Traffic flow and community development

Most of the major streets leading into and out of in my neighborhood are one-way – a fact that appears to run counter to the city’s revitalization efforts in the area.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a number of businesses come and go, just within a block or so of us. There have certainly been some success stories, but the come and go of these small retail shops and eateries seem to outnumber the ones that are sticking around. The other day, I was lamenting this situation to a friend who lives a few blocks away. He mentioned the lack of two-way streets going to and from downtown Burlington, and the effect that has on the area.

I’m not a city planner, or a community development expert, but this idea got me thinking. Here are some of those thoughts.

Simple geography

one-downtown-small.png Looking at a map of the area, you can see that many of the larger streets connecting the Old North End to the downtown area are one-way. The only connecting streets that are two way are North Willard, North Prospect, and North Champlain. Yet these streets are on the edges of the area, and only one (North Champlain) feeds an area that could use it – the other two go through more residential neighborhoods.

Opening up North Winooski, Elmwood, and North Union to bi-directional traffic would make it easier for people to move between downtown Burlington and the Old North End. More traffic means more business coming to the area, and less turnover.

The endangered parking space, and the urban ecosystem

Imagine a city as an ecosystem. Introducing changes to any ecosystem is going to affect other parts of that system. Adding a lane of traffic will decrease parking spaces in a town that already has a shortage. For that matter, there isn’t any more parking in the ONE either – increased traffic is going to mean greater demand for parking. There are bike lanes on at least one of those streets that would also have to be moved or be merged. And this is a town that likes it’s pedal power. Widening the street encroaches on green space.

More importantly, there are social concerns that need to be considered here as well. Some of these are present during any urban renewal project. Consider for example how increased business in the area might influence property values and rents in a town that already has a high cost of living. Or the physical and economic effects on the communities that live on those streets.

Where there’s a will, there’s a two-way street

All this is not to say that we’re living in a ghost town over here. There are some fantastic boutiques, eateries, galleries, and other establishments on this side of town. Yet it still feels like the ONE is a lot farther away from the rest of the city than it actually is.

Despite the risks and hurdles, improving traffic flow would go a long way towards fixing that disconnect. It would also help to boost the city’s renewal efforts in the area. This would not be a minor change, and would need plenty of discussion, research, and careful consideration – not to mention funding. But an urban renewal program that doesn’t consider local traffic flow is incomplete at best, if not shortsighted. I have no doubt the people of burlington and the ONE have the will to complete this process in a responsible, thoughtful, and effective manner.

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