“Soured economy” offers another reason to rethink one-way streets

1148711700_df81593cb6.jpgThe front page of the Exchange section in today’s Savannah Morning News offered a grim assessment of the local economy, which probably won’t surprise many people. The headline: “A soured economy comes home to roost in 2008.” While the nation’s largest industries and colossal financial institutions are angling for government assistance, Mary Carr Mayle and Lauren Nardella’s article reminds us that “small businesses aren’t getting any bailouts” and that they will need to “get creative in order to survive.”

But there is something the local government could do to help some local businesses. Bill Dawers touched on it in his Dec. 9 “City Talk” column “Whitaker shops thrive.” He claims the “great shopping experience” available at stores in the “Downtown Design District” was likely lost on locals “who have never been in any of them.” Why? Dawers explains:

“… it’s hard to window shop when you’re driving 40 mph through the heart of an otherwise quiet neighborhood. The Downtown Design District is just one of many areas where traffic patterns have been created to save a few seconds for commuters but produce huge inconveniences for businesses, residents and pedestrians.”

I lived near the corner of Jones and Whitaker streets in the late 1990s, just a stone’s throw from the “Downtown Design District.” Then — just as it does today — Whitaker Street acted as a raceway that motorists used to make a quick escape to the Southside. Several years later I lived on the corner of Price and Gaston streets, which was even worse. The place was impossible to keep clean. Cars, buses and trucks flying down Price Street forced wave after wave of dust into the apartment.

I’m told Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson doesn’t have any interest in converting one-way streets to two-way, but perhaps a weakening economy could provide a new argument. Of course, the economic damage done by one-way streets is only one reason for doing away with them. In their paper “How One-Way Thinking is Hurting Historic Downtown Neighborhoods,” Matt Hanka John Gilderbloom of the Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods at the University of Louisville offer a strong indictment of streets designed for cars, not people.

“… 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…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.”

Hanka and Gilderbloom also suggest that one-way streets increase crime, decrease residential property values and generally degrade livability. What’s more, they suggest converting one-way streets to two-way will actually pay for itself as the cost “would easily be recaptured in increased taxes on homes and business growth.”

Photo by Russ Morris via Flickr.

This entry was posted in Crime, Economics, Government, Neighborhoods, Planning, Public Space, Transportation on by .

About John Bennett

Transportation, land use, local farming and green building are all potential topics for Sustainable Savannah. The goal is to aggregate content about local events and projects, so there will be a central place to review everything that’s happening. The site is aimed at encouraging collaboration and information sharing between groups and individuals currently engaged in sustainability efforts. The site can also provide a snapshot of Savannah for green-minded people who are considering visiting or moving to the area.

6 thoughts on ““Soured economy” offers another reason to rethink one-way streets

  1. John McMasters

    You could achieve the two way street goal through petition. You have the constitutional right/power to pursue this. Start one, I’ll sign it so will my wife and all our friends.

  2. pcl

    The idea that the direction of auto traffic flow on the street creates creates ghettos, are less livable, and “constitute a kind of ‘environmental racism,'” is laughable. One-way streets can provide trees, attractive streetscape, on-street parking, bike lanes, bus stops, and all the other things that makes streets multimodal and livable. Livable streets aren’t exclusive to one-way traffic. Streets with 3 or more lanes in each direction with no parking, wide lanes, and an absence of any character contribute to being less livable… not one-way or two-way traffic flow. I know arguments can be made about the impact of one-way vs. two-way circulation patterns for vehicles related to visibility and relative success for businesses, but it would seem to me that business that rely on visibility from auto driving customers are generally auto-centric and wouldn’t benefit from locations where the streets are considered more livable and cater equally to all modes. I would be interested in seeing an economic study that looks at business performance before and after the conversion of a street’s directional flow… maybe there’s one out there already? I would guess that improved streetscape, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and other amenities would contribute to improved business performance, but I’m skeptical on one-way streets in and of themselves negatively impacting business as popular belief suggests.

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