That was about all I could come up with when I first read the Times-Dispatch article, "New Richmond plan includes two-way traffic", this morning about the new master plan for downtown Richmond.  Notice that it wasn’t "WOW!".  It’s really more of a "what the hell are they thinking?!".

Really?  No one-way streets?  Sure, the one-ways can be a little bit of a pain in the ass sometimes, but they really aren’t that big of a deal.  It certainly isn’t confusing downtown.  I can’t imagine some of the streets that are one-way and very heavily used turning into two-way streets.

My main concern is that heavily travelled streets that right now see a little bit of congestion (ever been on Main Street around 5pm on a weekday?) are going to be bottle-necked if they have to give up half of the travel lane in a particular direction.

I like some of the other ideas they came up with, such as making the streets friendlier to pedestrians than they are to auto traffic.

The conversion of the one-way streets is first on the agenda, according to the Mayor.  I would like to hear your opinions on the one-way streets.  Are they really that big of a concern?  Is getting around downtown Richmond really that confusing?  (And if it is, then I must be some kind of super-genius when it comes to directional sense — and anyone who knows me should be able to dispel that idea.)

22 Thoughts on “Ending One-Way Streets in Richmond?”

  • The elimination of one-way streets is rooted in several factors. Richmond’s one-way streets (about 65% of downtown streets) increase “vehicle miles traveled” by 23% which is a traffic flow and environmental issue. One-way streets increase vehicle speed (I forget the MPH they discussed) — and vehicle speed is the #1 factor between pedestrian injuries and pedestrian deaths (5% fatality rate at 30 MPH when a car hits a person; 80% fatality rate at 50 MPH). At any rate, the planners discussed a series of other factors — it wasn’t a “wouldn’t it be nice” perspective, but a “in order for downtown to function like a downtown” perspective with an emphasis on creating a pedestrian-friendly urban environment (coupled with a need to populate downtown with pedestrians).

  • For a quick second I thought your post was satire. Downtown is *confusing.*
    My wife works in the West End and asked the people in her office what is the number one reason they don’t come downtown. The majority said that the one way streets were confusing and they got lost often.

  • One-way vs Two-Way Streets
    Contrary to some planners beliefs, one way streets are safer for everybody. Yes some folks have to go around a block, but in the end it is safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorist to live and operate on a one way street pattern.
    One-way streets can have great speed control as signals can be timed to only allow for a group of cars to travel at a particular speed. Right now downtown has a progression of about 31MPH. It needs to be about 25-26MPH and it can be done quickly and easily.
    Two-way streets are expensive to change out and offer little benefit. After spending about $200k per intersection to change out all the signal equipment, you are left with a 3rd Street with no parking or a Hull Street with no left turns. I don’t buy for a second that traffic flow will improve one bit or be any safer in a two way scenario. However, there are those punks that want to spend our money on a boondoggle. (just think about the next 6th street market place only bigger, remember 150 signalized intersections downtown at $200k+…yikes!)
    Look I used to time signals downtown and I know first hand that a bi-directional progression in two way streets are much harder to control speeds. Ask yourself how hard is it to speed on any two way? If you want a congested downtown with alot of left turn prohibitions and/or parking removed… support it…
    I’ll stop here to pause and reflect and allow all opponents of the current one way pattern to step… you’d better bring your stuff… seriously, if you have a question about this important topic, I would happily explain more about the one-way vs two-way question as a professional engineer.
    Traffic safety is very important. We don’t need any more head on crashes or pedestrian crashes downtown or anywhere in the region. One-way streets eliminate conflict points and reduce congestion. It allows for more on street parking. It allows time and creates more gaps for the pedestrian to get safely across the street… The Romans used one-way streets. NYC uses one way streets. When in Richmond, do as Richmonders do and learn the street pattern.

  • John: I’m all in favor of a more pedestrian-friendly downtown. That’s one of the biggest drawbacks when I take clients downtown is the lack of foot traffic in certain areas. If the data points towards eliminating the one-way streets, then that’s tough to argue as a layperson (me).
    However, Bear seems to be more well-versed with the engineering aspects. From what he’s saying, this initiative would have exactly the opposite outcome from the desired effects.
    Bear: Great point about the left hand turns and the squeeze this would put on the already scarce parking.

  • People (read planner types) have created a false link between two way streets equaling slower traffic and pedestrian friendly… You see what people crave, desire, want are…. *drumroll* streets with slower traffic and that are pedestrian friendly… They are lead to believe that this means if you convert your streets to two way, drivers behave and pedestrians sprout golden wings and are happy…
    Not true…
    My friends I can give you slower speeds and make the downtown even more pedestrian friendly in the existing one way pattern. By building more intersections like 5th & Grace with curb “bulb-outs” to minimize the crossing distance and by adjusting the “signal timing offset” from 31MPH (current) to 25MPH, one can have a better built environment. “Signal timing offsets” set the “progression speed” between intersections. In other words, a calculation is done between intersections to figure out when the signal should turn from red to green. A “bandwidth” of “green time” is provided so that you can travel through at least a few intersections without stopping as long as you maintain your speed and it isn’t too congested. Your friends will marvel at your new found knowledge, now go use it…
    What people (mostly tourists) also want are fewer left turn restrictions around town… with a few funds, this can also happen pretty cheap and also within the existing one way pattern… There are trade offs… pedestrian safety goes down when left turns are allowed on wide streets such as Broad Street. One is able to judge the three lanes of oncoming traffic; however, the loser is the pedestrian crossing the street. In addition, if a left turn is made from a through lane, rearend collisions can go up, particular during peak travel times. It is all really a delicate balancing act. Sometimes what can seem too restrictive is done for local through traffic and safety reasons, those that may not be readily apparent to the ace driver.
    Time to pause and reflect…

