People make decisions at the margin, and small differences in accessibility produce big differences in behaviour.
By Ryan McGreal
Published March 18, 2013
On Friday night we met some friends and had dinner at the Black Forest Inn at King and Ferguson. We hadn't eaten there in years, and I'm happy to report that the food and service were every bit as excellent as we remembered it, and the house was jam-packed.
However, the trip also illustrated the inconvenience of paired one-way streets - even for drivers - for trying to reach a destination on the street itself rather than across town.
We drove east along Main to pass the restaurant and then double back on King. I can never remember where destinations are on King when I'm approaching them on Main, so I planned to take no chances: I'd pass Wellington and then make my first left. Luckily my wife, whose sense of direction is inerrant, told me to make a left on Spring so I didn't have to overshoot by three blocks.
Meanwhile, another couple meeting us turned too soon and undershot the restaurant. They had to make two more turns, get back onto Main and try again. A third couple decided to approach from the north, which presents its own challenges.
As we sat in the lounge waiting for our table, we all commented on how cumbersome it was to drive there. It comes no surprise that the International Village BIA, which encompasses 113 businesses (including the Black Forest Inn), formally and strongly supports two-way conversion:
The perpetuation of one-way streets has bred a culture in this city where the needs of the car outweigh those of the pedestrian, the cyclist and the community. Where businesses are allowed, even encouraged to fail in favour of high-speed traffic and timed lights. Where the safety of our citizens and our children are of lesser import than the perceived right of motorists to maintain highway speeds at all times.
We have allowed the economic and cultural destiny of the city's core to be subverted to serve the interests of those who want nothing from our downtown but to pass through it, and it is time for this to end.
The businesses represented by the International Village BIA understand better than anyone how our network of one-way streets hurt local business and community vitality. Last May, Aaron Newman of Newman's Menswear - also on King Street, but farther east - explained what's wrong with one-way traffic:
Try telling someone to find our store from the west end. It's a complex set of directions, wastes both time and gas, creates more travel and really thwarts our accessibility to customers. For a retailer, making it hard for a customer is never a good thing!
It might seem as though a one-way street is only a small inconvenience, a marginal irritant that shouldn't make a difference, but economists - and experienced business owners - know better. People make decisions at the margin, and small changes in accessibility can lead to big changes in behaviour.
The cost in convenience of trying to drive upstream toward a destination on a one-way street whose traffic flows the other way has been dragging on downtown retail businesses for decades - ever since the streets were first converted to one-way in 1956.
Within months, downtown retailers were already complaining about lost business and falling revenues. Here's Ben Wunder speaking to the Transportation Committee in 1957 about how fast one-way traffic flows scared away his customers.
Many of us spent a lot of money on new store fronts. It was futile. Our windows are no good nowadays, people have no time to stop and look. Nobody comes from the west end of the city any more. We would like to see King Street two-way once more.
You people are supposed to be working for the people ... [sic] well, we are the people, too, and of what good is King Street without merchants? It seems as if everything possible has been done to take people away from King Street East!
As we approach the 60th anniversary of our city's fateful decision to convert its downtown streets into paired one-way thoroughfares, we could do much worse than pay attention to those businesses that have struggled to survive these many decades:
There is no greater obstacle to the success of businesses within our core, and no single issue that could be fixed more easily.
We remain crippled by our fear of the unknown, but what really frightens me is that the known and predictable results of our current system might continue for a minute longer than they have to!
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