Transportation

One-Way Streets Found To Be More Dangerous For Children

By Adrian Duyzer
Published May 23, 2012

Controversy has erupted in a New York City neighbourhood over a plan to turn two streets that are currently two-way into one-way streets.

Department of Transportation (DOT) Deputy Commissioner Michael Primeggia claims this move is to improve pedestrian safety, but a copy of the report acquired by StreetsBlog.org shows that the plan "is almost entirely concerned with the movement and flow of motor vehicles and the calculation of 'vehicular level of service'". (Sound familiar?)

StreetsBlog.org reports that at a community presentation, Primeggia failed to back up his claims of increased safety with any specific examples, simply saying that, "I know two-way streets are less safe."

But one Park Slope resident, who is a professional transportation planner and traffic engineer and a member of the federal Transportation Research Board, came prepared to refute Primeggia's claims. Unfortunately, he was unable to deliver his presentation because the meeting was cut short, but was able to provide it to StreetsBlog.org. Here is a copy of his planned testimony.

The proposal under consideration here this evening may have merit in terms of moving traffic through Brooklyn as a whole. However, in terms of serving Park Slope, this project is ill-conceived and you would be ill-advised to endorse such a plan.

I'll focus on just one aspect of the plan -- the significant negative impact it can have on some of Park Slope's most precious but vulnerable citizens, that is, our small children. With PS 321, the magnet school that was PS 10, PS 39, PS 282 and various middle schools, private and parochial schools, more than 3,000 children use Sixth and Seventh Avenues daily to walk to and from school.

One-way street networks can result in more pedestrian accidents, particularly among children. This effect has been noted in a number of transportation studies published in respected academic journals. I'll cite and quote certain relevant reports and articles for your consideration:

First, from a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Public Health:

"Children 5-9 have the highest population-based injury rate in pedestrian-motor vehicle accidents." Why? As the report goes on, "because in many pedestrian crashes the driver reportedly does not see the pedestrian before the accident. Higher vehicle speeds are strongly associated with a greater likelihood of crashes involving pedestrians as well as more serious pedestrian injuries... In residential settings with large numbers of children, speed management appears to offer the greatest potential for injury prevention."

By way of explaining this effect, I'll refer to two other reports. First from a 2004 report published in the Journal of the Institute of Engineers regarding one-way streets:

"Superficially, it would seem that crossing traffic on a one-way street is preferable to crossing a two-way street. As is often the case, the conventional wisdom is wrong. In fact, crossing a one-way street presents greater difficulties to the pedestrian than crossing two-way streets... One of the inherent disadvantages with one-way streets is that they force additional turning movements at the intersections...[and] increase the occurrences of vehicle-pedestrian conflicts at any given intersection."

Second, from a paper presented at the federal Transportation Research Board's 1999 Urban Streets Symposium:

"In traffic engineering circles, the operational disadvantages associated with one-way streets are becoming increasingly recognized. The system...[causes] an increase in the number of turning movements and total miles of travel. One-way streets present challenges to the pedestrian due to speed and pedestrian expectations at intersections... there are simply more (typically 30-40 percent) more vehicle/pedestrian conflicts within a one-way street network than in a comparable two-way system."

Conversion to one-way avenues may well result in more traffic volume, higher speeds, more turning movements on Sixth and Seventh avenues. Where does this all lead?

Well, from the Canadian Journal of Public Health, a 2000 study conducted in Hamilton, Ontario, found that:

"Children's injury rate was 2.5 times higher on one-way streets than on two-way streets" in Hamilton. Conclusion: "One-way streets have higher rates of child pedestrian injuries than two-way streets in this community."

Given this evidence, it's clear that two-way streets are better for kids, with a decreased rate of injury and death. They're also better for business. They're more useful and usable than one-way streets. We proved they worked when we converted James and John. All the experts keep telling us to drop our one-way system.

So what are we waiting for?

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz

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By Grendel (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2012 at 08:14:32

I find these delays exasperating as well but having seen decades of Hamilton urban development unfolding, we're actually moving at a pretty good clip.

How does Hamilton's infrastructure budget look? Could that be a factor in all of this? I'm familiar with the "how much does a yellow line cost" argument, but I think that most would agree that execution has a great deal to do with success, etc.

It's not hard to imagine two-way street conversions that worked out to the detriment of pedestrians and cyclists. Certainly not in a city with a track record of patronizing but ultimately marginalizing those constituencies. As you point out, speed can be fatal.





