One way streets as "destinations", just look at Manhattan

Councillor Vaughan has expressed his concern that the entertainment district (which includes Richmond and Adelaide) should be more than "thoroughfares" and need to be "destinations" as well. Though Vaughan doesn't mention it in this article, he has been championing the conversion of Richmond and Adelaide to two-way streets as the means by which to create a "destination". The two-way streets conversion may preclude the installation of separated bike lanes, and conversely, separated bike lanes would make a conversion to two way much harder.

This urge for two way streets doesn't hold much water. We only need to look at Manhattan where one way streets reign. The streetview photo above is of Broadway where the car lanes have been reduced to provide a meridian for safer walking and a separated bike lane as a safe, comfortable space for people to bike.

Two way street conversion is a popular idea amongst some progress urbanist types. Former mayor David Miller recently repeated the same refrain to a cycling advocate friend (they bumped into each other on the street and started discussing bike lanes). Miller, like Vaughan, presented the same notion that Richmond and Adelaide need to be converted to two way streets create destinations and that the bike lanes would prevent that from happening. This notion is not the consensus. Matt Blackett of Spacing recently spoke eloquently on CBC Radio in defence of the importance of separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide.

Manhattan is full of one way streets and has the liveliest street life of any city in North America. New York City has been working on calming its busy network of one way streets for the last few years, including adding plazas, meridians, and separated bike lanes. As far as I know, they haven't converted any of the one way streets, bucking the conventional wisdom of two-way conversions.

Converting a street to two way is not a guarantee of creating destinations, if that were true then Bathurst and Dufferin would be great streets to hang out on. Nor do one way streets in themselves automatically result in dead street life. If that were true, then neighbourhoods across the city would be outraged with their one way residential streets.

There are plenty of ways to add life to a street; to make it more comfortable to walk or bike on. Instead of sticking to a tired trope, let's look at the whole range of options.


Because a small percentage of people drive in New York, one way streets are a smaller problem. I suspect many New Yorker's only have a vague idea of which streets go which way.

If people did drive then they would have to deal with the frustration of driving on the right road in the right direction and would give up and drive somewhere else instead.

The argument isn't in favour of creating new one-way streets, it's simply of preserving the status quo. After all, Richmond and Adelaide have been one-way for years, and presumably most drivers have learned to deal with it. The argument here is that leaving them as one-way streets permits more creative use of the right-of-way, as opposed to a conversion back to 2-way operation that will entrench 4 lanes of vehicular traffic in perpetuity (at the expense of everything but a relative few drivers).

Hamilton has many more one-way streets than Toronto does, and far higher percentage of drivers in its transportation mode share. People may be smarter than you think; I've never heard of anyone moving out of Hamilton because they couldn't cope with one-way streets.

One-way streets were two-way streets before the automobile. It was the arrival of the automobile that created one-way streets because the streets were too narrow for them to travel in both directions AND to provide on-street parking.

We can also look towards Montreal for examples of lively one way streets. I like Boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest where a lane was taken out of a road much like Richmond for a cycle track. With the cycle track and parking it resulted in a much narrower, calmer road. Compared to Richmond or Adelaide there seem to be a lot more people riding bikes.

@W. K. Lis

There aren't any appreciable space or RoW savings by having traffic travel in one direction versus two, so that wasn't the reason for doing it. In a typical street you get two travel lanes - regardless of direction of travel - and two parking lanes, with the parking lanes usually doubling as turning lanes at intersections.

And that last point is crucial: the rationale for converting two-way streets to one-way was largely to deal with the problems created by cars turning at intersections, which are numerous from a traffic engineering perspective.

At each intersection in a two-way system, there are three possible directions of travel for traffic travelling in any given direction: ahead, right and left. With a typical maximum of two approach lanes at an intersection in an older downtown grid, you're short a lane (in the suburbs this is "solved" by a proliferation of lanes at intersections). That's the problem that one-way couplets solve: we can have two through lanes in the middle with the curb lanes (usually used for parking mid-block) available as turn lanes. Capacity is increased not by dedicating more lanes to traffic but by consolidating turn lanes and increasing the capacity of intersections. In the case of one-ways crossing one-ways it gets even "better": only one lane needs to be set aside for turning, so now we can actually run three through lanes and one parking lane.

