ARTICLE - Rethinking the One Way Street

one way street signRethinking the One Way Street references a study published in the Journal of Planning and Education Research in 2022. The authors observe that one way streets were created by suburbanization to allow a quick and simple drive in and out of suburbs commuting to city jobs. They allowed for higher speeds over greater distances with fewer stops. This led to unpleasant, often dangerous streets for other road users.

Today urban planners are taking heed of research that suggests converting one way streets back to two way streets can make cities safer, fairer and more robust.

The study referenced compared real world street traffic in San Francisco to test the hypothesis that one-way streets increase the distance traveled because they often force drivers to circle around one-way blocks to get to their destinations. They found that "All else equal, two-way street networks allow significantly shorter average travel distances. Intracity trips are approximately 1.7% longer on San Francisco’s existing mix of one-way streets than they could be if all streets were two-way."

The authors conclude that "One-way streets benefit drivers; but in a full accounting, the benefit may be quite small. More importantly, two-way streets benefit everyone else. They can improve air quality, safety for cyclists and pedestrians, and promote patronage of local businesses."


Here in Vancouver, there is no better system than one-way arterials. We're a city of bridges. Burrard is paralled with Thurlow and Hornby. Granville is paralled by Howe and Seymour. Cambie by Nelson and Smithe. The Viaduct by West Georgia and Dunsmuir. 

On these arterials, if you're able to average around 50 km/h, you will be rewarded with sequential traffic lights; heck, I once cruised from Chinatown to the end of Jervis when traffic was light!

Cycle paths/routes have reduced the use of asphalt considerably, and personally I think they should have been put on the two-ways, but this traffic light system has been running well since 1986. And sure as heck wouldn't be more efficient if they were all converted into two-ways just because of some irrelevant study.

I lived in Yaletown when the change to one ways was implemented in 2006-2007 and I say that commutes became longer, traffic slower and parking scarcer. It could be the general effect of simply more people, but it does make sense that less flexibility would result in people having to drive further for longer in-case they missed their turn or were looking for parking; spending mor etime ont he road, creating traffic. And to add to the sequential traffic lights point - I almost never clear the Dunsmuir St viaduct route all the way across Burrard in one go due to the general slow down in traffic speed. They never re-timed it.

In my Cities Skylines (city simulation game) I've fully stopped using one-ways, because its a new-player trap to address deficiencies in the initial planning. Maximized flexibility across all neighborhoods results in the least traffic for me.

In reply to by Outrageous

I can imagine this. It's like a permanent traffic jam in that corner; forever you seem to have to turn left in order to go anywhere.

But that's the downside of the arterial system, using one-way streets. Which for most people, most of the time, is efficient.

The problem with making all those cycle lanes is that it's choked an already overloaded system by leaving fewer trafffic lanes. So whether it's Dunsmuir, or Hornby, etc is that they're unable to fit in with the syncronized system. The other problem is that drivers don't think enough about what's going on ahead, and that they need to leave the brake alone and cruise if possible cause that's how it's designed.

They can't re-time it, I suspect.

Agreed they should run with the flow of traffic as should bridge cycling routes.

Richards northbound spits cyclists out facing water street with drivers not expecting to see northbound vehicular traffic and creates a dangerous left cross turn to go westbound toward the seabus terminal.

Go around the block? As in, turn right and then left, left, left ... nah, they should never have made that single piece of Richards with a split up the middle of the cycle lane. Then, it may be hoped, cyclists heading toward the seabus will walk their bikes instead of riding into conflict with traffic at an intersection that's very hard to figure out the conflicts. The traffic engineers need to take another look at this one.