Day #037: Turn Cary Street and Main Street into two-way streets

Two-way reversion is a cheap tool for promoting commerce. 

Inspired by Michael Bierut’s 100 Day Project, 100 Days to a Better RVA strives to introduce and investigate unique ideas to improving the city of Richmond. View the entire project here and the intro here.

  • Idea: Use “two-way reversion” to tap into the economic potential of Cary Street and Main Street.
  • Difficulty: 2 —  The reversion would be relatively cheap. Making an articulate argument to the public would be the key in gaining support for an idea that could undoubtedly ruffle the feathers of some commuters.

Roads are designed to get people from Point A to Point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. Streets are designed to be places of commerce. America is plagued with what Charles Marohn has dubbed “STROADS” — the futon (bad couches + bad sofas) of transportation options.

Broad Street is the most egregious offender in Richmond. Frustratingly slow automobile transportation flows through a landscape dominated by surface parking lots, ugly signs, and a total lack of safe walking and biking spaces. Changing Broad Street is an uphill battle that will take decades to win, but there’s lower hanging fruit in the quest for building a better city.

The failure of the parallel one-way pair of Cary Street and Main Street to promote commerce is only topped by its inadequacy of quickly transporting people from Point A to Point B.

Last October, Jeff Speck spoke at VCU and met with the city. The exact details of his suggestions are still unknown, but he clearly favors turning one-ways streets into two-way streets as can be seen in this great interview with Style Weekly.

Speck’s report on Boise, Idaho catalogs successes in Oklahoma City, Miami, Dallas, Minneapolis, Charleston, Savannah, and Vancouver. “In many of these places, the two-way reversion has been credited with the resuscitation of struggling retail districts.”

After losing two-thirds of its active tax paying addresses, a reversion in 1990 in Savannah, Georgia led to a 50% increase in tax-paying addresses. A reversion in Vancouver, Washington in 2008 is credited with doubling business traffic without boosting congestion. The head of the Downtown Association, Rebecca Ocken, went as far as to say “One-way streets should not be allowed in prime downtown retail
areas. We’ve proven that.”

Two-way streets force cars to slow down which makes pedestrians feel safer and promotes easier access to specific stores. Slower speeds and the elimination of rapid-fire lane changes would force commuters to the Downtown Expressway and Monument Avenue. Two-way streets also increase the visibility of stores.

Outside of the VCU Monroe Park Campus, what area in Richmond has more potential as a walkable neighborhood than Carytown and the restaurants and bars on Main Street? What obligation does Cary Street have to commuters? Two-way reversion is already part of the Richmond master plan downtown, and now it’s time to move this strategy west to the retail district with the most character and potential in the entire metro-region.

Two-way reversion isn’t a magic bullet that will fix an entire neighborhood’s struggles, but the return on investment is too good to ignore.

Photo by: jimmy_ray

Love this idea? Think it’s terrible? Have one that’s ten times better? Head over to the 100 Days to a Better RVA Facebook page and join in the conversation.

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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