Cedar Rapids is wrapping up a years-long effort to convert one-way streets back into two-ways. The change is meant to help revitalize the downtown and some are already noticing a difference.
Cedar Rapids turned a series of two-way roads to one-ways decades ago, to handle streams of vehicles going between the city and its suburbs.
This change came at a time of suburbanization and "urban renewal" across the country. Vehicle travel boomed in post-war America, ushering in highways and interstate systems that drove fleets of cars through the middle of many cities, often cutting roads through poor, underserved or minority communities.
Cedar Rapids Traffic Engineer Matt Myers said the city's one-ways were built to funnel as many vehicles as possible from the outer reaches of the community, to the urban core, and back out again. Beginning in 2015, city leaders have been working to reverse this trend, by restoring the street network and thereby encouraging more people live, work and play downtown.
"It was just built for a tremendous amount of cars and it really facilitated a high degree of speed and just very agressive operation," Myers said. "Changing back those streets into something that was more contextual for the neighborhood and the type of businesses and residents that they were trying to attract into the area and revitalize that, changing from one- way to two-way streets just seemed to fit into that idea of transforming the downtown area."
Myers said one-way roads can actually induce drivers to go faster, making life difficult for pedestrians and cyclists, and businesses on the "wrong" side of the street.
Benjamin Kaplan is a local urban design advocate with the group Corridor Urbanism. Kaplan says he’s already seen growth downtown related to the street conversions.
“And I think it sets us up for a much better 50 years than the previous 50 years downtown had, where we saw businesses leaving downtown," he said. "I think this gives us a platform where you’ll see more and more businesses and people returning to downtown.”
Kaplan said restoring two-way roads in the city will transform how the downtown operates and make the city more attractive to residents, including young people.
"There are not that many places left in America where you can afford to be a young person and live downtown and go out to eat and go to the theatre and go to concerts and maybe still put a few bucks away each month, and pay your student loans," he said. "And Cedar Rapids is one of those places. And right now I think we're doing things that are going to keep that true."
Construction on the last street slated for conversion, 3rd Avenue, is slated to wrap up later this year.