Alan Ehrenhalt makes an interesting case for two-way streets. There’s evidence that one way streets increase operating speeds, reduce neighborhood accessibility and can sometimes hurt commercial districts. The UK has already implemented broad design guidelines which call for phasing out one ways in residential areas. In designing streets based on future level of service calculations, we may be sacrificing neighborhood livability.
I know of several residential streets in Baltimore which are currently one way and operate at speeds well above the posted limit. Some of these streets are also excessively wide and could easily handle 2 lanes of bi-direction traffic and full bike lanes. While there are situations where one way streets are needed, these are extreme cases and fall within a limited context.
This post comes from a death-defying attempt to bike west from the Inner Harbor to Hollins Market. While the future bus/bike lane on Lombard should help, the speeding traffic on the one way pairs on every single east-west downtown street up to Saratoga creates mini-highways which are uncomfortable to walk on and dangerous to bike on. (A quick aside: Eutaw and Saratoga Streets, two of the handful of two-way downtown streets, have much more active retail and street life than most other streets in the CBD).
Another example of a questionable one way pair is Pratt and Lombard east of President St. Pratt bisects Little Italy and Albemarle Square – both of which are small, walkable neighborhoods made up of narrow (more so in the case of Little Italy) local streets. Pratt as a one way divides these neighborhoods, encourages speeding, and creates a dangerous situation for cars and pedestrians traveling north-south that are trying to cross Pratt/Lombard. In an effort to get as many cars out of downtown as fast as possible, east bound Pratt St. traffic is not required to stop between High St. and Central Ave. This doesn’t seem like a big deal when you’re looking at a map, but when you’re on the ground walking or on a bike, and you combine the one way traffic with a lack of traffic control, it’s obvious this road was designed as a quick exit to Central Ave. and not as a neighborhood street.
Sure, if Pratt were converted to two way, we’d lose a parking lane with peak hour restrictions. But really, how useful is peak hour restricted parking to residential neighborhoods?
These one-way streets were created with efficiency in mind. So, to my colleagues around the country designing urban streets, I ask; what’s the rush? Who cares if it takes 3.5 minutes or 4 minutes to get to the nearest highway? What good is saving a minute of travel time when you sacrifice walking/biking/retail/comfort/livable streets in an effort to maximize technocratic efficiency? It’s like zooming around Yellowstone Park and claiming you had a great trip because your visit only lasted an hour.
Update: Richmond, VA is planning to convert a plethora of downtown streets to two way to improve navigation, pedestrian accessibilty and spur economic development.
References: TRB Circular E-C019: Urban Street Symposium