All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

One way streets: better for pedestrians and bikes?

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Tenth Avenie at Commercial: one of the rare one way residential streets of Vancouver

Tenth Avenue at Commercial: one of the rare one-way residential streets of Vancouver

Like it or not, people are flocking to Vancouver. In order to accommodate the newcomers, we need more housing, and that means increased density. Personally, I like it: more people to shop and eat, so more local stores, little eateries and cafes, all these things that give character to a neighbourhood. That’s what we like when we’re tourists abroad, why not embrace it here?

But with density, of course, comes the problem of moving people around: more busses (hopefully), more cars, more bikes, more pedestrians. More potential for congestion and conflict.

One of the ways that can handle all this new foot, bike and car traffic is using one-way streets. This works both for arteries and for residential streets, but it’s easier to see why with residential streets.

For instance, in the Commercial Drive area, many narrow residential streets have a continuous border of parked cars at certain hours, meaning that there is only one lane free for traffic. This silly situation means that one vehicle entering the street may well need to back-up if another is coming the other way. So far, when it happens, it’s just an inconvenience; but as neighbourhoods like the Drive densify, this will happen more often and may lead to gridlock, not a desirable outcome. And there is also a safety issue; on the well-traveled 10th avenue bike path, for instance, there are often situations where cyclists squeeze by cars who are themselves trying to get around a car coming the other way.

A one-way street in Mon teral's Plateau, with bike path.

A one-way street in Montreal’s Plateau, with bike path.

Montreal’s Plateau area (my favourite urban reference!) has long ago solved the problem by the simplest expedient: narrow residential streets are all one-way. It may be still as hard to find a parking spot, but at least cars and trucks get through. And where streets are a bit wider, the one-way system allows for a bike lane separated from traffic and parked cars, without reducing traffic flow.

Another Plateau street - note the kink in the bike path to accommodate car parking

Another Plateau street – note the kink in the bike path to accommodate car parking

Eventually, Vancouver will have to get there; this would mean alternating directions, such as 2nd avenue one way west, 3rd avenue one way east, and so on. That would make room for safer streets with separated bike lanes – without reducing the capacity of the street network to convey car traffic. It’s also kinda fun to imagine: what’s your street?

This would also nicely defuse the absurd argument that bike lanes are anti-cars. There’s room for everyone, as the group Streets for Everyone maintains.

Turning arteries into one-way streets is more complex, but that approach also has great potential to enhance walkability, if done right. That’ll be my next post.

Quebec Street: barely wide enough for a car - wouldn't a one way make sense?

Quebec Street: barely wide enough for a car – wouldn’t a one way make sense?

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Written by enviropaul

October 20, 2014 at 7:34 pm

One Response

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  1. […] etc; see here and here). But large one-way streets don’t have a good reputation, as opposed to narrow residential streets, because the faster traffic they promote is hostile to pedestrians (faster speeds mean more noise […]


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