THERE’S MORE THAN “ONE-WAY” TO DOWNTOWN
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.
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.”