Love is a Two Way Street

William W. Riggs, California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo
John Gilderbloom, University of Louisville


A half a century ago, we were in love with our streets. They were also living things. They were the open-air living room of our society, the conduct for neighborhood play and discussion, the glue of our social fabric. One of the key urban theorists of the 20th century, Jane Jacobs wrote in Fortune Magazine that the street “…works harder than any other part of downtown. It is the nervous system; it communicates the flavor, the feel, the sights. It is the major point of transaction and communication. Users of downtown know very well that downtown needs not fewer streets, but more, especially for pedestrians.” Today however much of that is lost, and cities, both large and small must reevaluate streetscapes designed for faster speeds auto mobility – and one key thing is to evaluate whether or not multi-lane, one-way streets have a role in walkable, livable and sustainable neighborhoods.

Over the last two years, we have conducted repeated research experiments on the livability benefits two-way vs. multi-lane one-way streets at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and the University of Louisville. While we understand the purpose of one-ways in traffic flow, and the beauty that they can provide as one-lane corridors in North End of Boston or Lombard Street in San Francisco as social scientists in planning, urban design and transportation we hypothesize that in their multi-lane variation one-way streets degrade neighborhood quality. This is not well researched area so our work has sparked debate among traffic engineers and some who fear the loss of auto mobility that these places provide. That said, our work has shown something much different that runs counter to those fears and appears to be catching fire across the nation. In cities of many shape and size the result has been the same. As multi-lane, one-way streets are converted to two-way we have seen: traffic accidents, crime, and abandonments fall; traffic volumes rise with more people choosing to move in a network of two-way streets rather than one-way couplets; prices spike despite a broader downtown by; and business enterprises with increased profits.