Council’s first agenda item tonight is on two-way street restoration in downtown. While street design may seem like a trivial decision, it actually has a significant impact and indicates what we prioritize and value in our city.

Two-way streets are more conducive to business and safety than one-way streets. Two-way streets naturally calm vehicle traffic (facing oncoming cars creates perceived friction and causes drivers to slow down) and are a better option for encouraging business because of the increased exposure. The staff presentation notes, “One-way streets promote traffic through a space, two-way traffic promotes traffic to a space.” The question is, do we continue to prioritize the throughput of car traffic (keep one-ways), or do we prioritize business development and building a stronger downtown (return to two-ways)?

Much of the data suggests significant benefits of changing to two-ways. A memo put together by the City of Dallas, TX aggregates numerous studies and highlights their findings on two-way conversions:

“The results were stunning. Two-way conversion improves the livability of a neighborhood by significantly reducing crime and collisions and by increasing property values, business revenue, taxes, and bike and pedestrian traffic.”

“The economic analysis determined that a short-term benefit in sales of approximately 10% to 13% for downtown retailers could be expected from the conversion.”

“There are simply more (typically 30-40 percent) more vehicle/pedestrian conflicts within a one-way street network than in a comparable two-way system.”

Safety and Business Impacts Diagramed

Compared to two-way streets, one-ways offer decreased “eyes on the streets” for safety and less storefront exposure for our businesses. The diagram below demonstrates how single-direction traffic flow minimizes the exposure value of certain street frontage (indicated as “Eclipsed Frontage”). From a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) perspective, we can see how one-ways reduce the natural surveillance that would have otherwise been provided by two-way streets, with drivers traveling (providing natural surveillance) in the opposite direction.

(graphic from Downtown Streets: Are We Strangling Ourselves on One-Way Networks, by Walker, Kulash, and McHugh. Accessed via National Association of City Transportation Officials website here.)

Staff’s presentation graphic identifies the roads considered for conversion.

Besides the clear benefits to safety and business, two-ways are simply easier to navigate. From time to time, I find myself behind an out-of-towner preparing to turn east-bound on 1st Ave North. “Idiot,” I mumble as I lay on my horn to jolt their awareness. But if I’m being honest, I’ve turned down one-ways going the wrong direction…in the last five years!

This is not to say that one-ways=bad and two-ways=good. Traffic calming measures like speed tables and chicanes can help to slow one-ways and reduce their drawbacks. But in the context of our downtown, where we want thriving business and lots of safe pedestrian activity, the better street design option is two-way streets—moving people “to a space” rather than “through a space.”


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