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By jonathan (registered) | Posted May 23, 2012 at 23:25:35

The first article doesn't specifically address safety as it relates to one-way streets; merely reiterates the well known fact that the safer the road, the better. No arguments there. So...which is safer?

I had to dig for the second article, since the linked url is bad, and the specific article wasn't noted, but found it here: The Journal of the Institution of Engineers Singapore - A Microscopic Simulation Study of Two-Way Street Network VS One-Way Street Network. (Click on the 'Cached' link to the right--the download link goes to the same bad url as the one above). Yep, it's the results of a computer model that indicate pedestrians and cars meet up more often. Not that they're more dangerous, just that there are more of them, because cars have to loop around. It's not even the point of the study--merely a side note on a study showing that one-way streets are faster and more environmentally friendly than two-way.

The third is not an article from a journal, but an opinion paper presented to a symposium, noting no studies, no data analysis, no empirical evidence to support themselves. It also stops short of claiming that two-ways are safer than one-ways, choosing rather to limit itself to the increase in 'potential conflicts' within an interesection. Except that its analysis directly conflicts with one published in 1998 in the Journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, which found the number of conflicts of two-way to be at least six times more than one-way. While perhaps not relevant, it is worth noting that the article is written by a private engineering firm with a vested interest in converting one-way streets into two-way streets.

Which brings us to the final article, which has been refuted multiple times by both myself and SpaceMonkey (and, oddly, referenced in the article noted above).

I did, however, find this article interesting: No Two Ways About It: One-Way Streets Are Better than Two-Way.

Now, to be clear, I'm all for converting to two-way, despite the fact that it will make my commute...less than pleasant. But to claim that it's somehow safer than one-way, or that the above article somehow puts the entire issue to bed, is completely false.

Comment edited by jonathan on 2012-05-23 23:28:24

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By jonathan (registered) | Posted May 24, 2012 at 00:02:03 in reply to Comment 77223

...I'm going to add to this by saying that, if one were to tell me that intersections were safer in two-way street configurations, and jaywalking was safer in one-way configurations, I wouldn't argue that. As a driver, I've had the, 'Look for the hole, look for the hole...there it is, take i---OH CRAP, PEDESTRIAN FROM THE OTHER WAY, WHERE THE HELL DID HE COME FROM?!?!' moment, and as a jaywalking pedestrian, I'd much rather jaywalk across Main St. than risk getting creamed while stuck in the turning-lane-only-centre-lane crap you find on other roads.

I should also mention...it took me over two hours to get from a jobsite in downtown Toronto to downtown Hamilton today, most of that time spent trying to get to the Gardiner from University/Queen. So my tolerance for highly-congested two-way streets is pretty thin today.

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By Brian C (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2012 at 23:56:44

Thank you Jonathan for highlighting the article: "No Two Ways About It" http://www.i2i.org/articles/2-2005.pdf It's nice to read an objective study, not just somebody's preference. It was interesting to see that Hamilton is mentioned on page 9

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By BeulahAve (registered) | Posted May 24, 2012 at 12:13:13 in reply to Comment 77224

I would definitely not call the "No Two Ways about It" article posted by jonathan (but link down as I write this) an "objective study". If memory serves me right, it was released by the Independence Institute, formerly called (I am not joking) the Center for the American Dream of Mobility and Home Ownership. It doesn't seem to be accessible today, maybe due to all the hits from RTH readers!

I believe that paper actually cites an article by Andrew Dreschel against conversion of James and John to two-way, and I think he has since changed his mind on that one.

Here is a link to a blurb about the paper: http://transportation.i2i.org/2005/02/10...

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 24, 2012 at 13:08:19 in reply to Comment 77245

The link still works for me. The CADMHO appears to have been a former policy centre under the Colorado-based, libertarian Independence Institute that is no longer active.

However the Institute is still active, hosting fun family events like their annual Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Party. Money quote: “We’re witnessing, folks, a world of sacrifice to others run amok.”

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 24, 2012 at 07:25:25 in reply to Comment 77224

That report is just a mess of ideology, mangled data and strawman attacks. Here's a quick Fisking to give you a sense of what I mean. It's by no means an exhaustive critique, but it's all I've got time for right now.

A recent article in the New York Times describes a transportation planner in the Netherlands who advocates making streets city safer by making them more dangerous.

