Mel's Musings: One way or another
Do you suffer from misoneism? Also, elections are important but should they be permanent? In 2012 voters went to the polls after referring a Mitchell City Council vote that made one-way into two-way streets. While the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of retaining one-way streets (3,804 to 2,393), turnout was only 36%.
I was on the council when this issue came up. I live on West Third Avenue, a one-way street. I was opposed to the change, voted against it on the council, signed the petition to help refer it to the people and voted against two-way streets in the election. The downtown business people came to council and made the case that one-way streets were hurting their business especially during tourist season.
The council was informed that the rationale for having these few one-way streets in the first place was to facilitate speedy evacuation of residents in the case of a nuclear attack. After citizens voted down the more sweeping change, the council (including me) voted to allow the limited two-way situation we have downtown presently, again at the request of those impacted merchants.
That was the situation until last year’s perpetual Sanborn road reconstruction. Construction projects rarely finish on time and I understand that the weather was instrumental in much of the delay nevertheless the road closures were interminable. The city, wisely in my view, decided to make portions of the one-way streets two-way so folks could get around during the process. Since we will have another season of Sanborn construction this summer, probably just as long and frustrating, the city left in place the two-way provision for the time being with the intention of making getting around more convenient during our main thoroughfare’s seasonal closure.
City Lab reports that Dallas, Denver, Sacramento, Tampa and other municipalities are moving to convert one-way into two-way streets for several reasons. In study after study the findings are the same; speeds on one-way streets are significantly higher and economic activity is appreciably lower. I know, from personal experience, drag racing was a substantial problem for a time on West Third because those involved didn’t have to worry about on-coming traffic. The city of Mitchell reports several accidents on our one-way streets, prior to their conversion, due to confused drivers turning down the wrong way or after realizing their mistake turning back into traffic thereby causing an accident.
The Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods of the University of Louisville did a study and found that one-way streets enable more crime since the perpetrators know which direction the police are responding from and are more able to get away at high speeds, again because of the lack of on-coming traffic. This same study found that real estate is harder to sell and brings lower prices because of the perceived or actual access issues those one-way streets produce. Their findings go on to report that when Louisville converted their one-way streets to two-ways, accidents dropped 32-60% (depending on the street) and crime dropped 25%. The Washington Post reports that there is more drug trafficking on urban one-way versus two-way streets for many of the same reasons that crime is higher on those streets generally.
Having experienced my street as both a one-way and now a two-way, I’ve changed my mind. I now favor the permanent conversion of these streets, for their entire length, to two-ways. Of course, the city will need to do a better job of plowing all the way to the curb and folks will have to park a little less haphazardly to make this work, but we have similar issues currently on narrower two-way streets (like Wisconsin) already.
Misoneism is the fear of change; it’s time to retire the unofficial motto of Mitchell, “We’ve always done it that way” and in the case of a disaster of some sort, I’m pretty sure we’ll be using every street — one way or another.