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The End of the Wrong Way Street?

Chances are that anyone who has been driving for a while has made the mistake, or almost made the mistake, of turning onto a one-way street, the wrong way.  Embarrassing, frustrating, and costly if you get a ticket.

In the 1960’s, it appears to have been a tenet of belief among city planners that the one-way street would bring to the urban environment convenience and efficiency not achievable by a two-way road system.  Whether founded on theory or science, one-way streets were introduced abundantly throughout many if not most major North American cities, and throughout many metropolises worldwide.

Perhaps the first really important one-way street was Albermarle Street in London, established as a one-way thoroughfare in 1812 (or thereabouts).  The author of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, the poet, romantic and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834) was giving a series of lectures at the Royal Institute, located on Albermarle Street.  Poetry and philosophy were, it seems, as popular at the time as (some would say, regrettably) “Reality Television” is today.

The Coleridge recital drew enormous crowds.  Albermarle Street was choked with traffic.  The attendees quickly became less philosophical as they were trapped in a melee of horse drawn carriages, and a solution had to been found.  London authorities rose to the occasion and instantly came to the expedient of making the street “one way”, and thence it stayed.

We are told that, in the United States, the first one way street was created in the ocean front town of Ashbury Park, New Jersey, in 1934.  A ship, the SS Morro Castle, was on fire, and in sinking condition was towed to the shore, near the aptly named “Ocean Avenue.”  Understandably, the people of Ashbury Park, in complete unison, set out to see the spectacle, only to create one of the biggest traffic jams of motor vehicles yet seen in that part of the world.  The quick thinking Chief of Police promptly remedied the chaos by declaring Ocean Avenue a one-way street.

Ocean Avenue reverted to its prior use as a two-way street in 2007.  Redevelopment of the surrounding area for both residential and commercial purposes dictated the change in the minds of the current planners.  This type of reversion of roadways back to the old pattern is showing as a trend across North America.  A recent issue of Canada’s National Post Newspaper announced on the front page “The one-way street nears a dead end as cities slow traffic in a bid to revitalize their downtowns.”

The major reason for maintaining two-way streets is “traffic calming.”  After all, the one-way concept was implemented to move traffic along.  One way roads create an emphasis on efficiency at the expense of “neighbourhood livability.”  The term “ghetto-makers” has recently come into use to describe one-way streets.

As they encourage speed, one-way streets are also said to have a significantly higher number of pedestrian-vehicle collisions than two-way streets.

And good news for taxpayers: changing a one-way street to two-way can be achieved on a modest budget, involving for the most part just a change in signage.

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