When Jim Hightower says, "There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos," he's talking about centrism in American politics, but I'm instantly reminded of the real-life streets down which we all travel. Armadillos are rare in San Francisco, of course, but yellow stripes are also missing from far too many of our streets.
The city of Minneapolis is about to return two of its downtown streets to two-way traffic after nearly 30 years of one-way flow. Those streets, like many in downtowns across the country, were converted to one-way couplets by auto-centric traffic engineers in the middle of the last century.
Their goal was to squeeze more cars through older, narrow streets as fast as they could. And that's exactly what happened. The problem is that the fast, thick traffic along these one-way streets has proven to be dangerous to vulnerable road users, especially pedestrians, and has often pushed away much of the street life.
In San Francisco, the grid of one-way streets on either side of Market and around the old ramps to the Central Freeway in Hayes Valley and the Western Addition are among the most dangerous places to walk. The recent killing of a woman on Fell Street has prompted numerous calls to calm the traffic on that and other unidirectional expressways. One of the more common sentiments expressed in comments on Streetsblog is that these one-way couplets should be restored back to two-way traffic.
Two-way streets are naturally calmer because cars approaching from opposite directions make each other nervous. Nervous drivers are slower and more alert to their surroundings. Two way streets are also easier for bicycles to navigate, and the presence of bikes on a street further calms car traffic.
There is, in my opinion, no reason not to begin restoring two way traffic on San Francisco streets, starting with the most dangerous first. The lives of our neighbors are too high a cost to justify a slightly faster car commute.
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