In the early 20th century, communities focused on creating vibrant downtowns with wide sidewalks, decorative landscaping and at most two to three lanes of traffic for travel by the locals. It wasn’t until the 1950’s as cities expanded rapidly from once exploding downtowns into fields and outreaches creating the great American suburbs dotted with shopping malls, highways and several one way streets to push traffic from the downtowns to the new extended footprint. This one-way phenomenon wasn’t just focused on large cities, but even the smaller rural communities as the generation of citizens were focused more on car travel and less on walkability. What city planners at the time didn’t foresee was the sociological impact that one way streets would have on the residents and neighborhoods that they were located in.
In 2010 as the first of the millennial generation began taking over city planning and traffic engineering departments nationwide a renewed emphasis was placed on creating great downtowns and the end of one-way streets. This required that we had to re-think the flow of traffic from focusing on neighborhood travel rather than fast outbound traffic. Not only was it a new found passion for the generation, but new statistics began playing a larger role. In the city of Louisville, officials converted two one way streets back to two way traffic and found that traffic collisions dropped by nearly 36 percent on one street and over 60 percent on the other. This was even after traffic increased on the newly traveled two way road. In addition to fewer accidents, the property values on the street increased and businesses saw new revenue and pedestrian traffic. What was more interesting was the amount of crime dropped, by nearly 25 percent while other areas and neighborhoods saw crime on the rise.
We at Hoch have been discussing the idea and importance behind complete streets in our communities. With the city of Fort Wayne recently returning both Ewing and Fairfield to two way travel streets and Indianapolis ranked among the highest in the country for complete street action plans, it’s exciting to see progress being made. Cities that changed the roads in the post-World War II era when they re-engineered around the car are now seeing the importance to cut crime, improve property values and calm traffic. While there is progress, we want to challenge more cities to make the change on their thoroughfares putting an emphasis on creating vibrant downtowns and stronger, safer and healthier neighborhoods.