“Induced demand” is the “build-it-and-they-will-come” theory of driving. If you add a lane, that lane will fill with traffic. Essentially, if you make it easier or faster to drive, people will do just that, and do it in droves. So the latest discussion of the future of 26th and 28th Streets has prompted me to realize that I’m proof of induced demand.
For example, I live near the 38th Street light rail station, and if I need to get to get to anywhere north of the Midtown Greenway in Uptown or Whittier, I’ll take Hiawatha Avenue to 26th Street. Why? 26th Street is a fast one-way. Coming home, even if I’m south of Lake Street in Uptown, I’ll drive north to 28th Street, the fast eastbound one-way street across town, even if my destination (home) is to the south again. Need to get to the Electric Fetus? I’ll take 38th Street to Park Avenue and jet north to Franklin. I remember as a kid riding in the back seat as my dad drove us to Abbott Northwestern Hospital to see my newborn brother – he set his speed at 38 MPH on Park Avenue and we hit every green light. Driving downtown to swimming lessons as a kid, my mom could do the same thing. Talk about induced demand, how could you not drive on a sweet road like that?
Even today, with Park and Portland and their new “protected” bike lanes and speed limit reduced to 30 MPH, the street is built for higher speed. Just look at the photo of Park avenue below – how can you not drive fast on this street? The lane at the center of the street is really wide, built for about 40 MPH. Portland is the same way. The induced demand is still there.
Not that the Midtown Greenway hasn’t helped. It sure makes getting to Uptown or Midtown much easier by bicycle, with only four traffic signals to negotiate, and those are on Hiawatha Avenue. Still, driving is much quicker because of these awful one-way streets. It isn’t that we aren’t making meaningful improvements to non-driving options, it’s that we’re not correspondingly making it harder or more expensive to drive. Induced demand still wins.
The same problem persists in downtown Minneapolis as well, despite converting Hennepin and 1st Avenues to two-way streets. If I’m trying to get home from Golden Valley or some other western suburb (not that I’d admit to this!), and heading east on 394, my typical route would be hop on 94, go through the Lowry Hill Tunnel and then Highway 55 south. As crazy as this sounds, if 394 traffic is backed up at the 94 interchange, I will actually take 394 in to downtown, take 4th Street through downtown, and hop on a sneaky on ramp that accesses Highway 55 (I think this can be accomplished legally without even using a turn signal!). I’ll let that sink in for a moment – I choose to drive through downtown Minneapolis instead of using a freeway, because it is faster, or feels faster. Same thing getting to the North Loop from my home. Because there is a ramp from northbound Highway 55 to 3rd Street, which is the one-way pair of 4th, it’s too easy to refuse.
What is more interesting is considering what is located along these one-way streets. Park, Portland, 26th, 28th, 3rd, 4th? Very few, at least as a ratio of the linear feet of street frontage. I’ve been to the 112 Eatery, but that is about it. Block after block of fast moving one-way streets, and what do we get for them? More parking ramp entrances than storefronts, that’s for sure. The message these streets send to people is “there is no reason to be here; please use this street to move quickly somewhere else.” This isn’t the kind of message a livable city sends.
Should we make it harder for me to drive? Why would I want us to do that to me? Am I insane!? If the question is solely about speed, then the answer clearly is to leave well enough alone. But if the question is “are we doing all we can to encourage a mixed-use, sustainable, livable city with a variety of transportation options?” then we are vastly selling ourselves short. If we waved a magic wand and converted all one-way streets in the city to two-way, we’d immediately make these streets more pleasant and safer overall for walking and biking, and we’d very quickly make the real estate along these streets more valuable, thereby increasing the tax coffers of the city. Of course, I’d prefer that we also improved transit, cycling and crosswalks as part of this effort, like making the 23 bus a High-Frequency service, for example.
This is not the first time the issue has come up, but progress can’t happen fast enough. Well-intentioned plans do not necessarily lead to good results on the ground. Do we need a sweeping executive action, under cover of darkness, like when Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley ordered Meigs Field closed, carving big X marks in the runway to force the issue? Maybe, because convincing already unhappy drivers to allow their commute times to increase and negotiate slower streets is a very tall order.
The goal in 1960s was to move traffic quickly through the city. Unfortunately for the livability of the city, we’ve succeeded. And now drivers feel it is their right to continue to drive fast on our one-way streets. But think for a moment of the best streets you’ve ever walked along or sat near on a bench or at a sidewalk restaurant, or simply crossed. I bet the one-way streets of Minneapolis rarely make that list; they sure don’t for me.
Bottom line is this – as Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, says, we cannot build our cities for cars and people. We must choose. We can improve transit with light rail, streetcars and better bus service, and build more bike lanes, but we leave something on the table if we don’t also make it a bit harder to drive. Converting one-way streets to two-way would be a great start. Minneapolis hasn’t always had one-way streets slicing up the city. Keeping them limits the social and economic potential of the city. Besides, they just induce us all to drive more.