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If there’s one thing people love to bitch about without having any discernible insight about, it’s traffic. Yes, just like the weather or weekend plans, traffic is one of those accessible, everyman conversation topics where nothing profound is ever said, and all the talk comes out of the intense desire to ensure there are no awkward silences for the 2-3 minutes you’re forced to make conversation with a work acquaintance or neighbor. Should traffic be your go-to mundane topic of choice, a new study by Jeff Speck on what impacts and affects our driving behavior might push you to the 5 minute mark of your forced, casual small talk.

Speck has spent years studying how drivers adjust their speed and patterns to the roads they drive on, paying particular attention to road and lane design. He notes that on city streets, people tend to ignore speed limits and drive at a pace they feel more comfortable due to environmental factors such as bike lanes, trees and buildings close to the road, pedestrians and lane width.

Teaming up with Spencer Boomhower, a game animator and illustrator with Cupola Media, Speck has set out to show how simple adjustments in lane size and quantity can drastically affect and improve road safety and driver performance. Through a series of animated Vine videos, Speck and Boomhower illustrate several instances of changing road diets, as its colloquially phrased, showing how a reduction in lane count or even widening and shrinking lanes by a couple of inches with simple paint adjustments impacts traffic patterns in cities and urban streets.

One of the most touted and thrown around options is reducing lanes from being 12 inches wide to 10 inches. The loss of two inches in width doesn’t have a major impact on the space cars occupy or the sense of space drivers feel they have, though it might make drivers reduce their speed a smidge. This reduction allows room for a bike lane on city streets, at the cost of a single inch of space for side street parking areas.

The 4-to-3 road lane diet is another popular option, which reduces the lane count from, you guessed it, 4 to 3 and actually has little impact on traffic, congestion or car count. One of the more radical ideas that seems to be a boon to safety on all fronts is pulling parked cars 10 feet away from the curb to allow for a secure, protected bike line that doesn’t have to contend with road traffic.

Of course, roads and streets are constructed with tax money, and anything remotely involving taxes ultimately comes down to politics, meaning experimentation with changing lane widths and adjusting the number of lanes on roads to improve safety and conditions is hotly debated and tied up in loads of red tape. However, Speck and Boomhower note that a lot of these road diet plans simply come down to the cost of repainting the lanes to reflect these changes. Needless to say, if all it takes is a bucket of Sherwin-Williams white and some measuring tape to retool some lanes to improve driving safety, why not break out that “Wet Paint” sign and get to it?

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