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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  • Cristine

    Unfortunately, the past is getting a bad rap. One-way couplets were studied like crazy in the 1950s, with results showing they were safer and helped reduce congestion. The 1950s central business districts were competing with the expanding suburbs – suburb businesses advertised about their ease of parking and convenience. City centers were experiencing an increase in congestion and an increase in accidents. One-way couplets were studied as a design solution to reduce congestion and reduce accidents, thus creating a driving/shopping experience customers wanted.
    According to one study, “the development of a one-way street couplet has offered a solution possible of realization from a cost standpoint, and on the basis of experience had to date, one that gives a maximum return in increased capacity and accidental reduction per dollar expended.” City leaders, planners, and engineers had priorities of safety and economic vitality. Comprehensive studies backed their argument.
    History of Dallas streets is interesting – C.E. Ulrickson’s report in 1927, described how the “streets of Dallas are the veins and arteries through which the life of the city must flow. Where the circulation is good, we find growth and vigor. Where the circulation is bad, we find blight and dilapidation.”
    Sixteen years later, in 1943, Harland Bartholomew provided city plan commission various reports, one called Major Street Plan, and consisted of suggestions to be used as a basis for the city’s street system’s future, to correct any existing problems, and prevent future planning mistakes. The report explained how the popularity of the automobile, congestion, and inadequacy of the street system encouraged city populations, including businesses, to decentralize into the suburbs. There was the belief “that deterioration of values in the central area is inevitable unless effective measures are taken to increase the accessibility, ease of movement, and parking facilities in these downtown centers.”
    The argument that the one-way couplet was a cause for lack of business on North Oak Cliff is not true. Zoning that require a minimum of parking spaces prevented businesses from moving in. There was a case study in the 1980s of existing couplets in Dallas, with an analysis of the Tyler/Polk couplet, the study concluded the one-way couplet had no impact on the surrounding land use.
    I get why there is a movement for, as Ian Lockwood likes to say “restore” two-way streets, but one-size-does-not-fit-all. And if a one-way street provides a wide quality bike lane or a bus only lane, both benefiting the user and promoting walkability, then by all means utilize the best option that represents everyone, that is the Complete Streets movement.
    Keep in mind, that when a street is “restored” to a two-way, it very well may be the results of its infrastructure being improved that generated a boost in activity, not just the conversion alone. One-ways offer much more flexibility than two-ways – need a bike lane, need a bus lane, need a parklet, need wider sidewalks – boom, the space is available. Two-way can very well box the street in with no flexibility other than for the automobile.
    An interesting historical note on the Tyler/Polk one-way couplet, the issues regarding the right-of-way, is the reason for the couplet split. Otherwise the six lane thoroughfare would have been constructed straight through Canty on past Twelfth street. The fact is: the one-way couplet saved the existing historical buildings.