Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Which Way Part Deux!

A few years after my initial navigational confusion, I began spending the majority of my time downtown and quickly learned the ways of the one ways. Even though mastering the street plan was pretty easy, learning the correct way to drive down West 2nd Street seemed like an initiation into the downtown community.
While one ways are certainly a common identifying feature of our nation's cities, a sign that one is in the city center, the system that was just replaced in Flint had only been there for about two generations. With the huge amount of factory workers commuting through the downtown area in the middle of the 20th century, the city decided to increase the road capacity by turning several major roads into one way streets.So what effect did the one way system have on the downtown community, and how is the conversion going to change the transportation patterns?A very apparent and obvious change is that the path from point A to point B has become much less convoluted, as most streets now allow a driver to travel in two directions. By re-striping these lanes, engineers were able to fit in all kinds of goodies, like turning lanes, bike lanes, and in some cases, parking. (Some on street parking was, however, removed for the conversion) The inclusion of a turn lane on every section of every street is a curious one, there are entire blocks of streets where, with the exception of the actual intersections, there is nowhere to turn. Yet the traffic planners still designed turning lanes into the street, instead of widened bike lanes or on street parking. The rearranging of lanes has also caused some vehicle congestion issues on both Saginaw Street and Grand Traverse. It also seems that when the actual re-striping was happening, the re-stripers paid little attention to whether or not the lanes actually lined up on both sides of the intersection.

A big positive was the inclusion of bike lanes along most of the converted street. I have heard many people complain that the bike lanes occupy much needed space that should have been designated for driving/parking. However the fact that the city has invested in improving the biking infrastructure might just represent a very cool shift in Flint’s approach to transportation. The bike lanes are sometimes just as screwy as the driving lanes, and end abruptly and unexpectedly in really inconvenient spots, but a start is a start. Biking downtown could be a post on its own but for more on biking through Flint, check out vehicle-less city a great new blog by a fellow downtowner.

Walking downtown is now theoretically safer, as drivers have proven to speed when driving on one way streets. However, I have heard more than one walker complain about having to check for traffic from both directions before crossing the street. (Come on people! Shouldn’t you do that no matter what?!)

Downtown businesses should also theoretically benefit from the change, as they are now able to gain exposure and access from two directions of traffic. Although, with the majority of downtown’s business community located on the already two way Saginaw Street corridor, perhaps this does not apply.

A funny thing about us downtowners; we are a proud and stubborn people, once we were initiated into it, we became proud of the one way systems slight inconveniences, and the confusion it caused to out of towners. Sometimes the hardcore downtown crowd gets so caught up in being downtowny that we have a hard time recognizing what changes are for the better, and this blogger feels that the conversion on the one way streets to two way streets may be one of those changes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Which Way?

My first encounter with the famed one way streets of downtown was probably similar to many people of my generation: driver's training. At 15 I had mastered the art of properly accelerating onto the expressway. I learned all three hundred points on my pre-departure inspection checklist, and I was a pro at adjusting my rear view mirror. But there were a few aspects of moterism that one could not experience while practicing on the back roads and cul-de-sac neighborhoods of Swartz Creek. It was because of this, that the last place that my driving instructor took us was the terrifying, complicated, infamous streets of downtown.

There were three major reasons for the dreaded downtown driving session. First was to learn how to safely drive with the presence of pedestrians. The fact that "driving in the presence of pedestrians" was only possible in an Applebee's parking lot and downtown could be its own post. I didn't end up doing my training until the evening, however, and as it was at that time, there were very few pedestrians to avoid hitting. The second goal of the session was to learn how to parallel park. This was perhaps the most dreaded of all tasks, and even though I had set up a mock parking spot in my driveway to sharpen my technique, the outcome had been hit or miss at best. So after a few misses , my instructor took the wheel for me, pulled into the elusive spot in one smooth elegant motion and said "there, that is how you do it." (Which may explain why I still have a hard time properly parking on the side of the street) Lastly, we had to learn how to navigate, and properly turn onto one way streets. While this task wasn't exactly difficult, we had all heard horror stories of people driving the wrong way, and turning at the next street only to once again realize that they were going the wrong way. Eventually they would just be stuck in a vortex of wrong turns until they were 18, and could take their driving test without completing training.

It was commonly argued among those of us waiting for our turn behind the wheel, that these one way streets served no purpose. That they were just there to confuse us corn fed, mall shopping suburban kids. But we didn't think too much of it once we passed the test, it wasn't like we would be heading back downtown anytime soon.