Last month, I wrote about the benefits of converting one-way streets into two-ways, noting how this switch could help with the revitalization of Downtown Stockton. Making this relatively simple change creates a safer environment for pedestrians while increasing visibility for businesses along these streets, providing an economic boost. As noted in my article, one-ways were originally designed for the sole purpose of ushering commuters into and out of downtown as quickly as possible, which remains the only justification for not converting roads back to two-way. However, new evidence suggests that even this reasoning may not be sound.
Recent Penn State University research examined the hypothesis that while one-way streets increase vehicle flows, they are less effective at increasing trip-serving capacity due to the extra time spent navigating. As Vikash Gayah, the study’s author, describes it, “A one-way network may prevent drivers from approaching their destination from the most logical direction.” Anyone who has missed a turn while driving downtown understands the frustration in traveling an extra block or two before having the opportunity to turn back around. Gayah posited that these extra minutes spent circling one-way streets negates time saved from improved vehicle flow. Not surprisingly, the study’s conclusions confirmed his theory.
The analysis found that in many cases, two way streets performed just as well, and sometimes better, than one-ways at reducing travel times, particularly on shorter trips (The Atlantic Cities has a chart illustrating the results.) As trips become longer, one-ways eventually become more efficient, but for short distances, two-way streets will always get drivers to their destinations faster. The evidence presented in this study suggests that one-way streets are the least-efficient option for traffic in smaller downtowns. This is important for Stockton because our downtown is relatively small, meaning most trips in the area are not very far.
With this new information, it is hard to justify keeping one-way streets. Not only do two-way streets provide more inviting environments for pedestrians while stimulating local businesses, they can help simplify traffic and shorten car rides.