They're talking about the late traffic engineer Hans Monderman and his shared space street concept. The authors can scoff, but the evidence indicates that successfully slowing through traffic has also dramatically reduced the number of collisions, injuries and deaths while actually increasing overall traffic volumes.

Today, urban planning is dominated by an anti-auto mentality that overrides common sense.

No. Today, urban planning is dominated by the understanding that streets must accommodate all users, not just people driving automobiles. This "anti-auto" strawman is a recurring theme in O'Toole's writing and it resembles the bogus "war on cars" meme drummed up by the Toronto Sun and Toronto Star.

traffic speeds ... can most easily be controlled on one-way streets through the use of coordinated signals that can be set for almost any desired speed.

No. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that people will drive at a comfortable speed given the street design and conditions - in other words, by engineering the street so that drivers are inclined to slow down. Timing the lights at a lower speed on a street otherwise engineered for higher speeds only encourages drivers to race from red light to red light.

But traffic flows on one-way streets can be significantly higher than on two-way streets. So it is no surprise that numerous studies have shown that businesses actually do better on one-way streets than two-way.

The business research I've seen draws the opposite conclusion. Aside from a few large-scale, high-volume and low-margin big-box type stores, most business does better on streets when a) traffic can approach/pass in both directions, b) vehicles are moving slowly enough to see the signs, and c) pedestrians feel comfortable walking there.

Clearly, planners and engineers think in dramatically different ways. Engineers think in terms of safety and efficiency.

Some of the most innovative street designs to balance multiple modes are coming from engineers, many of whom have come to Hamilton in the past several years to talk to our engineers and planners about creating complete, livable streets.

Like an urban cargo cult, this appears to say, “popular places are congested, so if we can congest an unpopular place it will have the ambiance of popularity even if our actions actually reduce the number of people able to get to the area.”

No. The reasoning is explicit and straightforward: by slowing the speed of traffic, you create a more pleasant environment for pedestrians. More pedestrians means improved business for retail operations on the street, which attracts more businesses. That, in turn, attracts still more pedestrians.

After James and John North were converted to two-way, the Downtown BIA surveyed the businesses and found that most of them reported increased foot traffic and increased sales. Some even reported hiring more employees in response to the increased business.

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By jonathan (registered) | Posted May 24, 2012 at 01:17:24 in reply to Comment 77224

...I wouldn't exactly call it 'objective'. More a counter-point to the article above, except that it references actual, real world statistics, vs 'potential points of conflict'. The problem with the latter is that it in no way factors in a person's ability to take note of the world around them, and adjust accordingly. Perhaps the Symposium paper is correct, and the peer-reviewed** Journal paper is not. Perhaps there are indeed more potential points of conflict in a one-way intersection than in a two-way. But perhaps people's ability to recognize these is sufficient in both, and the end result is, the accident rates are the same.

**I gag on those words every time I read them. Does peer-reviewed mean anything when you've never heard of the Journal before? And does it mean anything more than that the math was correct? There have certainly been incidents where peer-reviewed articles have been later proven to be completely and utterly wrong (a certain Korean? Japanese? geneticist comes to mind).

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By Grendel (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2012 at 06:40:42

Agreed that it's helpful if people not dumb down the calculus around traffic engineering and weigh studies critically on their merits. Citing studies that, superficially at least, bolster one's existing world view -- confirmation bias -- is of course a one-way street of the mind. Hindsight bias arguably does a similar disservice to the complexity of history.

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By George (registered) | Posted May 24, 2012 at 18:40:50

"The best place to raise a child" - Two way now!

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 26, 2012 at 09:53:40

Are there any studies regarding safety of adults on 1 way streets as compared to 2 way streets?

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 10:31:39

Reader's Digest's September 2012 issue ranks Hamilton as the 9th best city population 80,000+ in Canada to raise a family.

01. Sherbrooke, QC
02. Ottawa-Gatineau, ON
03. Guelph, ON
04. Calgary, AB
05. Windsor, ON
06. Montreal, QC
07. Vancouver, BC
08. Toronto, ON
09. Hamilton, ON
10. Peterborough, ON
11. Kitchener, ON
12. Moncton, NB
13. Kingston, ON
14. Halifax, NS
15. Oshawa, ON
16. Trois-Rivières, QC
17. London, ON
18. Québec, QC
19. Abbotsford, BC
20. Edmonton, AB

#21-42 here: http://www.readersdigest.ca/health/family/top-42-canadian-cities-raise-family

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