One-way vs. two-way streets

The citizens of Richmond, Va., last year had a vigorous discussion about converting downtown one-way streets into two-way streets.

The Urban Richmond blog took some time to break down some of the arguments for and against such a conversion. The arguments are nowhere near cut-and-dried either way.

The blog divides up the arguments like this:

Reasons for converting to 2-way streets:

  • Slower traffic speeds.
  • Decrease “Vehicle Miles Traveled” by eliminating indirect routes (driving around the block to get to your destination).
  • Increased access to businesses.
  • Possibly: safer for pedestrians.

Reasons for maintaining 1-way streets:

  • Conversion is very costly.
  • 1-way streets allow for more cars, thereby decreasing congestion.
  • Easier than 2-way streets to time stoplights (timed lights improve traffic flow and decrease idling (& therefore pollution)).
  • Fewer turn prohibitions.
  • More on-street parking.
  • Possibly: safer for pedestrians.

The author of the blog lamented that so much of the information for or against conversion to two-way streets was highly partisan. But he did link to some studies he thought were more balanced:

Downtown Streets: Are We Strangling Ourselves on One-Way Networks?

Published by the Transportation Research Board, the article … argues that 1-way street networks provide many more possible types of street intersections. … 1-way street networks increase the variety and kind of conflict points creating more confusion for pedestrians and motorists.


This article says, “The additional turning movements for a one-way street network increase the occurrences of vehicular-pedestrian conflicts at any given intersection, and also result in a system-wide increase in vehicle mile of travel (VMT) as compared to a two-way street network.” In other words, you have to turn more on a 1-way street network, and therefore have more chances of running over people.

No Two Ways About It: One-Way Streets are better than Two-Way.”

The most convincing evidence produced in this paper by The Center for the American Dream of Mobility and Homeownership is that pedestrians were hit more frequently after streets were converted to 2-way in several downtowns in the U.S.

Urban Richmond would like to see more empirical data for the conversion of one-way streets to two-way, and so would I. Are there any more studies that any can point out that can help a citizen think rationally about the topic of pedestrian safety? And what do you think?

— Photo by z6p6tist6 on Flickr