At any rate, just because one-ways were created for the benefit of cars doesn't mean it has to be that way. Instead of regarding one-ways as a means for consolidating turn movements, they can be regarded as a way of consolidating car traffic. In a two-way system, a pair of parallel streets will have between them two lanes in each direction and four parking lanes, for a total of eight lanes. But in a one-way system, we only need to allocate one lane in each direction between the two streets for cars and general traffic. The other six lanes are available for other uses. Four of them can continue to be parking lanes with the final two set aside for bike lanes, possibly with widened sidewalks if the bike lanes are one-way as well. Or two of the parking lanes can be removed and set aside for transit (which can go "contraflow", which in reality is akin to a two-way street with transit-only in one direction).

The key point is that one-ways allow for a greater flexibility in allocating scarce road space between multiple uses (general traffic, transit, bicycles, pedestrians). Converting one-ways back to two-ways without considering other options for one-ways would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In and near downtown Chicago, we have LOTS of one way streets that are quite lively and are definitely destinations. Some of them have bike lanes, too.

Dearborn ( is one of our most popular examples right now. We recently got a 2-way protected lane through downtown, extending north and south of downtown to connect with more destinations.

Jackson ( is a major bike commute route into downtown that's been getting a bike lane in phases, due to the complex mix of uses along the street.

You might want to check out our recently rafted bike plan.

The two streets in downtown Vancouver are both one-way streets. For a new greenway downtown, the city is converting a two way street to alternating one way section.

It is a urban myth that two way streets are better. One way streets are often safer for pedestrians as they only have to look one way to cross them. The key is reclaiming lanes of traffic from one way streets for use as separated bike lanes, wider sidewalks, patios, Greenspace, etc.

This discussion brought to mind an article I recently read: Two-Way Street Networks: More Efficient than Previously Thought?

As someone driving a "vehicle" (my bicycle), I prefer two-way arterial streets. If I'm cycling and looking for a particular destination and miss it (sometimes by several blocks), I can then cycle back in the opposite direction on the same street, without breaking any laws.

I know we're asking for two-way cycle tracks on Richmond and/or Adelaide, but imagine if we were to get the same conditions that automobiles currently get. If we were to get a cycle lane going in only one direction on Richmond, for instance, I would find this a bit better than the current situation, but not as good as having lanes going in two directions on Richmond. And as the above article suggests, all road users using two-way streets have to pay more attention and slow down at intersections, and businesses may get more exposure as signal timing at intersections is longer.

It seems as if the main dilemna for us, as cyclists, is whether converting Richmond and/or Adelaide from one-way to two-way means that the City of Toronto will claim there is no room for cycle lanes or other improved active transportation infrastructure. I would rather argue this issue than whether one-way streets are as good as two-way streets.

In Ottawa the two-way versus one-way debate is working out differently by prioritizing bike lanes over conversion. While Ottawa is considering testing the conversion of some one-way streets to two-way, Nelson Edwards, the planner in charge of the Downtown Moves project said that it "will depend on how much space is leftover when the needs of different road users are accounted for".

If there is a tradeoff between having bicycle lanes or having two lanes for vehicular traffic, it’s more likely that bicycles would be prioritized.

“We have a limited right-of-way and we need to distribute that space in an equitable way,” he said.

An independent review of converting downtown streets to two-way roads found that it would not be the “panacea solution” some planners believe it could be, Edwards said.

It's a matter of equity. Given limited space, providing space for cyclists is a higher priority than converting a street so that it can be a "destination". On Richmond and Adelaide it would be great if we could have both two-way and cycle tracks, but I have not heard that this is likely to be possible (maybe by taking out all curbside parking but it's quite unlikely to be politically possible).

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