Sunday, October 18, 2015

One way or two? (II)

My recent blog post commending Cedar Rapids's conversion of one-way streets to two-way raised some eyebrows when I noted that not all cyclists agreed that the conversion improves cycling. It occurred to me that not all one-way streets in our fair land are the same, and that so the image that comes up in your mind when I say "one-way street" might not be the same as the one in mine.

This is Jackson Boulevard, an eastbound, two-lane, one-way in downtown Chicago. The average daily traffic count between Kennedy Expy and Michigan Av ranges from 10,100-14,300. Cycling on this street at almost any time of day is going to be fraught with fast- or at least suddenly-moving auto traffic. Creating some friction by converting to two-way would surely improve bicycle and pedestrian safety.

This is 2nd Avenue SE, a three-lane one-way through the Wellington Heights neighborhood headed towards downtown. It is scheduled to be converted to two-way in the near future. The average daily count through this stretch in 2009 was 2,710. Subsequent to that, the street was blocked at 12th Street to accommodate the Physicians Clinic of Iowa facility, and traffic has probably declined; in any case the most recent traffic map does not include a count for 2nd Ave.

It also happens to be the route I take to work. While cars typically exceed the 30 mph posted speed limit, there's enough room on the street that I can take the right lane and cars can take the left and center. Even in "rush hour," there never is enough traffic to complicate this arrangement. I never feel like I'm on Jackson Boulevard.

The right-turn-only lane at 13th Street, where I don't turn right, does get complicated, but that's a subject for another post.

4th Avenue SE has already been converted to two-way. (See before-and-after pictures in my previous post.) Whatever its traffic load, it's apparently not significant enough to merit inclusion in the posted counts. 4th Ave used to be a two-lane, one-way headed towards downtown, and again, traffic was rarely so intense that cars couldn't easily get around a cyclist in the right lane.

Below 8th Street there are two car lanes and two bicycle lanes each way, so bicyclists get the advantages of both friction-slowed auto traffic and dedicated cycle lanes. Above 8th Street, though, 4th Ave makes room for a center turn lane by ditching the bike lanes and making do with sharrows. This arrangement is begging for awkward car-cycle encounters. There haven't been many yet--even at 7:30 a.m. I often have no cars with which to compete for road space--as downtown and MedQuarter development proceeds apace, we should expect considerable increase in auto and bike traffic.

All this is not to abandon my earlier praise for the conversion project. Particularly for residential areas like Wellington Heights, the three-lane one-ways are counterproductive to the neighborhood. But we should bear in mind, as one of the commenters on the Strong Towns site notes, "sharrows are not going to make cycling accessible for [ages] 8-80 if there's any volume or speed to the [auto] traffic."


Paul Fritz, "Main Street Vacancies," Small Town Urbanism, 29 September 2015, [one-way streets partly responsible for downtown decline in Sebastopol, California]

Sarah Goodyear, "Can the Least-Loved Biking Infrastructure Be Improved?" CityLab, 23 October 2015, [painted sharrows in Oakland, California, improved performance and approval... but note it was a two-lane one-way street that they worked on]

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