Thursday, May 10, 2012

Downtown Jeopardy

I'll have “Random Dates in Lexington History” for $200, Alex.

And the answer is, September 10, 1950.

What was the day when we got most of our one-way streets?

Correct. That was the day when, at least, six of the downtown streets were converted to one-way and new parking limitations for autos and trucks set in place. Today, many of the parking rules and loading zones are vastly different, but all but a few of the changed one-way streets are still with us.

One-way streets are a hot topic these days and I doubt if it is due to the changes made back those 61 years ago. Downtown traffic has always been a sore point and especially since the introduction of the automobile. Even in the horse drawn buggy and wagons era there were traffic problems. The conversation today is about slowing down the traffic which moves through downtown rather than just getting to and from downtown.

Is it not odd that the morning rush hour traffic which flows well on the two-way radial spokes of Richmond, Winchester/Midland, Tates Creek or Leestown roads need the one-way uses of Main and Vine to get to where they are going? During off-peak times are all of the vehicles solely trying to get to the other side of town since many feel that downtown is not a destination?
The 40 year experiment with one-way traffic on Main & Vine, the pattern which many now believe that we cannot do without, may be a factor in the oft referred decline of downtown and its bland atmosphere of rapidly moving traffic and lack of pedestrians. The nice thing about experiments like this is that the can be reversed.

Take the example of East Short St from around the turn of the last century. The section from Limestone to Walnut (now Martin Luther King...) was made one-way. In the winter of 1926 a delegation of Short street property owners petitioned for a repeal of that change and it returned to a two-way street. Due to the narrowness of the roadway where it passed the county jail, parking was prohibited for its full length. Twenty-four years later, during the changes of 1950, Short St was made one-way from Georgetown St to Deweese.

What has surprised me most in doing research for this is the Limestone, then U.S. 27, was still two-way and the oddest change was for Mill and Upper Streets to assume part of that traffic as it passed through town. Upper St was a southbound one-way at that point but not a part of the national highway system and Mill St (or portions of it) was northbound one-way.

Under the 1950 change, Upper became northbound and Mill became southbound. U.S. 27 traffic was diverted from North Broadway at Third and apparently used Upper and Mill to connect with Bolivar, from which one used Upper St to proceed south to Limestone and Nicholasville Rd. This only last a few short years, since, as a pre-teen, I remember Limestone and Upper as the exist today.

From the map accompanying the newspaper article, the old version of Vine St was changed to one-way from Broadway to Kentucky Ave. though I have no recollection of that at all

The plan of 1950 shows the westbound changes to Second St for both of its East and West portions and Church street for its entire length, along with Corral from Deweese to Midland.

That leaves High and Maxwell Streets which became the one-way pair as we know them today. As I have always known them from my days attending Maxwell School. I don't think that I have ever heard anyone suggest that it be any different. I do believe that if it is reverted to two-way, then any parking on them anywhere would have to be eliminated.

What will this new, nearly half million dollar study determine for our downtown streets? Will two-way streets add the necessary vitality to the streetscape? Will this be another wasted attempt at “bringing downtown back” which so many suburbanites bemoan from the safety of their insulated subdivision communities.

Downtown will never “come back” and I thank God for that. We can make it better and not just from a traffic standpoint, and I thank a whole handful of folks for that. But making it better is not as simple as doing or undoing what may be “failed” experiments. It could be tweaking some things and wholesale makeovers on others, so we need to be thoughtful in how we proceed. Since they were looking at parking restrictions and loading zones/times as part of the traffic(auto and foot) problem, then maybe we should revisit them as well.


lacey said...

I think families should be encouraged to bike and walk (strollers too!) downtown. Before we get persnickety about the sidewalks, we need to make sure the bike lanes are very safe.

Streetsweeper said...

Lacey, I too believe that families should use the downtown facilities. Children up to the age of 12 are allowed to ride on sidewalks in the downtown area and they should be accompanied by their parents. In addition, parents should teach the proper use of bike lanes as the children age.

For that matter, I think that one of the benefits of returning to two way streets, and the slowing of traffic, will be an easing of the fear of using downtown bike lanes. Biking next to a vehicle moving at a slower relative speed is not quite as daunting.

The problem with strollers is the place where the adults wish to place them relative to pedestrian traffic patterns.