In John Gilderbloom's experience, the notorious streets are invariably the one-way streets. These are the streets lined with foreclosed homes and empty storefronts, the streets that look neglected and feel unsafe, the streets where you might find drug dealers at night.How to test the hypothesis, when cities won't allow you to change streets willy nilly?
"Sociologically, the way one-way streets work," he says, "[is that] if there are two or more lanes, a person can just pull over and make a deal, while other traffic can easily pass them by."
It's also easier on a high-speed one-way road to keep an eye out for police or flee from the scene of a crime. At least, this is the pattern Gilderbloom, director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods at the University of Louisville, has observed in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, in Houston and Washington where streets that once flowed both directions were converted in the 1950s and '60s into fast-moving one-way thoroughfares to help cars speed through town. The places where this happened, Gilderbloom noticed, deteriorated.
"I thought about that for a long time," he says. "But we didn’t have much empirical data on it."
. . . they took advantage of a kind of natural experiment: In 2011, Louisville converted two one-way streets near downtown, each a little more than a mile long, back to two-way traffic. In data that they gathered over the following three years, Gilderbloom and William Riggs found that traffic collisions dropped steeply — by 36 percent on one street and 60 percent on the other — after the conversion, even as the number of cars traveling these roads increased. Crime dropped too, by about a quarter, as crime in the rest of the city was rising. Property values rose, as did business revenue and pedestrian traffic, relative to before the change and to a pair of nearby comparison streets. The city, as a result, now stands to collect higher property tax revenues along these streets, and to spend less sending first-responders to accidents there.For those who have not had the pleasure of driving a large work boat behind a pickup truck through the back streets of our nations capitol, just let me remind you that the city is laid out in an impressive grid, with large tracts of one way streets.
Gilderbloom and Riggs have also done an analysis of the entire city of Louisville, comparing Census tracts with multi-lane one-way streets to those without them. The basic pattern holds city-wide: They found that the risk of a crash is twice as high for people riding through neighborhoods with these one-way streets. The property values in census tracts there were also about half the value of homes in the rest of the city.
Pierre Charles L'Enfant could not be reached for comment.