One-way Streets: the Case for Walkability

One-way streets are more conducive to vehicular traffic than they are to other modes of transportation, directly limiting how walk-, bike-, and transit-friendly the roadway is. By neglecting to accommodate for other modes of transportation in their design, one-way streets sacrifice safety and livability for automobile efficiency, directly impacting the community surrounding the roadway.

Communities of any size can take a look at their old one-way street networks and decide if these meet the needs of today. Promoting walkability and safety, especially in retail and commercial corridors, can be a stepping stone towards rejuvenating historic downtowns and increasing property values in disinvested areas.

One-way streets became a popular strategy to increase trip capacity within cities after World War II. During that period of history, cities were drastically redesigned to accommodate for the movement of goods and people in cars. The need for speed and efficiency in automobile transportation became the number one goal for traffic engineers and city planners across the country. In areas where manufacturing operations employed hundreds, requiring hefty shift changes during the day, one-way streets became a common sense solution to move the greatest amount of people from city centers to the newly forming suburbs quickly and efficiently.

The benefits that one-way streets provide traffic, like limited stops down the roadway, no delays for left turns, and increased posted speeds, come at the expense of pedestrian safety. Additionally, some studies find that because there is no cross-traffic flow on one-way streets, drivers are less alert on one-way streets. In addition to improving safety concerns, some city planners and traffic engineers are looking at one-way street conversions as a method to regenerate street life.

A 2012 study conducted by a Penn State University professor of civil engineering, found that one-way streets might not hold the advantage of efficiency that practitioners thought they did. The study concludes that the trip-serving capacity of a one-way network can actually be increased when it is converted to two-way operation, if left turns are banned. In this way, livability and efficiency objectives can be achieved simultaneously.

In 2011, the City of Louisville took streets which were converted to one-way traffic after 1945, and converted them back to two-way flow. A pair of planning scholars compared the two converted streets to nearby, parallel streets which remained one-way, and found that the converted streets experienced fewer collisions, less crime, and higher property values. Years later, the same planners compared one- and two-way streets in 22 Louisville neighborhoods and found further support for their original claim that two-way conversions can promote mobility, safety, and livability.

While conversions of one-way streets do not cause any economic or social change on their own, they can and do lead to more walkable neighborhoods that are safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and residents.