City mulls more one-way conversions

BY IAN MURPHY | MARCH 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa City officials are considering turning Market and Jefferson Streets into two-way streets, hoping to slow down traffic.

“It mirrors a national trend we’re seeing in urban core areas,” said Geoff Fruin, the assistant to the city manager. “It creates a neighborhood feel as opposed to just moving traffic along.”

Fruin said a similar project on Washington Street in 2012 was very successful, and traffic was noticeably slower.

Market and Jefferson Streets have been one-way streets since the 1970s, Fruin said, and converting them to two-way will generate exposure for the businesses on those streets.

Experts echo Fruin’s statement.

Dan Burden, a cofounder and director of Innovation and Inspiration of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, said retail in New York City increased by 400 percent on streets that were converted to slow down traffic.

But a fraction of that percentage would have been effective.

“Ten percent would have been good,” Burden said.

Alan Kemp, executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, said Des Moines is seeing a similar conversion initiative. 

“There’s a push for supporting businesses,” Kemp said.

Kemp and Burden said moving to two-way streets will also help eliminate confusion.

Historically, cities converted to one-way streets in order to move traffic along at a quicker rate.

“Thirty, forty, fifty years ago, we created one-way streets to move traffic through downtown,” Burden said.

Burden, who has worked with more than 3,500 communities and is now working with Iowa City on its push to become one of 15 Iowa Blue Zone communities, said downtowns have historically been left for dead. Many cities’ officials thought people would continue to flock to the suburbs and the downtown was hung out to dry.

“City after city was giving up on downtown,” Burden said.

Now, however, the thinking is to bring people to where the business is — downtown.

“The new policy is to get people there,” Burden said.

The two-way streets help to alleviate traffic by as much as 30 percent because many times overcrowding on the streets is a result of people looking for a parking spot. To bring people into an area, the one-way streets being converted should have parking available on both sides of the street, Burden said.

Fruin, however, said there is still work to be done, and actually converting the streets is a long way off.

“There’s still significant conversation to be had,” he said.

Fruin said the project is likely a year away, and the city still needs to do extensive traffic modeling for pedestrians, bicyclists, buses, and cars. Fruin said no additional construction would be required; the city would only need to repaint the street and install signs.

“We want to make sure we know the impact for all three modes,” he said.

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