One-way & Two-way Streets Reflect a Community’s Priorities
Editor’s Intro: Introducing MyWHaT’s newest guest contributor, Peter Spaulding. Peter lives and works in Traverse City where he is a freelance urban designer and planning consultant. He is co-founder of Placework DG and a graduate of the Urban and Regional Planning program at the University of Michigan. This is part 1 of a 3 part series on one-way and two-way streets. Currently, Traverse City has 4 major one-way streets: Front St., State St., 7th Street and 8th Street.
One-way Streets to Move Cars
Guest Contributor: Peter Spaulding, part 1 of 3
One-way street networks in Traverse City need evaluating to see if they truly carry out resident goals, as a conversion back to two-way operation could yield real benefits for multiple user groups. While drawbacks exist for each orientation, the solution that is most appropriate is dependent upon the goals of neighborhoods and the city. One-way streets were ideal when we as a nation were trying to clear out of towns and cities in order to fill up suburbia, but they make considerably less sense today. Justifications for conversion in the downtown core and in the central neighborhoods rely on the same fundamental justifications, but several special considerations can and need to be made in each case.
Pros and Cons
One-way streets are designed to move the greatest number of people possible (in cars), as quickly as possible. Removing opposing traffic and the moderating influence of possible head on collisions allows motorists to concentrate less while operating closer together at higher speeds. One-way streets can also cut the incidence and severity of traffic congestion, delay, and time required to enter or exit the city.
One-way streets eliminate some direct routes and force road users to make extra turns and travel greater distances to reach destinations. In this way, one-way orientations create more traffic and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and can confuse non-local motorists. In extreme instances, motorists might lap blocks multiple times or give up and go home or to the mall. One-way streets reduce the viability of downtown businesses in other ways too. Streets crossing one-ways always have one street facade invisible from automobiles, the western facing facades of Union, Cass and Park Streets are invisible from Front St., making storefronts and successful businesses more difficult there than on east facing Façades.
One-way streets serve the motorist first-and-foremost and deal only with pedestrians and other stakeholders as an afterthought, they are great when a city serves primarily as an office center and moving office workers into and out of the center quickly is very important. When retail businesses and pedestrians are valued, the drawbacks of one-way streets are harder to overlook.
Two-way Streets as Compromise
In a balanced city where residents and other transportation system users are important, two-way systems are an improvement. Two-way streets aren’t optimized for anything, they represent a compromise that attempts to accommodate everyone. In a downtown context, two-way streets offer improved accessibility and direct routing, give all shops improved exposure and make wayfinding easier. Two-way streets reduce turning movements, speeds, volumes, and miles traveled, all of which improve downtown livability and safety, and help to make a downtown a pleasant place to be.
Lower speeds and volumes make pedestrians and bicyclists feel more comfortable, they make outdoor café seating enjoyable and help to create the sense of a place to be, not just a place to pass through. On one-way streets you can get the sense that everyone is leaving; on two-way streets, if one lane of traffic is leaving town, then the other must necessarily be coming to town. Even as a psychological trick, the sense of place created by two-way streets is more welcoming.
Two- way conversions might make access to downtown by car take a bit longer during the peak season, but would be more intuitive and offer better business visibility year round. Two-way street conversions would realize benefits in livability, walkability, and downtown vibrancy, and need to be considered as a way to further improve and support a constantly improving urban experience for Traverse City.
 While downtown volume is ostensibly good, volume as a result of increased speed is bad.
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- Many cities changing one-way streets back (USA Today)
- One-way Streets in downtown Flint converted into two-ways (mlive.com)
- The Return of the Two-Way Street (governing.com)