Visitors to Lincoln frequently express frustration about the sheer volume of one-way streets in the city center.
However, updates to the city’s downtown master plan call for officials to study whether some of the one-way streets – especially those that aren’t as busy – would better serve the area as two-way streets in light of increased traffic and changing demographics.
Anything to remove the confusion downtown would be an improvement on the inexplicable starts and stops – and the resulting challenges to the safety of drivers and pedestrians. While major one-way thoroughfares provide an important purpose, not every downtown street needs to adhere to the old transit theory that led to their conversion from two-way streets in the 1950s.
City officials recognize eliminating all of downtown’s one-way streets would be nearly impossible, not to mention impractical.
Existing interchanges where two distinct one-way streets merge into a single two-way street – such as Ninth and 10th streets at Interstate 180 or K and L streets at Rosa Parks Way – would be a challenge to reconfigure. Furthermore, adhering to the old principle of quickly routing large amounts of traffic in and out of downtown makes sense in both of those street pairings.
But the inconsistency and switching from two-way to one-way traffic, seemingly at random, on less heavily traveled downtown streets can be maddening.
Consider 12th and 13th streets – the latter of which connects downtown to far south Lincoln – for instance. Both are two-way streets from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus to O Street. Yet they become one-way routes north and south, respectively, down to K Street. In particular, an island diverting northbound traffic off of 13th Street onto Lincoln Mall can befuddle drivers.
To a lesser extent, 11th and 14th streets experience these same problems. The other two streets explicitly mentioned for the first round of closer examination – M and N – seem to work well in their current fashion.
Increasing interest in making the downtown area home to families certainly plays into the reasoning for this study of the one-way streets. It’s unclear exactly how much residential would factor in the area, but the wide streetscapes would allow for additional amenities to be tucked alongside traffic lanes.
However, the larger benefit would almost certainly entail improved safety.
Removing the sudden switches from two-way to one-way and back again would no doubt reduce confusion. Everyone has seen drivers, emotions between uncertainty and unmitigated panic, heading the wrong way down Lincoln’s one-way streets. Pedestrians, too, benefit from safer walking conditions on two-way streets, as Planning Director David Cary told the Lincoln City Council.
As downtown changes, several – but not all – of its one-way streets should as well.