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What Would 2-Way Downtown Louisville Streets Mean For Walkers, Cyclists and Bus Riders?

one way streets

The idea of converting downtown Louisville's one-way streets to two-ways has support from business proponents, but motor vehicles aren't the only way to get around the city.

Would two-way streets downtown be good for people who rely on bikes, public transit or good old-fashioned walking to get from place to place? Proponents for those modes of transportation say, potentially, yes.

Portions of Jefferson, Liberty, Chestnut, Shelby, Campbell, Main, Eighth, Seventh and Third streets are all being considered for conversion, said Rebecca Matheny, executive director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership.

And with the help of federal funding work to convert the streets could begin as soon as next year, a city engineer said last week. Plenty of planning and a slew of studies need to be carried out first, however.

Developers with the near $300-million Omni hotel and apartment project have also requested that Third Street be changed from one way to two for the sake of valet and delivery drivers.

Two-way streets have been shown to slow the flow of traffic, while not causing a decrease in overall traffic volume. Slower traffic is good for both pedestrians and cyclists, said Rolf Eisinger, the city's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.

And two-way streets specifically work well for cyclists, he added, as they often lead to fewer miles traveled in pursuit of a destination.

"Generally speaking, I believe they're a good idea," he said.

Barry Barker, director of the city's transit authority, said two-way streets can lead to a "much more comfortable" experience for bus riders.

Single-direction travel often forces bus passengers to walk a block or more to catch a connecting bus, Barker said. That, plus with two way streets, a passenger may be able to walk across the street to catch a connecting coach.

As for space, two-way streets may limit the amount of room other vehicles have to maneuver around stopped TARC buses, but Barker said that all depends on the street design.

"Overall, two way streets don't bother us," Barker said. He hesitated to express full on support, saying he'd first need to know more details regarding specific design plans, which have yet to be revealed.

Eisinger, though generally supportive of two-way streets, is quick to add that "one size does not fit all."

What works well on one street may not be the proper treatment for another, he said. And what works on one block of a particular street may not work on the next. From a walker's perspective, Fourth Street is something of a model, he said.

"It works well for pedestrians because it's a narrower street, it's easier to cross," he said.

And because of the street's narrow design, traffic tends to travel at a slower rate, making it more accommodating to cyclists, he said.

He also points to a pair of streets in the Old Louisville neighborhood that were converted from one-way in 2011 as another success story in two way travel.

Because they're a block apart, First Street and Brook Street allow for ample bicycle infrastructure in both directions, as well as on-street parking and two lanes of vehicle traffic.

A 2014 study concluded that First and Brook streets' two-way conversions resulted in fewer accidents and brought other benefits, such as reduced crime and increased property values.  But traffic volume did increase, according to the study by University of Louisville professor John Gilderbloom and California Polytechnic State University professor William Riggs.

Eisinger said multi-directional traffic can also present negative aspects for getting around on foot or on bike.

Streets with traffic flowing in both directions have more "conflict points," which arise in more complex street designs, he said.

Two-way streets present more opportunities for pedestrians or cyclists to come into contact with vehicles—left-hand turns across incoming traffic, or vehicles turning through bike lanes.

But proper design can help mitigate these conflict points, he said.

Two-way streets also present challenges in syncing up traffic lights, Eisinger said. But for pedestrians and cyclists this can mean larger gaps between packs of vehicles, which is a good thing for people getting around the city without a car.

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.