lower in 2021 than it was in 2019.

Edward Kantorosinski, who co-owns Bagel World on Main Street just south of the MBTA tracks, agreed that the reconfiguration was “a good call” in a phone conversation with StreetsblogMASS on Tuesday afternoon.

“Having just one lane going both ways, so whoever wants to make a turn can make the center lane, like on other state roads, rather than blocking traffic behind them, makes it feel less busy,” said Kantorosinski. “It’s an improvement.”

The road diet’s primary goal was to improve safety on a roadway with an unusually high number of crashes, even compared to other multi-lane highways.

“The average crash rate (on Reading’s section of Route 28) was more than double what we see on similar facilities elsewhere in Massachusetts – (that is), other four-lane undivided roadways with a similar type of volume,” said Andy Paul, a MassDOT planner who gave a presentation on the project in a virtual public meeting on Monday evening.

Paul declined to share any specific crash data at Monday’s meeting, saying that it was still too early to determine whether the road diet has affected the roadway’s crash rate.

But according to MassDOT’s public crash data portal, on the southern segment of Main Street/Route 28, between the MBTA regional rail tracks and Summer Avenue, there were 31 crashes in 2019, before the road diet was implemented.

There have been only 7 crashes recorded on the same segment during the first 7 months of 2021.

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