Have you ever tried to cross Center Street by foot to get to Weber Point? How about trying to get from City Hall from the east side of El Dorado Street? It’s definitely not easy, with cars bearing down at speeds approaching 40mph. And with so few protected crosswalks, you’re sometimes forced to play Frogger, taking your life into your own hands trying to get from one side of the street to another.
These streets are not an anomaly in Stockton as most of our main arterials are designed to maximize car circulation, inherently making for an unfriendly pedestrian environment. But Center and El Dorado Streets are unique because of their downtown location which should be the most walkable in all of the city. Instead, we have two mega one-way streets severing the core of downtown from the waterfront (ever stinky as it may be).
If we want Downtown Stockton to become truly walkable and inviting, we need to fix these two poorly-designed roads. It’s time to turn Center and El Dorado Streets back into two-way streets and make it easier for pedestrians to connect to the whole of downtown.
Center and El Dorado were not always one-way streets; they were converted decades ago to move cars as fast as possible into and out of downtown. Once people started living in suburbia, downtown streets were turned into one-ways to make it as easy as possible for workers to drive into downtown, park in a garage, and leave ASAP as soon as the day ended. To achieve this, Center was turned into a one way to get people into downtown from newer areas north of Harding Way, and conversely, El Dorado was converted to get people back to their homes going north. Moreover, stop signs and traffic lights were removed as well to keep cars moving. As a result, Center and El Dorado now represent real barriers to connectivity in the greater downtown area. Any other city you go to, the main park and waterfront are the most popular areas, but in Stockton, downtown workers rarely utilize these assets because it’s unofficially blocked off by Center and El Dorado (not to mention a gate around Weber Point, which is a whole other issue). It’s not easy to get from the core of downtown to Weber Point and points beyond when you have to cross a street specifically designed to get cars driving as fast as possible.
Here’s why this is a good idea
By reverting Center and El Dorado back to two-way streets and installing a few more traffic signals and crosswalks, we can create an infinitly more walkable environment, boost adjacent businesses, and actually alleviate traffic congestion, not make it worse.
My implementing these “traffic calming” measures, drivers will naturally slow down because of “friction” caused by cars traveling the opposite direction. When cars are coming at you one lane over, you’re more likely to drive slower. Cars are also less likely to whip around a left or right hand turn if they have to pay attention to oncoming traffic. The installation of traffic signals or stop signs will also be important so that motorists cannot race uninterrupted for several city blocks. For the pedestrian, slower cars and more crosswalks make streets much more inviting.
It’s not just for walkability, either. Local businesses benefit from the increased visibility that comes with two-way traffic. I’ll spare you the data (you can find more info in a previous SCL story), but it has in fact been proven that businesses along two-way corridors fare much better than those on one-way streets. With traffic coming in both directions, your business gets twice the exposure.
As a bonus, reverting Center and El Dorado streets could also be done in conjunction with the installation of a protected class I bike lane in each direction, further enhancing connectivity in downtown (fact: more bike lanes also leads to more economic activity).
Here’s why there is no good argument against this
Turning Center and El Dorado back into two ways would have little to no effect on traffic for a few reasons. To start, most people don’t need to take Center or El Dorado to escape downtown as soon as possible anymore. We have I-5 and Highway 99 for that. And soon, both will be widened, rendering Center and El Dorado even more inefficient for getting to northern or southern parts of the city. Moreover, as someone who drives into and out of downtown every day, I can personally attest to the lack of significant congestion on either Center or El Dorado during morning and evening commutes, providing further (albeit anecdotal) proof that these two streets are not as heavily utilized during rush hour as their sizes suggest.
Second, one-ways can actually increase congestion as drivers who miss a turn frequently must travel an extra block or two to correct their mistake. This is especially true for visitors who are not familiar with downtown’s street patterns, meaning they spend extra time driving around to reach their destination, and less time patronizing local businesses. Because of this confusion, two-way streets actually perform just as good or better than one-way streets as far as time spent in a car.
Reverting one-ways back into two-ways is not a novel concept. Cities across the country are implementing these polices and have seen very positive results. In California, the city of Napa recently reverted some of their downtown streets with wide support from local businesses. Sacramento has converted some of their one way streets as well. Stockton is actually behind the curve when it comes to rethinking how our streets are designed.
People love to talk about downtown revitalization, building housing and attracting businesses, but we also have to foster an inviting street-level environment for any of that to work. Reverting one-ways like Center and El Dorado streets is a straightforward and proven policy in the revitalization of neighborhoods. Community Development Director Steve Chase is on record saying he’d like to see these streets reverted. And with the city’s general plan update progressing with the formation of a Downtown Strategic Plan, now is the right time to talk about revamping the way we think about downtown transportation.