So the powers that be in
Supporters of this idiotic plan offer several justifications. The first is the safety. The
More after the jump.
There is much higher speed traffic on the two-way streets elsewhere in town than on the one-way streets in downtown. And if you're genuinely concerned about the speed at which traffic moves through downtown—on Tampa St. and Florida St. in particular—then why is it that this proposal really is only dealing with Polk, Madison, Twiggs, and Zack, the cross streets. If you're concerned about the speed on
The study also says that two-way streets suffer far the larger number of automobile accidents, and points out that when streets were changed from two-way to one-way back in the 50s and 60s, it was largely under the guise of safety. Any reasonable person can look at traffic accident reports in downtown and see the number of accidents at the intersection of, for example,
Aside from studies and facts, simple common sense would tend to show you that one-way streets are safer. The intersection of one-way streets is safer than the intersection of two-way streets. Most accidents are the result of people turning—attempting to make a right or left-hand turn against traffic without a signal into a driveway or onto a minor road. People get tired of waiting for traffic to clear before turning and try to “beat” another car to make their turn. Blammo, accident. With two-way streets, you’ve got eight possible directions for turning vehicles. You can add green arrows for left and right turns, which makes the light cycle longer and slows traffic down even more, or you can ignore the turn arrows and force people to try to turn sharp before oncoming cars. Now, with one-way streets, you’ve got a total of two possible turning directions. That's a lot fewer turning vehicles, it's a lot fewer directions for drivers (who are notoriously distractible). Fewer things for them to have to watch and look at. The less work you make drivers do, the fewer accidents you have.
As a cyclist, when I take my bike up to Tampa St. I only have to look in one direction before I cross. This is great, because with the synchronized lights in downtown I know that if I wait for just a minute—I won't need to wait long—if I can wait for just a minute, traffic will clear on Tampa. It may be a very busy street--it's three lanes and it carries a great deal of traffic into downtown from the north—and it may have this traffic going through but I can pull my bike up to the intersection there at Fortune St. and in no time at all I have a clear path, all three lanes free, and I can just ride right on across (a pedestrian could walk across in the same situation).
Now you make it a two-way street. Well, I can sit there at Fortune waiting for the southbound lanes to clear, and if the southbound clears but there’s traffic still coming northbound (because it’s much harder to synchronize traffic on a two-way street), I have an unpleasant choice. I can ride into the middle of the road and wait for northbound clear. Or I can pass up the opportunity to cross the street and wait until both directions are clear, which may never happen on a busy two-way. I’d have to ride down to a light to cross. Or I just might not bother at all—I’ll take my business elsewhere if it’s too difficult for me to get across the street.
The safety argument is bunk.
As for light synchronization, the supporters of de-synchronizing the lights say that people move too fast through downtown. My suggestion would be lower the speed limit to 25 and start ticketing offenders. I drive through downtown at 45 miles an hour now. That's 15 over the speed limit on Ashley and 10 over on
Numerous studies have shown—and the RPPI study points this out—that vehicles burn more gas at very slow speeds than at moderate speeds, and burn even more when idling. Thus, cars produce more exhaust fumes when they spend time sitting in traffic and creeping along the street than they do when moving down the road at a decent clip as they do now. If you desynchronize the lights because you want to slow the traffic down and make people stop more as they go through town, all you’re doing in increasing the amount of idling fumes spewed into the atmosphere.
It's worth pointing out, too, that that is an entirely a restrictive action—it does not liberate anyone, it does not make anything better. It is specifically designed to slow traffic down and make people wait more. The only possible justification—safety—we’ve already debunked. No positive social or community benefit comes from doing so. That is the absolute definition of bad public policy.
