Move on two-way streets downtown; enhanced activity will aid businesses

The first serious study of the one-way or two-way question on Lexington's downtown streets was done in 2007. By 2009 the Urban County Council had adopted a resolution setting out a process to study and then convert to two-way.

On Wednesday night a consultant presented the results of the most recent study, or at least part of them, at a public forum.

The fundamental issues never really change. The question of which system is preferable is finally a question about what kind of downtown we'll have.

Alan Ehrenhalt, longtime executive editor at Governing magazine, summed it up well in a 2009 column. If you think "that streets serve no other purpose than to move automobiles, you are unlikely to see much problem" with one-way patterns, he wrote.

"On the other hand, if you think that streets possess the capacity to enhance the quality of urban life," you are likely to look more favorably on two-way streets.

We come down hard on the side of enhancing the quality of urban life. There is a place for one-way streets but it is not where a community is trying to foster street-level activity like retail stores, restaurants and sidewalk cafes.

So it was good to learn that the latest study, the most detailed, concluded there are no major obstacles to converting several streets on the north end of downtown that are now one-way — North Limestone, North Upper, Short and West Second — to two-way.

The consultant, Tom Creasey, a civil engineer and project manager with consulting engineers Stantec, pointed out particular hot spots that would require special attention if there were a changeover.

But that is the point of studying something: to anticipate problems and address them before they cause real trouble.

Stantec presented this area first because, with the lowest traffic load, it presents the fewest potential problems of the three areas. The others are Maxwell and High, and Main and Vine streets.

We've been studying this a long time — now it's time to act. The city should move as quickly as possible to convert this first group of streets to two-way.

Ehrenahlt, in the 2009 column, began with the story of Vancouver, Wash.'s decision to convert a moribund Main Street to two-way as a last effort after investing millions in downtown revitalization efforts.

"The merchants on Main Street had high hopes for this change," he wrote, "but none of them were prepared for what actually happened following the changeover on November 16, 2008. In the midst of a severe recession, Main Street in Vancouver seemed to come back to life almost overnight."

Ehrenhalt quotes the chairman of the Vancouver downtown association asking a question that Lexington should take to heart. "It's like, wow," he said, "why did it take us so long to figure this out?"