  • Ross: That’s just a matter of familiarity. I get confused out in the suburbs sometimes, but that’s not because it’s confusing out there.
    On the same note, the reason I hear from people about why they don’t go downtown are two-fold: meals tax & crime.

  • If you want your downtown to be a destination as opposed to a drag strip… then one ways are not a good option. It is time our nations downtowns start taking the focus off moving automobiles as quickly as possible from point A to B to creating a walkable realm for all to enjoy.

  • ML: So downtown isn’t walkable today with a one-way pattern? Go to 14th & Franklin where two two-way streets come together and report how safe you feel crossing the street… Then go to 9th & Main where two one-way streets come together and as a pedestrian tell me which do you prefer?
    Yes one-ways in the past (1950-1999) were designed to move traffic in downtwon Richmond.
    When I retimed the signals in 1999 I made darn sure that pedestrians could cross the street with every cycle of the light.
    Two ways have more conflict points and a pedestrian’s head has to be on a swivel (go to 14th & Franklin and see) One ways allow for more gaps for pedestrians to cross and it allows the motorist to focus on pedestrians instead of looking for gaps in oncoming traffic…
    Tell which two way model you want… 3rd Street in front of the convention center with no on street parking or Hull Street near Manchester courthouse which retains the onstreet parking, but prohibits left turns….
    Have fun!

  • Thanks for all of the great input, Bear!
    Watch for a story on this on the 5:30pm news today on CBS. Sandra Jones from CBS just stopped by the office for an interview with yours truly. Wish I had dressed up a little bit more when I came in this morning!

  • Ending One-Way Streets: The Interview

    My post this morning apparently drew some attention from the local media. Okay, okay, it was probably more the story about the City’s new draft of the master plan for downtown that drew the attention of the local media. BUT

  • In 1981 a busy group of Fan District real estate speculators and merchants in the VCU area got what they were sure was a bright idea. They wanted to change a portion of W. Grace Street — Belvidere to the Blvd. — from being a one-way street to two-way. They held meetings. Their plan was presented and discussed.
    At the time I managed the Biograph Theatre at 814 W. Grace, so I attended those meetings. The majority of the merchants became convinced it was a good idea. I was not so sure. It wasn’t that I knew any more about it than anyone else, I simply didn’t believe those for the change really knew what they were talking about.
    A while after the change was made, maybe a year, the guy among the merchants group who led the push told me the change had been a big mistake, and it had caused all sorts of problems he hadn’t anticipated. He said it had hurt his business.
    So, I did a little informal survey of other merchants in the neighborhood. As I remember it, none of them still supported the change.
    Maybe people feel differently about it now. But 25 years ago, if they could have, most of the merchants in the 800 and 900 blocks of W. Grace would have undone the one-way to two-way change.

  • F.T.: Thanks for the history lesson on a very practical application of the issue at hand.
    “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” — That’s the quote, isn’t it?

  • You cite the heavy traffic on existing one way-streets as a reason not to change those streets to two-way. But guess what? Main Street goes one-way to the west, and one block over, Cary Street goes one way to the east. So if they BOTH become two-way streets, you will have the same amount of lanes available for the same traffic.
    If that’s your main concern, it is a pointless one.

  • Here is another perspective from a national viewpoint…
    Here is video of Richmond Fire responding to a call… Notice the difference in emergency response between the one way section and where the response completely stopped on the two way…. Also notice how they have to straddle the double yellow and travel against traffic. Now imagine downtown traffic with a building burning or responding to the new crashes created by the two way…
    This whole one-way vs two-way is a red herring argument advanced by VentureRichmond as the next savior of downtown….

  • Tim: Read the national perspective… Better yet, here is a snippet…
    First, one-way streets with the same number of lanes as two-way streets can move 20 to 50 percent more cars because of fewer turn delays. According to one estimate, seven lanes of a two-way street are needed to
    move as many vehicles as four lanes on a one-way grid
    because people turning left or right impose fewer delays
    on people behind them.
    Second, traffic signals on a one-way grid can easily be coordinated so drivers can proceed at a continuous speed without stopping frequently for red lights. Third, as engineers would prove over and over again, one-way streets were safer for both auto users and pedestrians.
    Finally, something that became important only after
    1970, since traffic moved more smoothly, one-way streets produced less air pollution than two-way streets; frequent stops and starts are a major source of pollution.

