Pedestrian zones and bike lanes, increased access to green space, investing in sustainable infrastructure — all may lead to a more enlightened metropolis. But according to a study by two academics, one of the easiest, cheapest route to improving a city may be re-routing, specifically, eliminating one-way streets. John Gilderbloom and William Riggs' paper Love is a Two-Way Street suggests that, while it may not seem like such a dramatic change, altering traffic patterns can make a massive impact, reinforcing their notion that "streets are the lifeblood of cities." Their research shows the shift cuts the risk of collision or injury in half.
In many cases, one-way streets were a legacy from when cars were being introduced to American cities. Auto companies aggressively pushed this type of layout, according to Gilderbloom, to make the urban landscape more accommodating to faster cars as opposed to slower pedestrians, making it quicker to get from one point to another. But speed can kill residential neighborhoods by discouraging foot traffic. One-way roads also tend to support a disproportionate amount of crime. Without as much pedestrian traffic, criminals feel less exposed, and multi-lane one-way roads make it easier to spot oncoming police and for passersby to simply drive around, avoid and ignore troublesome behavior.
"Traffic engineers have criticized our work," according to Gilderbloom. "But empirically, we found people liked going on the slower streets because it's more interesting. Traffic volume increased on two-way streets, even as they became slower."
The researchers built upon a smaller study of a few select streets in Louisville, which they wrote about at Planetizen last summer, and conducted a large-scale study spanning hundreds of streets across the entire city. Their peer-reviewed research, which they just presented at the Urban Affairs Conference in Miami last Friday and plan to publish in the Journal of Planning, Education and Research, reached the same conclusions. It's not a cure-all, but it can make a big difference.
In addition to the aforementioned safety benefits, property values where higher for buildings located on two-way streets, and businesses reaped greater revenue and increased customer traffic. All told, the study determined that Louisville shells out roughly $1 million each year each year in additional police, fire, and ambulance costs due to the issues and inefficiencies caused by one-way streets. At a time when city planners continue to refine our urban landscape and search for solutions to improve livability, a back-to-basics approach shouldn't be dismissed.
"Researcher out a lot of emphasis on race and income," says Gilderbloom, "and don't always look at other things that affect neighborhoods, such as numbers of trees and community gardens and street layout."