Question over safety highlights one-way street debate

There was a collision of ideas over changing three Mitchell streets from one-way traffic to two-way traffic Tuesday night. Mayoral candidate and former city councilman Jerry Toomey debated the issue with Logan Luxury Theatres owner and Mitchell M...

One way
One-way streets in downtown Mitchell could be phased out.

There was a collision of ideas over changing three Mitchell streets from one-way traffic to two-way traffic Tuesday night. Mayoral candidate and former city councilman Jerry Toomey debated the issue with Logan Luxury Theatres owner and Mitchell Main Street & Beyond board member Jeff Logan. The issue will be decided by voters June 5.

Toomey wants the streets to remain one-way, while Logan called for changing them to two-way traffic. The streets are Second, Third and Fourth avenues, which are east-west streets that pass through downtown.

The spirited, 27-minute debate included a dispute about safety. Logan said converting the streets would increase safety, while Toomey disagreed.

Logan said when the streets were changed to one-way traffic in 1950, the city said it did so to ease traffic congestion downtown and ensure safety for children attending schools along those streets.

Since then, Highway 16 has been replaced by Interstate 90 as a primary traffic route, the Highway 37 bypass was added and many businesses relocated away from downtown. Congestion is not an issue now, Logan said.


Two of three schools along those streets have closed and Longfellow Elementary School uses a different street as its primary access point, Logan said.

"So the two original reasons for those one-way streets ceased to exist seven to 44 years ago," he said.

Toomey said the proponents of the change have altered their position. They originally said a main reason for doing it was to boost downtown businesses, but now have switched to safety, he said.

"Safety has now become the diversion in this issue," Toomey said.

He said citizens have grown accustomed to the one-way streets and many would become confused by a change. Toomey said according to city statistics, there were 206 accidents on the three one-way streets during the most recent five-year period from which data is available.

Only eight involved vehicles going the wrong way, he said.

Toomey said there were 225 accidents on Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues, all two-way streets, in the same time frame.

He said he was charged $125 by the city for obtaining the information. He said he felt it was important to acquire the data despite the cost. After the forum, Mayor Lou Sebert said the city could have charged more based on the time spent compiling the data.


Toomey said the streets weren't built for heavy motor vehicle traffic and, for most of the 20th century, there were fewer vehicles on the roads. They simply aren't prepared for the kind of increased traffic the change would bring, he said.

"They're still too narrow today," Toomey said.

Logan said the streets are not the "private driveways" of the people who live along them. They should be altered to do what's best for all residents as well as visitors and tourists. The streets are 36 feet wide, with two, 10-foot-wide driving lanes and a pair of 8-foot-wide parking lanes.

"Those streets are as wide or wider than other residential streets in Mitchell," Logan said.

He said he is convinced after doing a lot of research that changing the streets will be better for commerce, safety and traffic flow.

Toomey said the problem is untrained people are offering their opinions.

He said city planners can do many useful things, but a traffic engineer is trained and educated to make an informed decision. The city should hire a competent traffic engineer, Toomey said.

"The consensus of opinion is that one-way streets are safer," he said.


Logan said he and Toomey agree on the main issue: They want to do what's best for the city, and he feels that means moving ahead with the change.

"Simply, these three one-way streets have outlived their usefulness," Logan said.

Logan said he sees people driving the wrong way and driving faster than on other streets, which increases the danger for pedestrians. Keeping them one-way only encourages speeding and exposes more people to dangerous wrecks, he said.

"Because with no oncoming traffic, drivers tend to go down the middle of the street and too fast," Logan said.

Toomey said he agrees traffic is faster on one-way streets, but he said there is less congestion at intersections and congestion negatively impacts safety.

"We worry that these streets are wide enough to handle one-way streets and do not believe it will affect the profitability of downtown shops," he said. "I do not believe it will be beneficial."

Logan said he has discovered a lot of information that suggests the change would benefit the city and its businesses. A study of 22 communities that converted from one-way to two-way traffic on streets found several positives and few problems, he said.

Logan said Huron eliminated its one-way streets recently, widening one street and leaving the others unchanged.


"They feel it was an improvement for the town and worked better," he said.

One-way debate
Jerry Toomey, left, and Jeff Logan debate the one-way/two-way streets issue Tuesday evening at Mitchell Technical Institute. (Chris Huber/Republic)

What To Read Next
Get Local