Home > Economics, Engineering Design, Representing > Conversion of a City’s One-way Street back to a Two-Way Begins with an Ask

Conversion of a City’s One-way Street back to a Two-Way Begins with an Ask

UPDATED 09/03: Additional contacts added below.

Peter’s guest post about how a community’s choice between one-way and two-way streets reflects its values is poignant. It’s not just on this BLOG that residents are talking about street design and use.  There are neighborhood traffic committees, both official, ad hoc and impromptu discussions happening on front porches, alleyways and sidewalks across the city. Presentations by a leading traffic engineer generated large audiences in middle of summer.

Street design is sexy!

The practice of building and maintaining streets at a minimal level of innovation is no longer acceptable. Streets and right-of-way reflect most of our public space and we’re beginning to realize that it’s insane to let a single-use run amok.

Focus on State Street: The Forgotten Child

As Peter mentioned in his post this morning, we have a focal point in the proposed West Front parking deck that requires innovation and strategic planning to manage the extra motorized traffic that it will create. Yes, the deck will grease the wheels of ‘development’ in that corridor, but will it be car focused or people focused development? State Street, as designed now, is primarily populated by businesses focused on serving people in cars. In between businesses are parking lots, both public and private, most of it very cheap. It’s not true that parking decks aren’t subsidized. The external costs to the surrounding neighborhoods are high.

An all out strategic plan for the entire city needs to go with any state of the art blue print and economic promises accompanying the West End parking deck. The first two-parking decks did not, it’s a requirement for the third downtown parking deck in a decade. We can begin by asking for elimination of the State Street one-way.

Supporting a Smart Choice

It’s my understanding that city staff isn’t necessarily opposed to this idea and they need to know that we, the citizens of the region, are aware of the issue and support, at the least, the idea, if not full implementation. Below is my draft of a letter to send to the city manager, his assistant and the city planner. I limited its scope and readers will certainly have additional recommendations. Share them with us here in the comment section and then share them with the city staff.

EMAIL CONTACTS: Please consider drafting your own (use mine as a model if you need to) and send it to: bbifoss@traversecitymi.govBen Bifoss, city manager; mvitous@ci.traverse-city.mi.usMakayla Vitous, assistant to cm; rsoyring@ci.traverse-city.mi.usRuss Soyring, city planner.

Also, the staff and board chairperson of the Downtown Development Authority need to be included: bryan@downtowntc.com • Bryan Crough, E. D. & Community Development Director; rob@downtowntc.com • Rob Bacigalupi, Deputy Director; ncf1997@aol.com • Burian, Robert C., Chairperson.


To City Manager R. Ben Bifoss and staff,

Lately, there has been a lot of attention focused on the design of our streets. Count me as one of the voices that believe that we can design them to better reflect the values of city residents. The neighborhoods have voiced their desire to live in a city that isn’t dominated by, and built solely for the convenience of the motorist. The list of prescriptions is lengthy, however, there is an opportunity now to fix one of the forgotten streets: State Street.

I support converting State Street from a one-way street back into a two-way street, including the short section of Pine Street.  The proposed West Front parking deck is an excellent impetus to kick-start this conversion. The parking deck will purposefully increase the amount of motorized traffic in our city. That needs countering with any and all professional recommendations possible to reduce the negative impacts that will occur. The parking deck doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There will be consequences for other modes of transportation, as well as on the economic vibrancy & livability of adjacent parts of the downtown  and in the neighborhoods. A strategic plan to deal with the impact needs to be more than simply converting a street back to a two-way, but it is a start to the conversation that must occur. (I’d be happy to sit with you to explore more changes and enhancements that need to occur, like a real reduction in surface parking, raising the price of street parking, and leading edge traffic calming and LID storm-water treatment.)

A walk along the route is revealing, the 3 decade long experiment of a one-way street on State Street has hindered economic activity, active transportation, transit and increased safety concerns downtown. One-way streets are known to create excessive speeds, unnecessary circling (which leads to congestion and reduced downtown desirability) and a decrease in walkability and bikability. Front Street is successful and our city would be much improved if we could emulate, improve and augment that on another street.

One-way streets have one purpose: moving cars quickly through a place at high speeds. On State Street, it is also built to provide parking for Front Street. We, as a community, have moved beyond this need. It no longer makes sense to maintain a 1960′s traffic experiment.

I would like to see the city move forward. Plans for the west end parking deck need to include a redesign of State St. back to a two-way street among other changes to our street network.

How can I help you make this conversion?


Gary L Howe

Traverse City Michigan


Peter’s posts are at:

  1. August 17, 2012 at 11:54 am

    I agree with your thoughts about one way street designs….having just moved back to the Traverse City area from Portland, OR, I can say that the debate continues there as well. MUCH has been written about how poorly one way streets serve the goals of traffic calming, pedestrianability (did I just make that word up?) and bike use. My friend, Ellen, was THE transportation planner for pedestrians in Portland (imagine having that job), and she told me that the street lights there are actually TIMED to account for the speed of bike traffic thru the city.

    Portland also facilitates ‘bike avenues’ by adjusting stop sign use to make for smooth stopless bike flow. Green-boxes painted at the head of busy intersections for bikes to move into safely avoiding right on red drives.

    The hardest part about one way streets for me here in TC is seeing bikes go the WRONG way down Front Street, or using the sidewalks because of the bike confusion…just how is one to travel east on Front by bike? It’s just not clear. Center of the road? I’ve seen that too. It doesn’t do much to enhance the bike culture to see such bad bike etiquette going one.

    I’d actually like to see Front Street revert to two way planning..oh horrors! Imagine that!

  2. Greg
    August 17, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Wow, just how is one to travel east on Front by bike? How about going a block South to State Street (or if that’s too far, there is an allet between Front & State). Boy, that was tough. Next problem?

  3. Kc
    August 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    It also doesn’t snow in Portland like it does in Traverse City.. or have the tourist influx outpour in rapid succession as we do. So you want to get out of your bed at 4:am and go clear the streets as good or better than our fantastic city crews do.. No I didn’t think so…climb off your perches of all things for bikes and get in the real world! The bad bike etiquette seems to be coming from the leaders of bike’dom like TART and other neo-big brain trusts of cultural wisdom and do as I say or else clubs!

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