So the end result of this desynchronization and two-waying of the streets is, you get more people, more cars, sitting in downtown idling at lights all the time, sitting in traffic waiting for the left turn arrows so that they can make a left, or trying to turn against the light and probably getting smacked by an oncoming vehicle the process, or making all these other cars stack up in a line behind the guy who’s waiting to turn; people trying to swerve down into traffic causing more accidents, not looking where they’re going, running over pedestrians because they’re not looking, getting upset at everybody and impatient because they’re waiting for no reason, making them do ill-considered things and not looking at what they’re doing, not thinking about safety, and all the while the exhaust fumes from all the idling engines are slowly building up, making the downtown air foul and unbreathable. Wow, doesn’t that just sound like a pedestrian’s paradise?
More idling in downtown means more exhaust fumes in downtown means worse air pollution in downtown means worse air quality in downtown, and there's no possible reasonable justification for doing that. It does not make a city more pedestrian friendly to make its air more polluted, and in downtown, with a lot of tall buildings, you have less airflow and it takes longer for pollutants to blow away or settle out of the air. So not only are you now increasing the amount of pollution emitted to buy cars, you're doing it in the worst part of town to do it in. Bad air quality does not make a town more pedestrian friendly. Hell, science has proven all this but you don’t need a study; it’s just common sense. Except, apparently, to the mayor.
Then there's the issue of what is the real cause here was, what is it that we’re really trying to do. Do we want to make downtown safer and more pedestrian-friendly, or are you just trying to reduce the number of automobiles in downtown. To be blunt, it’s the latter. Safety is just an excuse. So we figure, add some “traffic calming” devices (which is to say, congestion-making devices), slow the people down, it’ll be safer and more pleasant.
That’s another thing, this whole notion of traffic calming. That’s the biggest lie planners have ever perpetrated (usually it’s the planners who are getting lied to, though, so I guess they deserve it). What traffic calming does is actually make people less calm. They irritate people. They make drivers mad. Think about it. This is
Now, the St. Pete Times article tends to frame this in the sense of making downtown a more vibrant and active “neighborhood.” Someone is quoted as saying that we made one-way streets so that people could get out of town faster, and a lot of them got out of town and never came back. Senseless, idiotic, and cute, that’s all that statement is; it is utterly devoid of fact or sense. The fact of the matter is, we made one-way streets so that people could get into town faster, there’d be less traffic in downtown, faster speeds, less waiting at lights, easier to navigate, make the place more pleasant to come to. All these things will actually cause more people to transit through downtown, not fewer people.
The leap of logic required here is incredible. Somehow these people are blaming the one-way street, and the “high” traffic speeds (35 miles an hour on average) for making downtown a place where the sidewalks rollup at night. I guess that's putting the cart before the horse? I’m not sure. What it really is, is trying to cover up your own idiocy. Stupid zoning laws and poorly conceived planning ideas are what killed downtowns in the first place. We decided that downtown was a place where offices would live, not where people would live. We didn't build, for 20 years in this country from, you know, hell, thirty or forty years, from the 60s on we did not build residential units in downtowns in any medium sized city in the entire country except for housing projects. If you weren’t in
What people have got to realize is that downtown is dead because city leaders, for many years, worked to segregate land uses. In such a way that when people went home at night, they went home and stayed home, and none of them lived in downtown. This is history, this is the way we did things from the 1950s on. We brought this upon ourselves, our leaders and our planners did. Now they want to blame the whole mess on one tiny little thing.
Well, what they're really doing here is trying to make downtown hostile to automobiles. This is the new planning theory (believe me, I did a semester in grad school in urban planning), the idea that if you make a place auto hostile, everything will be better, overnight. Planning does not follow transportation—land use, urban development, and so on, these things do not follow the transportation. If you believe this to be true then I ask you why do you think the growth management system in this state is so adamant about making developers pay for transportation upgrades etc.
Development does not follow infrastructure; infrastructure follows development. That may not be the way we wish it was, but it’s the way things are. Changing that fact would require a sea change in development practices, and that ain’t very likely. Merely changing the infrastructure in downtown is not going to make the place more active, more like a neighborhood.
