When One-Way Streets Go Bad

MLewyn's picture

In some places (e.g. Midtown Manhattan) one-way streets are relatively harmless.  In others, one-ways turn streets into speedways, threatening pedestrian safety and gutting neighborhood businesses (since someone going 50 mph is going to be less likely to stop for any reason).  How do you tell the difference?

In an area where auto traffic is fairly slow, one-ways are pretty harmless.  In an area with very narrow streets, the one-way doesn't speed up traffic enough to threaten pedestrian safety.  For example, Forest Hills, Queens has a tangle of one-way streets.  But because each street contained two lanes of parking and only one full lane (or perhaps two very narrow ones) for actual traffic, cars still go pretty slowly.

By contrast, in midtown Kansas City there are numerous three-lane one-way streets- and at those streets, cars proceeded at a brisk pace.  As a result, it is very easy for people to speed home to suburbia, and perhaps less tempting for people to stop and shop at city businesses.  So naturally, Kansas City has become a very car-dependent, suburbanized region. 

A common argument for one-way streets is that they increase pedestrian safety because pedestrians don't have to look both ways to cross the street.  However, to cross these one-way streets you still have to watch out for people making left and right turns onto the street; thus, one-way streets can present the same kinds of risks as two-way streets.

My conclusion: if cars go 50 mph on a one-way street, the street probably should be converted into a two-way street, because the costs of such speed outweigh the benefits.



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