One-way streets help create distorted cognitive maps of a city that present it as inaccessible, with incredible friction of mobility.
By Dwayne Ali
Published September 05, 2012
There are many reasons put forth to support the conversion of Hamilton's major roads to one-way streets. I'd like to focus here on the cognitive maps created by people using Hamilton's streets, and the role of one-way streets on a city's "legibility".
As major cities around the world make efforts to increase their legibility to residents and visitors, Hamilton should not be moving in the other direction.
Many other cities and regions have realized the importance of wayfinding - the mental process of navigation between origin and destination.
A person's ability to understand a city plays a major role in how they use a city. A city that is easier to use has several economic benefits.
A simple benefit might be from an increase in the pedestrian-driven sales at small businesses not easily accessible to vehicles along current routes.
Another benefit is having citizens increase their likelihood of interaction - vital in any city aiming to increase its appeal to creative industries.
London made a major effort in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics with their 'Legible London' initiative. Toronto began a major wayfinding initiative late last year. Also last year, New York city began a major wayfinding initiative aimed at reducing information clutter and creating a more legible city.
The Ontario Ministry of Tourism released a report in 2009 [PDF] stating the importance of wayfinding efforts in helping users navigate and create cognitive maps of a city.
One-Way streets are problematic in that they conflict with the cognitive maps created of a city. Cognitive maps are the mental representations created by users of any space - they are not direct maps of a space, but are created and modified by each person's understanding and experience of the space.
With a network of one-way streets, users cannot take direct paths to destinations, and routes vary widely amongst transportation methods.
The path for a pedestrian is very different from that of a driver. This leads to a user having to learn their city multiple times in order to confidently navigate it, forever balancing a load of several conflicting cognitive maps.
It is a deterrent to a city's users when they cannot accurately judge the distance and time associated with a city destination.
One way streets artificially create distance between aspects of our city. They distort the cognitive maps of both our citizens and visitors - and not in a positive manner. They help create cognitive maps of a city that present it as inaccessible, with incredible friction of mobility.
Where transit maps might be intentionally distorted to enhance our perceptions of city space (and show users the accessibility of existing destinations), one-way streets have the opposite effect: they reinforce a destination's perceived inaccessibility.
As other cities realize the importance of wayfinding and navigation of their streets, Hamilton should aim to make the changes necessary to increase its usability by reducing the friction of mobility for all its users.
In an effort to get people to the city rather than through, let's move in one direction and lead the way.