Here’s the way things work in real life. Drivers have said in surveys that they are less inclined to drive at high speeds when there are pedestrians about. In other words, the presence of pedestrians makes drivers more cautious. It is not that cautious drivers increase the presence of pedestrians. We’ve got to make A follow B and not vice versa in this argument.
More pedestrians will also mean there will be more businesses. More people will be driving slower to see what's going on, pay attention to passing scene, and to the pedestrians. The way these people make it seem, most drivers would just drive right over a pedestrian and not even notice, but that’s just not the case. A driver in a congested environment pays more attention to what he's doing than one in a non-congested environment. In other words, more pedestrians equals better-behaved drivers.
Now, how are we going to go about getting more pedestrians? Two-way roads will not increase the number of pedestrians in downtown. The only thing that will result in more downtown peds is the addition of residential and retail into the downtown area. Developers are already taking care of this for us—once again, noting that the development is preceding any infrastructure changes. People came in and looked at downtown and said, “I want to build condos here, I think people will like it.” They’re building a grocery store now; even Wal-Mart wanted to move into the urban center. This is development preceding infrastructure. If the mayor wants more people downtown she need only sit back and wait for the condos currently under construction to be completed.
The fact is, if infrastructure changes are needed, they will only be made when the market says it’s time. Marked forces are really in control here (and so as P.J. O’Rourke says it really all comes back to money). The pedestrians are going to come because the residences are going to come. Once the pedestrians have arrived, new retail will open. The retail will stay open later hours, and the sidewalks will no longer roll up. This will occur regardless of whether we make any changes with the one-way streets or not.
But not being satisfied with letting the market fix matters absent government coercion, here in the land of the free, we’ve come a with a plan to make traffic worse in downtown and make drivers avoid downtown. That's the whole goal—fewer cars in downtown. This is not necessarily an admirable goal, because unless you do live in downtown and work in downtown, you’re going to be driving into downtown every day. Is the goal to make non-residents avoid downtown? Hell, if we make driving into town bad enough for the folks out in the burbs, they’ll probably start looking for jobs out in the burbs. And since the corporate higher-ups who lease the office space in downtown live in the burbs, too, maybe they’ll just start renting some cheaper office space up in New Tampa or out in Brandon. So now you're going to have more difficulty filling the office space in downtown—where the preponderance of office space is—spreading the population more evenly throughout the urban area and eliminating the need for a downtown in the first place. If your goal is revitalizing the downtown, this is actually counterproductive.
In any urban center, you want to have density of population, a mix of land uses, smooth traffic flow for all forms of traffic, adequate traffic capacity for the planned density and population. Eliminating traffic capacity does not accomplish this. What needs to happen is already happening. If the mayor wants to make things better for pedestrians et al in downtown, she’ll start by bulking up our pathetic mass transit system and stop trying to make things less pleasant for the drivers around here.
The city already does a fair job of being pedestrian-friendly: the sidewalks are generally fairly broad and free of obstructions. Bicycling is not illegal on the sidewalks. There are bike racks available at most buildings and parks. No traffic light stays green or red so long that pedestrians must wait very long for a WALK light (and when that light comes, they don’t have to worry about cars turning in from six other directions). But more can be done: how about looking at extending that trolley line up
You want safety? I think we've already discussed that one-way streets are safer than two-way. You want friendly? Here's an idea: a traffic snarled street with accidents happening all the time and people sitting, idling, getting angry, is far less friendly for driver and pedestrian alike than smoothly moving synchronized traffic on one-way streets. Get people to where they're going as quickly as possible, so that they can be there, so that they can get out of their cars and walked around downtown, just like you want them to.
It doesn't take a genius to realize that the two-way one-way proposal lacks any merit whatsoever. I greatly look forward to a public hearing at some point in downtown about this conversion plan. I plan to go there with a stack of bound, printed copies of that RPPI study, and give them to everybody that walks in the door, and then stand up and make a fuss. These peoples’ logic is so contorted, so indefensible, that if I poke just the tiniest little hole in it the whole thing will collapse like a damn house of cards. I’m salivating at the prospect.