Are Two-Way Streets the Way of the Future?

Today on the Streetsblog Network, we’re featuring a post from San Francisco’s Pedestrianist about two-way street conversions in Minneapolis and how such changing traffic patterns could benefit pedestrians and other users:

3291357587_5bdc4ca1a8The city of Minneapolis is about to return two of its downtown streets to two-way traffic after nearly 30 years of one-way flow. Those streets, like many in downtowns across the country, were converted to one-way couplets by auto-centric traffic engineers in the middle of the last century.

Their goal was to squeeze more cars through older, narrow streets as fast as they could. And that’s exactly what happened. The problem is that the fast, thick traffic along these one-way streets has proven to be dangerous to vulnerable road users, especially pedestrians, and has often pushed away much of the street life.

In San Francisco, the grid of one-way streets on either side of Market and around the old ramps to the Central Freeway in Hayes Valley and the Western Addition are among the most dangerous places to walk. The recent killing of a woman on Fell Street has prompted numerous calls to calm the traffic on that and other unidirectional expressways. One of the more common sentiments expressed in comments on Streetsblog is that these one-way couplets should be restored back to two-way traffic.

Two-way streets are naturally calmer because cars approaching from opposite directions make each other nervous. Nervous drivers are slower and more alert to their surroundings. Two way streets are also easier for bicycles to navigate, and the presence of bikes on a street further calms car traffic.

There is, in my opinion, no reason not to begin restoring two-way traffic on San Francisco streets, starting with the most dangerous first. The lives of our neighbors are too high a cost to justify a slightly faster car commute.

More from around the network: FABB Blog and Missouri Bicycle News call attention to a Parade magazine article about the bicycling mayor of Columbia, Missouri. Greater Greater Washington scrutinizes the National Park Service’s rejection of a request to use Rock Creek Parkway for an organized bike tour event. And Let’s Go Ride a Bike has more on the biking gender gap.

Photo by wvs via Flickr.

  • John

    I was with you until the bicycle thing.

    My guess is the pros/con for bikes don’t make much of a difference 1 way vs. 2 way.

    Also, just how roundabouts are safer one way intersection can be safer because you have fewer conflict points.

    Also, remember people tend to freak out when they have to wait for ages behind someone making a left turn.

    I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Just this is not a 100% win/win

  • They really need to do this in Baltimore. One one hand, Mt. Vernon is a compact, walkable, exceedingly pleasant neighborhood. On the other, so many of the streets are one-way, it feels like your constantly crossing mini-highways.

  • I don’t like to think of myself as an auto-centric traffic engineer, but when walking: I much prefer to cross one-way streets. In particularly, one must only look in one direction when crossing; and I also much prefer crossing narrower streets than suburban-sized highways. I’ve seen one-way streets which utilize horizontal deflection (particularly chicanes) along with other treatments to maintain a ped-friendly environment. I think the issue is more with one-way streets that are still car-focused; whereas it’s my opinion that one-way streets can serve pedestrians just as well as they may serve cars.

    One particular issue, however, is what’s called the “Multi-Threat Scenario” — that is, when a pedestrian crosses a street with more than one lane per direction. Imagine a pedestrian & two approaching vehicles — one behind the other. The lead vehicle may give way or may not — a common issue. However, if the lead vehicle yields: the trailing vehicle may not know why the lead vehicle has stopped — the pedestrian may be hidden beyond the lead vehicle. The trailing vehicle may either rear-end the lead vehicle or might change lanes, and in the event of changing lanes: may now conflict with the unforeseen pedestrian.

    This is a common issue on both bidirectional & one-way roadways. However, one additional perk to one-way roads is that if a signal option is pursued, it may be easier to coordinate the signal with other interconnected signals — reducing impacts to motorists (often a reason why signals are turned down) whilst also serving pedestrians. With a larger available cross-section, one-way streets may also lend themselves to the aforementioned chicanes, bulb-outs, etc. to reduce speeds; or narrower streets could even lend themselves to a shared space environment.

    Just my 2 cents… essentially I feel that one-way streets shouldn’t be discounted too readily; it’s just that many agencies give them a bad reputation.

    Cheers!

  • John brings up a good point. Traffic engineers are most concerned about motor vehicle accidents, because they’re still the source of most injuries and fatalities. In comparison, pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities are barely on the radar. We need to understand and respect this point of view as we try to push our own bike-ped agendas.

  • Nathanael

    I think there’s a difference between wide one-way streets (== two or more car lanes) and really narrow one-way streets (==one or fewer car lanes).

    Streets with two driving lanes should generally be two-way. Streets with only one driving lane, there’s a good argument to make them one-way. (Note, a street with two lanes full stop should probably be one driving lane and one parking lane.)

    I’ve been thinking about how best to implement streetcars in places with narrow streets like Philadelphia, and I suspect that having one-way streets with one driving lane, one parking lane, and one streetcar lane is the way to go. It allows the streetcar to run adjacent to the sidewalk, and maintains local access and parking (for one side of the road, anyway).

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