Sixty some odd years ago, a decision was made to change the streets of Capitol and Fourth in Pekin from two-ways leading in and out of downtown to one-way. The thinking went: traffic is congested, wouldn’t it just be easier to turn these to one-ways and people can move from downtown to their destinations faster? Everyone at the time answers yes.
With the mindset on cruise control there were no worries about anything else other than moving automobiles. In fact, that had been the mindset for the same sixty years all across the country – Pekin, Illinois no different.
Decades later, one block of those streets has returned to being a normal and regularly functioning again [news]. It’s about time, but yet still not even close to what needs to be done.
Over a year ago, the Pekin City Council voted to leave the streets of Capitol and Fourth one-way [story].What had been set in motion by the Pekin Public Library at the time turned into a battle of reality versus misconceptions.
Residents not knowing any other way of life assumed that due to this unfamiliar reversal of streets to two-ways there would be an uptick of accidents (as if the rest of streets around the country aren’t going in both directions). While reports, studies, traffic engineers, police and even the local safety committee agreed that it would be BETTER for not only drivers:
When you’re driving in one direction (on a one-way street) and you don’t have to worry about a car coming at you you tend to drive a little bit faster. Some of our accidents have increased on those one-way streets so we’ve looked at it from a safety standpoint as well.
…were the words of Detective Mike Eeten of the Pekin Police Department [WEEK]. However, the natives still disagreed.”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was the outcry.
Well, technically, it is broke. The streets, metaphorically speaking are the arteries of a city, with the center of the city being the heart. Modes, rules, direction, and capacity are the valves. When you open a valve by increasing the posted speed, cars move faster. When you change the streets from a two-way to a one-way, the speed of the cars move even faster and more of them move in that same direction.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, this proves to be worse in the long run for drivers who have to find alternate routes of getting to the same place they would have easy access to with a two-way street configuration. This is especially true when it comes to the public library which has to handle a lot of local and non-local patrons.
For residents in the neighborhood, you have an overly unnecessary wide street that its primary goal is to get drivers through your neighborhood quickly. Regardless of posted speed, people will go over it. It is SO wide that it pushes the pedal down further without you even realizing it. You’ve seen your neighborhood housing values decrease – this is just one of the many reasons involved with why.
On the surface, this may just seem like a quick fix to allow for easier access to the library. For most, that’s about as far as they’ll take it. Unfortunately, for the city itself, the one-way mentality has led to the quick distribution of people, in their cars, away from the core of the town. As the police chief indicates:
Capitol and Fourth were changed 60 years ago to one-way routes, allowing traffic to move more quickly in and out of downtown — then the city’s main business-retail district. That concern no longer exists.
We have learned a valuable lesson over the course of these past decades known as unintended consequences. The evidence is overwhelming in support of not only two-way streets, but complete streets. Complete streets are when we move out of the single-minded focus of solely moving automobiles towards creating fully functional and accessible streets for everyone. And no, much to common belief, we have not been doing a good job of it.
Downtown, as a result has decayed significantly, and the neighborhoods in close proximity have gone with it. Yesterday, we worried about moving traffic in and out. Today, we worry about safety, accessibility and convenience due to yesterday’s oversight. Tomorrow we need to worry about why our downtown doesn’t function like a downtown, why our neighborhoods are nothing more than conduits for cars to pass through them, and why there will never been enough money to quench our insatiable appetite for our auto-destructive behavior.