Will Main Street Follow in Vine Street’s Footsteps and Return to Two-Way Traffic?

City and community leaders are taking a fresh look at some of Over-the-Rhine’s streets and intersections to see if they might be able to better function if managed differently.

In the 1940’s many downtown streets were converted from two-way to one-way traffic in order to stream automobile traffic through the city center. With the completion of Interstate 75 in the late 1950’s and Interstate 71 in the late 1960’s, some of these streets became important feeders into the highway system.

Additionally, many north-south streets, such as Main, Walnut and Vine, remained one-way to help move traffic throughout the new auto-oriented street system.

It eventually became clear, however, that one-way streets were not adding much benefit beyond moving vehicles slightly faster on their way to and from the interstate highways.

As a result, the City of Cincinnati spent around $400,000 in 1999 to convert Vine Street back to two-way travel from Central Parkway to McMicken Avenue. A subsequent study in 2004 found that traffic along Vine Street became slightly more congested, but also reduced the speed of motorists traveling through the historic neighborhood.

Since its conversion, Vine Street has also blossomed with dozens of new businesses, which can, in part, be attributed to slower traffic and improved access and visibility. As a result, there have been several other examples of this type of conversion throughout Over-the-Rhine, including sections of Thirteenth and Fourteenth Streets.

Two-way street conversions are typically credited with improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists, while also helping local businesses along the street by making it easier for drivers to navigate city streets. In addition to that, a civil engineer from Penn State University even found that the conversion of one-way streets can even improve traffic flow.

“Two-way networks can serve more trips per unit time than one-way networks when average trip lengths are short,” Dr. Vikash Gayah wrote in his essay. “This study also found that two-way networks in which left-turn movements were banned at intersection could always serve trips at a higher rate than one-way networks could, even long trips.”

Gayah’s conclusion was that the trip-serving capacity of a street network can actually be improved when converted to two-way operations, and when left turns are banned.

“This framework can be used by planners and engineers to determine how much a network’s capacity changes after a conversion, and also to unveil superior conversion options,” Gayah noted.

In Cincinnati, initiating such conversions can come in the form of streetscaping projects or through formal requests made by neighborhood leaders. From there, City engineers will determine the feasibility of suggested conversions. In some cases, like E. Twelfth, E. Thirteenth, Fourteenth Streets, City engineers have said that the streets are too narrow to be converted and remain one-way to allow for on-street parking.

The Over-the-Rhine Community Council recently submitted a request to the City to convert Main Street back to two-way traffic.

“At most times of the day Main Street has relatively light traffic and motorists speed down the street in order to make every green light,” Seth Maney, head of Main Street OTR, explained to UrbanCincy. “It can seem more like a drag strip than a pedestrian-oriented business district.”

The specific request from Over-the-Rhine activists is to convert both Main Street and Walnut Street. However, transportation officials say that the routing of the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar will prohibit such a conversion south of Twelfth Street.

“The streetcar route is something we have to consider if there was a desire to convert the north-south streets to two way traffic.” said Michael Moore, Director of Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE). “The conversion from Twelfth to Liberty Street, however, would be relatively simple.”

In addition to Twelfth Street, the streetcar’s routing along Elm and Race would also seem to make it improbable that either of those streets could be converted to two-way traffic.

  • EDG

    As seen in the below slide from “Liberty Street Complete Street Project”, planners in the 50’s grossly missed on their projection that Liberty would be a main connection between 75 and 71. I would bet that there is a link between the widening and destruction of Liberty and the continuation of one-way traffic through OTR between the CBD and Liberty.

  • Mark Christol

    Is there any advantage / disadvantage for buses to go up and down different streets rather than going up and down the same street?
    An article you linked to said using the same street helps the rider navigate better.

    • There is no advantage to using different streets for different directions. It just makes it more difficult for people to understand, and makes them walk slightly farther.

      All else being equal.

  • AJ

    Is DOTE only considering conversion South of Liberty? I would think that extending the two-way Walnut St to McMicken would make a lot more sense. Also, don’t forget to add 14th between Elm and Race to the list. That conversion is happening VERY soon. I think 15th between Vine and Elm would make a great conversion as well.

    • Matt Jacob

      I agree it needs to go all the way to McMicken if they do this conversion. McMicken and Walnut/Lang intersection has so much wasted space due to the one-way that converting it could make a great opportunity for a public square in the heart of the brewery district.

  • wklis

    “The streetcar’s routing along Elm and Race would also seem to make it
    improbable that either of those streets could be converted to two-way
    traffic.” Why do the streetcars in Toronto run on two-way traffic streets?

    • On both Main and Race streets, the streetcar runs in the left travel lane and has stops on the left side of the road. If these streets were made two-way, the streetcar tracks would be on the wrong side of the road.

  • stasis096

    Based on the 2004 report linked in this article, it sounds like Vine Street would be better off as a one-way street:

    1. Traffic Volumes: All three north-south streets (Vine, Race, and Walnut) when analyzed as a “system,” decreased in traffic volumes an average of 28% since the conversion of Vine Street to two-way in 1999.

    2. Traffic Accident Experience: The total number o fall reported accidents on Vine Street between Twelfth Street and Findlay/McMicken Avenue were compared. The average totals per year went from 212 to 102 to 164 respectively for the three analysis periods. This showed a decrease when Vine Street was one-way as compared to the two two-way operations.

    3. Travel Time: Northbound Vine Street has more than doubled in average travel time from 2 minutes 1 second to 4 minutes 34 seconds, and average speed has decreased from 18.1 mph to 12.1 mph.

    4. Transit Operations: Since the Vine Street conversion to two-way operation, Metro has had to lengthen their bus schedule times along Vine Street due to the increased congestion. The buses are experiencing some delays created by the bump-outs, as they cannot get into or out of the bus stops efficiently.

    • You seem to have a very different definition of “better off” than most other people here. What you are saying is that automobile traffic would move faster if Vine Street were one-way. And I don’t disagree with that.

      However, the revitalization of Vine Street is due to the fact that cars are no longer speeding down the street at top speed. The fact that traffic has slowed down makes it a friendlier environment for pedestrians and bikes. It also gives passers-by an opportunity to pay attention to their surrounding and notice the new businesses that have opened up.

      When it comes to automobile traffic in dense urban neighborhoods, slower is better.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Going to also add that it will make getting around OTR Legally by bicycle a heck of a lot easier too.

    • stasis096

      Vine as a one-way street had higher traffic volumes, fewer traffic accidents, quicker travel times, and more efficient transit operations.

      It’s important to realize that “average speed” takes into account the time a driver is stopped. One-way streets have higher “average speeds” because drivers are spending less time stuck at red lights (since the traffic signals along one-way streets are much easier to provide good signal progression).

    • stasis096

      “What you are saying is that automobile traffic would move faster if Vine Street were one-way.”

      Nope. Never said that!

      “However, the revitalization of Vine Street is due to the fact that cars are no longer speeding down the street at top speed.”

      The top speed of a Ferrari 458 Italia is 201 mph. Apparently, some drivers were exceeding the speed limit by well over 100 mph when Vine Street was one-way!

      “The fact that traffic has slowed down makes it a friendlier environment for pedestrians and bikes.”

      According to the Over-the-Rhine Vine Street Circulation Study, there was a 103% increase in pedestrian accidents after Vine Street was converted to a two-way street. That’s not very pedestrian friendly.