Two-way streets in Vancouver WA, Part 2: “One-way streets should not be allowed in prime downtown retail areas. We’ve proven that.”

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A portion of Ehrenhalt’s essay below is repeated by Jeff Speck in his book, “Walkable City.” Again and again, one observes from real-world experience throughout the nation that returning streets to two-way traffic is, in fact, an economic development tool.

Wouldn’t it be nice if City Hall deigned to reinforce this point?

In New Albany’s case, two-way streets also stand to be important in a way quite specific to our city as it pertains to geography; as Bluegill put it yesterday:

No doubt tolls will have a negative traffic impact on NA. But that’s another reason reclaiming our streets is important: to make our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods less attractive as a cut-through and more attractive as a destination.

In every such discussion, there tends to be a “big lie,” and the one being told most often as we debate (why?) two-way street conversions goes something like this: “If we restrict the speed with which outsiders race through our city, they’ll be less inclined to come here.”

Precisely, although it isn’t the lie’s gist. Hopefully, slower streets will deter them from cutting through. HELL, THEY AREN’T STOPPING ANYWAY. At some point, we must finally feel confident in ourselves and shake off the Caesaresque civic inferiority complex that so often defines us. If we are a destination worth visiting, they’ll visit.

Can we please not botch this opportunity?

Highlights below are mine.

The Return of the Two-Way Street; Why the double-yellow stripe is making a comeback in downtowns, by Alan Ehrenhalt (Governing)

Over the past couple of decades, Vancouver, Washington, has spent millions of dollars trying to revitalize its downtown, and especially the area around Main Street that used to be the primary commercial center. Just how much the city has spent isn’t easy to determine. But it’s been an ambitious program. Vancouver has totally refurbished a downtown park, subsidized condos and apartment buildings overlooking it and built a new downtown Hilton hotel.

Some of these investments have been successful, but they did next to nothing for Main Street itself. Through most of this decade, the street remained about as dreary as ever. Then, a year ago, the city council tried a new strategy. Rather than wait for the $14 million more in state and federal money it was planning to spend on projects on and around Main Street, it opted for something much simpler. It painted yellow lines in the middle of the road, took down some signs and put up others, and installed some new traffic lights. In other words, it took a one-way street and opened it up to two-way traffic.

The merchants on Main Street had high hopes for this change. But none of them were prepared for what actually happened following the changeover on November 16, 2008. In the midst of a severe recession, Main Street in Vancouver seemed to come back to life almost overnight.

Within a few weeks, the entire business community was celebrating. “We have twice as many people going by as they did before,” one of the employees at an antique store told a local reporter. The chairman of the Vancouver Downtown Association, Lee Coulthard, sounded more excited than almost anyone else. “It’s like, wow,” he exclaimed, “why did it take us so long to figure this out?”

A year later, the success of the project is even more apparent. Twice as many cars drive down Main Street every day, without traffic jams or serious congestion. The merchants are still happy. “One-way streets should not be allowed in prime downtown retail areas,” says Rebecca Ocken, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association. “We’ve proven that.”

The debate over one-way versus two-way streets has been going on for more than half a century now in American cities, and it is far from resolved even yet. But the evidence seems to suggest that the two-way side is winning. A growing number of cities, including big ones such as Minneapolis, Louisville and Oklahoma City, have converted the traffic flow of major streets to two-way or laid out plans to do so. There has been virtually no movement in the other direction …

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