  • To add to FT…
    Grace Street’s crashes went up 30% when it was converted to two way looking at a three years before and after study.
    In addition, today, when you compare pedestrians injured on Franklin Street to Grace Street, Grace Street has many more pedestrians hit than Franklin in the section between Belvidere and Lombardy.
    The only difference between the two sections? Grace is two-way, Franklin is one-way.
    The tone of all the master planners this past week was if only we make it more difficult and confusing for the driver than everything will work perfectly. I’m here to say no and it is flat wrong. The pedestrian will lose in all of this and as a traffic engineer, I cannot support hurting those that walk in our downtown. Everyone is a pedestrian at some point and they are our most vulnerable users of downtown, our transportation eggs… The yolk, unfortunately, is on these planners that don’t measure things like engineers do. They are more fad oriented. Two-way is a bad fad.

  • Bear, you should have gone over to the open design meetings and discussed these things with Mike Hall. He was the traffic engineer brought in by Dover Kohl to be a part of the charrette. It was an open process involving lots of public interaction if you wanted to interact. Complaining about it and arguing against the decisions after the fact is much less helpful.

  • Daniel: It’s Rick Hall and I spent alot of time with him. He was backed into a corner by the planners and VR. He softened his stance as much as he could once he understood the implications of what he was recommending in Richmond. He saw what it would mean to on street parking and to safety. He even said that you can accomplish slower speeds and increase walkability in a one way street network. This two way is a hocus pocus and it will waste your money buddy.
    I’m not complaining. I’m merely speaking up as an expert in my field. If only more Americans would speak up when they knew a piece of the puzzle. And I thought that the charrette was just the beginning of the process… please enlighten me!!
    Look I’m a “new” urbanist just like everyone else. I’ve read countless books, just like the D&K folks that got half a million to come here for the design charrette. From a transportation perspective in Richmond, VA, I could have told any master plan effort what needs to happen for free… For instance, did you know that the signal system for the City of Richmond is pretty old and needs to be replaced? Did you know that there is even a system that coordinated all the traffic signals downtown? Did you know that in Manchester some of the signals are over 50 years old and that they have a life expectancy of 20? Did you know that most of the communication network for the signal system in crumbling conduit that is over 40 years old?
    You see going two-way shifts the focus of the problem away from the real needs. What about making all of the entrance and exit ramps to the freeways and expressways more pedestrian friendly and focusing on the barriers to pedestrians. What about Grace & Harrison or Broad & Harrison or 18th & Main being leaders in pedestrian crashes, all where two two-ways come together. You see the D&K will still get paid and most planners never have to live with the consequences of their the decisions. It is the engineers who have to design, operate, construct, and maintain the city’s infrastructure that gets to live with it. It is the police, fire, and EMS folks that have to deal with the carnage of death and injury from motor vehicle crashes. The planner is long gone, dreaming up the next fad that they don’t have to do the before and after analysis on… let’s see public housing, six street market place, main street station, and the list goes on and on…
    So Daniel, please consider this a continuation of my interaction that began 17 years ago with the City of Richmond.

  • Hey Bear, glad you talked to Rick(my bad) Hall about this. My only beef with one way streets is that it is confusing… but I am getting used to it after being here for 2 years. I’ll leave the rest to exoerts like you and Rick to argue and figure out.
    And I guess this is only the beginning of the process now… though I wish more people with expertise were there to be a part of the charrette. Although I’m sure we could find a group of experts that could eliminate every new idea we had… and could leave us with what we have now.

  • You’re right, Daniel, that more people should have been a part of the charrette (myself included), but open discussion of public policy even after the fact is still helpful to refine those decisions.
    I wonder if there were any polls or statistics on the demographics of the participants? Were they all Richmondders? Were they from particular industries? Where do they work and where do they play? All of this would give a bit more depth to understanding the outcomes of the discussions — and also give us other avenues to explore. (For example, did we have any input from people that currently don’t come downtown but would like to?)

  • Hey,
    I’ve had a business at 1st and Main since December. This location has two one way streets and a stoplight. Since opening at this location I’ve seen 3 pretty serious looking accidents, one of which resulted in a car upside down right in front of my front door.
    From what I’ve seen people are using Main Street like a freeway. I mean they are flying. It’s hardly pedestrian friendly when cars are catapulting through the air!
    I don’t recall the Master Plan charrette presenters as recommending doing away with ALL one way streets. But they did point out very visibly with the downtown map how many one way streets there are, and it just seemed a little like one-way overkill. Certainly some of the one-ways need to stay put, but others could be converted. I am certainly in favor with changing the timing of the lights. Wholeheartedly. But another thing that does seem to calm traffic is narrowing the streets, which would happen with 2 ways. Where streets are two way, how about walk/don’t walk signs? (Saves wear and tear on the neck.)
    Any way, I am no traffic engineer, but whether it is one way to two way, or some other way, something needs to be done SOME way both to slow drivers and make the peds feel safe. So good on the charette for at least getting the conversation rolling.
    Here’s an idea. Eliminate the tolls on Powhite and get the speedsters on the highway ASAP ;-).

  • Jennifer: I haven’t seen anything that definitively says to what extent the plan did away with one-ways, but it sounded like a fairly broad-brush approach from the way it was reported. I would love to hear if anyone knows for sure.

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