Friday, December 4, 2009

2 is Better than 1

Finally, returning one-way roads to two-way is starting to get some play in the press. I have often referred to Dallas' one-way, overly wide downtown streets as "escape routes," but had NO idea that they were literally designed that way.
After the war, a couple of things happened. Civil defense planners, taking seriously the threat of nuclear attack, worried that residents trying to escape would create gridlock on the crowded two-way streets, imprisoning themselves in smoldering cities and causing many more casualties. The arterial streets were the only escape routes they had. Making them one-way, on an alternating basis, would speed things up and save lives. Or so it was thought.
Funny world we live in. So, without a Cold War clouding our skies, must we keep them?
Meanwhile, local governments were slowly learning that the old two-way streets, whatever the occasional frustration, had real advantages in fostering urban life. Traffic moved at a more modest pace, and there was usually a row of cars parked by the curb to serve as a buffer between pedestrians and moving vehicles. If you have trouble perceiving the difference, try asking yourself this question: How many successful sidewalk caf├ęs have you ever encountered on a four-lane, one-way street with cars rushing by at 50 miles per hour?
Among the critics are traffic engineers and academics who were taught some fixed principles of transportation in school decades ago and have never bothered to reconsider them. Joseph Dumas, a professor at the University of Tennessee, argued a few years ago that “the primary purpose of roads is to move traffic efficiently and safely, not to encourage or discourage business or rebuild parts of town . . . . Streets are tools for traffic engineering.”
Jumpin Jeezus on a Dinosaur that is so precious I wanna hold it and pet it and caress it, like a new puppy to my Lenny.

Now, once again, I'll let a far more intelligent person describe the fundamental function of transportation systems:
"The purpose of transportation is to bring people and goods to places where they are needed, and to concentrate the greatest variety of goods and people within that limited area, in order to widen the possibility of choice without making it necessary to travel. A good transportation system minimizes unnecessary transportation; and in any event, it offers change of speed and mode to fit a diversity of human purposes."
His point is that distance becomes a barrier economically and behaviorally, carving off efficiency through distance and excessive infrastructure that becomes a negative (or positive depending on how you look at it) and self-perpetuating feedback loop. What dipshit technocrats as above fail to see is the interconnected nature of things, particularly in the workings of cities and that a city's ability to function is fundamentally driven (haha, pun) by its transportation. Microeconomics require walkability, which begets diversity, which begets talent, livability, and a more robust economy.

Lastly, I'll leave it with Dr. John Gilderbloom of Louisville, KY who has done excellent work in the area of studying the broad effects of one-way streets vs. two-way who has shown a significan drop in business and revenue as streets go from two-way to one-way, up to 20%, which often erases the margins for which the local business operates. It makes intuitive sense, two-way streets create predictability. With one-ways do you locate on the going home street or the morning go to work street? With two-ways there is both.
Why is planning aimed at enhancing suburbs but hurts downtown neighborhoods? You cannot find three and four lane one way streets in suburbia, as it decreases housing appreciation and quality of life..
This is one of the fundamental issues of retail in a broader sense. We have spread so thinly that retail has equally spread thinly across the landscape with too many businesses and stores operating in too many areas. Retail needs synergy, it needs predictability, it needs diversity, it needs integration with the urban fabric. It needs less shops doing more business. Malls were an attempt to create all of this in a "driven" built environment. We're seeing now the failure was inherent in the simulacrum that are malls and the inefficiency in the local economies that distance and driving instills.