|Remember when the Google Car hit another car after driving the wrong way down a one-way street?|
At a dinner I attended recently I sat next to a number of people who lived outside of Little Rock. They didn't understand why those of us who lived in the city were fighting against the freeway expansion. They felt like any chance to increase their opportunity to get through the city was a good thing. They found Little Rock confounding, particularly downtown with its confusing and illogical pattern of traffic. They weren't wrong about the latter.
If we want to make our city, the capital city, or any other commercial district a more inviting city for locals and visitors alike, we have to make it a more logical place to maneuver; a smart city. The grid is the most logical form of city building. It's the way cities were built for millenia until we decided not to build them that way in the last fifty plus years. There are myriad complex reasons for the way city cities have developed have changed. The Interstate Highway Act plays no small part but I'll spare you a deep dive in urban studies.
Beyond being an illogical place to maneuver, one-way streets can have a deleterious economic impact. Don't believe me? Check out the work of the Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods at the University of Louisville. They have been conducting some serious academic research on this issue.
A key strategy to renewing downtown historic neighborhoods is converting one-way to two-way streets. Oppressive four-lane downtown one-way streets help kill neighborhoods and small businesses. We need to convert these one-way ghetto makers into two-way streets with parking, trees, and bike lanes to calm traffic and make neighborhoods more livable for families, young urban pioneers, and the elderly, who want to live closer to medical care downtown.
One-way streets pose many threats for pedestrian and motorist safety, make city streets seem less safe, disproportionately impact poor and minority neighborhoods, hurt downtown businesses, reduce the property values of homes, and negatively impact the environment and contribute to global warming. Conversions to two-way have already happened in more than 100 cities around the United States.
These one-way streets also constitute a kind of “environmental racism,” where speeding motorists on one-way streets increase the levels of exhaust, noise, and pollution. One-way streets are predominantly located in older downtown neighborhoods in minority, poor and working-class neighborhoods. Engineers claim that "one-way” is the best way because it moves traffic quicker, but they don’t understand the sociological, ecological and economic impacts of a one-way street.
Further, two-way streets were found to slow traffic which resulted in fewer & less dangerous accidents. Perhaps most importantly they found crime dropped, property values rose and pedestrian traffic increased. Take a look at this property value analysis on a street in Louisville that was part one-way & part two-way
Aren't these all things we want not just for the capital city but all cities & commercial cores? It's not good public policy to place speed over multiple layers of community improvement.
There was a good effort in downtown Little Rock to address this issue in 2009. There have been some changes in downtown Little Rock's traffic pattern since then. We all remember some of the, ah, feedback from some officials.
Given all the discussion around the I-30 Crossing & all the good things happening downtown Little Rock, it's time once again to work on the illogical traffic patterns.
Finally, we can't let Kentucky beat us, can we? I mean, come on? This isn't basketball.
See more of the good work in Louisville here (PDF).