Travel is a Two-Way Street

A former resident weighs in on two-way streets

One-way streets around the city (and the country) are getting converted back from one-way streets to two-way traffic.  The reasoning is often for economic development purposes and these have been extremely successful in places like West Palm Beach (done by a former mentor of mine, Ian Lockwood), Colorado Springs, and others.  You can find a list of case studies on councilmember Scott Griggs’ website.

The logic goes that city streets were converted to one-ways to facilitate more car travel through corridors and they did that, often at higher speeds.  The impact however was that the retail along the streets (and the vitality and the tax base along with it) disappeared.

Two-way streets allowed for better access and visibility.  There was no ‘going home’ street.  No morning and evening commute.  You passed in both directions, just not as fast due to the concept of risk internalization.

That gets at the deeper heart of the economic development component.  Not only is it about visibility and access, but also public safety.  Slower traffic yields more pedestrians.  Pedestrians spend money (unless you’re in a drive thru).  No pedestrians, no shoppers.  No strollers, joggers, and everything else we want as visible evidence of vibrancy and livability.

Further, one-way streets advantage long trip travel while two-ways encourage short trips.  The interesting irony of short-trips is that designing to promote the short trip over the long trip has two subtle but impactful side effects.

First, the real estate market adapts.  The market value is in proximity.  Land uses mix, cluster, and stack.

The other benefit is that you unwittingly increase the capacity of the street.

Think about it this way.  Let’s say you have a five mile segment of street that moves 10,000 cars at each mile checkpoint.  If the average trip length is 5 miles, that’s 10,000 cars.

If you’re designing for the short trip and the average trip length is 1 mile, that’s 5 sets of 10,000 different cars or 50,000 cars on the same segment of street.  50,000 more trips means 5 times the economic activity on the same amount of public investment (the infrastructure).

This is why the only way out of congestion is through land use; designing and promoting proximity.

Enough about the details.  I wanted to ask a (former) resident and once contributor to this site, Chris Storm.  Chris used to live in Victory Park (before taking a job out of state) so I asked him about his experience when Houston and Victory were converted from a one-way couplet to two-way.  Below is his response:

The changes on Houston [Street} were fantastic. During events, vehicle traffic wasn’t much different. People entering Victory Park still sat at the same bottlenecks (Woodall Rodgers to Lamar Avenue between HOB and Dicks; I-35 to Hi-Line), so traffic in the neighborhood wasn’t any more congested than before during events.

Good point.  People often look for the most immediate and evident thing to blame when traffic was a problem all along.

Traffic outside of events was substantially improved on Houston. Traffic slowed to the point where it was safe to walk/cross anywhere along the street. It was also much easier to navigate Houston.

If traffic is the same, why not benefit somebody.  Shouldn’t those benefiting be the closest to the improvements?  That is, if we want people living near where they can work and can walk to more of their destinations and thus eliminating car trips.

I was also shocked at just how many people were using the new bike lines. It was almost immediate. When someone does measure bicycle traffic on Houston now, I think the numbers are going to look very strong.

At the very least compared to the before condition.

Now for the bad news: Victory Avenue is arguably more dangerous for pedestrians than before. Instead of having four lanes of vehicle traffic driving way too fast in one direction, cars are now going just as fast as before but in two directions.

Four lane roads (two in each direction) are the absolute worst.  Three lane roads (one each way with a center turn lane) more often than not move more traffic than 2-2’s due to the backup of left turn movements into garages or wherever.  Ian Lockwood once told me that two two lane roads, in practice not theory, end up carrying about 167% more trips than one four-lane road.

Victory Avenue doesn’t have many crosswalks (last I checked, there were no crosswalks between Olive and Lamar), so anyone crossing Lamar has to navigate high-speed traffic going in two directions. You would see this most days with office workers trying to walk to lunch. The situation improved recently because construction on Victory Avenue has taken away a lane of traffic, but this construction also took away the sidewalks, forcing people to walk in the street on High Market and Museum Way.

There are some block length issues amplified by lack of cross streets and overall interconnectivity problems of having initially built Victory on essentially an island.  It’s why multiply-parallel grid connectivity is so important.  You balance traffic rather than creating INVADED and ABANDONED streets.  Neither is an optimal condition.

My final opinion: I loved the two-way streets. I think they would be even more successful if the focus [is] on safety. They’ve undermined the benefits of the change by making Victory Avenue a four lane street and by converting Houston Avenue north of Payne into a one-way street during events. Also, they do some really weird lane switching on Victory Avenue that has resulted in accidents.

Gracias, amigo.  Enjoy life in my old state and stay away from Primanti’s.


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