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Should city officials convert Washington St. into a two-way road?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | JUNE 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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YES

Opening East Washington Street up to two-way traffic is a no-brainer when it comes to city planning.

Let’s face it: Iowa City’s downtown is not very user-friendly when it comes to navigation. It’s full of busy pedestrian crosswalks and no-go routes for drivers. To make matters worse, the one-way section of East Washington (located between Clinton and Linn) causes nearby Iowa Avenue to become a bottleneck every spring and fall. Instead, traffic flow could be more effectively managed if the two blocks of Washington were changed from one-way to a street that accommodates opposing flows of traffic.

City officials are considering the idea and asking downtown business owners for feedback before proceeding. The two-block length of street has been one-way for 35 years.

Imagine, then, that Washington St. was made a two-way. This could be done by removing the few parking spots on it and using the space to widen existing lanes. By using this approach, traffic would be allowed to flow purposefully. As an added benefit, the additional space freed up could be used to provide either a bicycle lane or maintain the existing loading zone for area businesses.

Although some may argue that changing the current traffic flow of Washington Street would create parking and safety issues, few of the arguments hold true. The idea that an additional two-way street would be a safety crisis is ludicrous, as anyone familiar with Iowa City will understand otherwise. As much as the city suffers from an overwhelming jaywalking problem, few would say they fear for their lives while walking downtown.

The parking argument, on the other hand, is partially correct, if not for the wrong reasons. Iowa City has a major problem with available parking, which is no secret. But the few slots available on Washington do not provide any meaningful aid. Short of modifying existing ramps or adding additional fixtures, the lack of parking will always be a problem.

Given the chance, city planners should take use of this great opportunity to make downtown Iowa City less of a headache. They’ll be glad they did in the long run.

— Matt Heinze

NO

It’s a problem shared by many cities: The ratio of cars to available asphalt continuously decreases as the downtown grows. A common solution to this problem is to convert streets to one-way avenues, like Washington Street in downtown Iowa City. The section of Washington between Clinton Street and Linn Street should remain one-way to maintain the downtown’s pedestrian-friendly environment and to avoid causing traffic problems.

Traffic would certainly get worse. Dubuque between Iowa Avenue and Washington is a two-lane street with parking on either side. There is no room for more cars; making Washington two-way would increase traffic, because cars would turn right from Dubuque to reach Clinton. Diverting Clinton-bound traffic to Iowa uses a wider street with less pedestrian traffic.

There is no reason the city should make Washington more accessible to cars. Instead, the city should encourage people to walk and take the bus. Fewer people driving downtown is better for the environment and healthier for individuals; not only does it reduce carbon dioxide and pollutant emissions, but it also encourages walking and decreases the harmful exhaust fumes. One way to incentivize walking over driving downtown is to maintain a pedestrian-friendly environment.

Keeping Washington a one-way does this. Crossing the street to and from the Ped Mall is considerably easier and safer as a result of decreased Washington St. traffic.

It can be slightly inconvenient to drive all the way around the block, but it would be more inconvenient to wait in a long line of cars turning across a tiny intersection. The best way to avoid having to spend extra time to get to a business on Washington is to walk. Sure, it may still be necessary to drive a car on many trips, but quick runs downtown — which is easily walkable and serviced by several bus routes — don’t require vehicles. Washington should stay one-way to maintain that environment.

— Will Mattessich

 


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