Fearing an auto apocalypse on two-way streets? Why not have a drink, pop a Valium, and relax.

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I asked Jeff Speck the hottest question in town.

Roger: Has there ever been credible evidence documenting a tsunami of crashes and deaths in the wake of a two-way street changeover?


Speck: The only studies I have seen document improved safety from 2-way.

Waiter, I’ll have a Caesar Salad with the grilled crow, and a side of humble pie. No, not for me. Take them over to that sad looking man in the corner booth with the bicentennial book.

The magic number is 2,228 … days since Bob Caesar vowed to protect Pearl Street against the damned pergessives.

Speck’s noteworthy New Albany Downtown Street Network Proposal was submitted to the city of in December, 2014. Following is a passage from the study briefly rebutting some of the claims I’ve been forced to endure ad nauseam on social media these past few days.

As a side note, it’s interesting to contemplate that while Speck’s study deals at length with tolling pass-throughs, the level of ORBP refugees hasn’t been as high as most of us imagined. There was a palpable increase, just not an epic one.

At first during the run-up, City Hall used the predicted tolling dynamic as a cover argument in favor of the street grid changes, but then implementation was delayed until after tolling began, suggesting that even as thick-headed a luminary as Jeff Gahan saw at least some merit in the many ancillary benefits of two-way streets beyond deterring toll dodgers.

If so, that’s a rare check in the mayor’s favor. He simply wouldn’t be undertaking this reversion if he thought there were more votes to be lost than gained.

Now, to Speck.

Potential Outcomes

To be intelligent, this political discussion must be informed by two other discussions. The first concerns urban vitality, while the second concerns relative impacts.

Urban Vitality

Few people will argue that, in the heart of a city, the desires of commuters just passing through should trump the safety of pedestrians and the success of businesses. 

However, there are many people who reasonably fear that slowing down traffic might create such congestion that the city fails to function properly, and that all residents and businesses will suffer as a result. While this fear is reasonable, it is not based in fact. 

The experience of many dozens of cities all across America has been consistent: there is not a single record in the extensive annals of urban planning of a city’s vitality suffering in any way from a one-way to two-way conversion. To the contrary: there are many reports of business success and a rebirth of street life, but never has the additional traffic friction presented by two-way streets caused a city to perform less well socially or economically.

Relative Impacts

For the above reasons, this discussion becomes a simple argument between those who want to get through the downtown as quickly as possible, and those who want a downtown worth arriving at. While only those who prioritize speed over vitality can argue for the former, it is worth considering what the true speed impacts are likely to be.

Here we must revisit our earlier discussion about the Proper Number of Lanes. As noted, unless the planned tolling regime for Ohio River bridges is changed, New Albany can expect to have a considerable increase in traffic downtown. That traffic will fill the space allotted, and behave according to the cues that it receives from its environment.

If this traffic continues to be funneled down multi-lane one-way streets, drivers will continue to think of downtown New Albany as a highway, and use it as such. More drivers will be drawn to these downtown streets. They will not think about stopping to shop or eat, and their principal impacts to downtown will be more pollution and increased danger to pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers. 

If instead, downtown is reverted back to its original two-way grid, a few things will happen differently. 

First, a less expedited path through downtown will cause fewer drivers to take the New Albany detour. 

Second, the distribution of these drivers among two-way streets, with fewer opportunities for lane-jockeying, will result in a safer environment for all. 

And, finally, the more comforting “main street” experience offered to these drivers, and the time spent lingering at intersections, will make them more likely to shop or dine. Experiencing New Albany as a place, and not just a conduit, they will be more inclined to spend a little time and money there.

These past few days have been wearying, indeed — but what about Harvest Homecoming?

Yawn.

What about it?

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