There’s More than One Way to Make Downtown a Two-way
Federal mandates lead to Aberdeen’s one-way downtown Main Street.

There’s More than One Way to Make Downtown a Two-way

Overlooking Main Scaled
This view from the 1940s predicts how a new plan to return to Main Street to a two-way would look.

Aberdeen’s downtown portion of Main Street is one-way for one reason: the 1968 Federal-Aid Highway Act. This high-level effort was enacted by Congress to deal with the fact that more people in urban areas resulted in more cars, more traffic, and more accidents. A program known as Traffic Operations Programs to Increase Capacity and Safety (TOPICS) was created to derive more efficiency from existing city arterial roads by managing traffic, and not by building or expanding roads. The first mention of TOPICS in our local newspaper was July 7, 1971, in an article announcing a public meeting on the subject. Dozens of people showed up in protest because — this may be hard to imagine — the plan called for the elimination of curbside parking on 6th Avenue SE from 3rd Street to State Street. Yes, our highway 12 thoroughfare through Aberdeen once allowed parking on both sides of the streets, and even included parking meters. Protesters were business and homeowners who enjoyed parking right outside of their 6th Avenue properties. The State Highway department engineered the scenario for Aberdeen and planned to use state and federal money for “street markings, synchronized traffic signals and, perhaps most revolutionary, special left-turn lanes for most of the 6th Avenue project and part of the 2nd Street project,” according to the Aberdeen American News. The essence of the scenario was making the highway intersection of 12 and 281, which is the same as 6th Avenue and 2nd Street, safer and more efficient. The state official claimed that motorists waiting so long to turn left was cutting traffic efficiency by half as cars stacked up. Without going into the exact details of the plan, just look at the road next time you’re on 6th Avenue and 2nd Street. It is laid out this way because of this 1970s plan.

Downtownshopping

After a major redesigning of the intersection of 6th Avenue and 2nd Street due to Federal safety of concerns in 1972, Downtown Main Street converted from two-way to one-way with three lanes going north and parallel parking.

Aberdeen’s downtown portion of Main Street is one-way for one reason: the 1968 Federal-Aid Highway Act. This high-level effort was enacted by Congress to deal with the fact that more people in urban areas resulted in more cars, more traffic, and more accidents. A program known as Traffic Operations Programs to Increase Capacity and Safety (TOPICS) was created to derive more efficiency from existing city arterial roads by managing traffic, and not by building or expanding roads. The first mention of TOPICS in our local newspaper was July 7, 1971, in an article announcing a public meeting on the subject. Dozens of people showed up in protest because — this may be hard to imagine — the plan called for the elimination of curbside parking on 6th Avenue SE from 3rd Street to State Street. Yes, our highway 12 thoroughfare through Aberdeen once allowed parking on both sides of the streets, and even included parking meters. Protesters were business and homeowners who enjoyed parking right outside of their 6th Avenue properties. The State Highway department engineered the scenario for Aberdeen and planned to use state and federal money for “street markings, synchronized traffic signals and, perhaps most revolutionary, special left-turn lanes for most of the 6th Avenue project and part of the 2nd Street project,” according to the Aberdeen American News. The essence of the scenario was making the highway intersection of 12 and 281, which is the same as 6th Avenue and 2nd Street, safer and more efficient. The state official claimed that motorists waiting so long to turn left was cutting traffic efficiency by half as cars stacked up. Without going into the exact details of the plan, just look at the road next time you’re on 6th Avenue and 2nd Street. It is laid out this way because of this 1970s plan.

Standing On Main

In more modern times, traffic was increased on Main Street by eliminating diagonal parking and adding an additional two lanes.

However, the business owners of Downtown took matters into their own hands. On May 13, 1972, a petition signed by 190 downtown folks suggested that Main Street be confined to one-way going north, and Lincoln and First streets be designated one-way going south in the core. The city liked the idea and sent the idea back to the State for review. Downtowners thought this solution would eliminate many of the turning lane scenarios that were required. To keep an incredibly long story short, everyone agreed to this scenario. Main Street became one-way and all the parking on 6th Avenue was eliminated (and on the highway portion of 2nd Street). (See photo above, below, right, left)

But that’s not where the story ends. This plan did not include the current street configuration and streetscaping we now have downtown. The story could end here, regarding why things are one-way. To go back to a two-way Main Street is very possible, but it will eliminate parking on the 500 block because of the turning lanes for highway access. That is a fact.

But what downtown did next compounded the problem of reverting back to two-way. From 1977 to 1979, the Downtown and City completely remodeled the sidewalks and street. The concern was for pedestrian safety and more parking. Instead of three lanes of one-way traffic going north, the plan was to squelch and slow traffic flow through downtown, discouraging traffic on Main. By reducing the sidewalk widths by one foot on each side and employing diagonal parking, 8 to 12 parking spaces could be gained on each block. This left room for only two lanes of northbound traffic, however, because of the pedestrian friendly improvements like the bump outs at each end of each block and mid-block cross walks, traffic would be forced to crawl at 10-12 mph. In essence, the goal was to make it more convenient for females who wanted to shop and who “had difficulty with parallel parking,” according to city officials. They wanted to discourage through traffic on Main Street and create a loop with Lincoln and First continuing as one-way the opposite direction. Like every city who converted their downtowns to pedestrian walking malls, they soon learned more traffic lead to more people, and reverted their downtowns back to motorist traffic. If the desire is a dynamic business district, discouraging traffic has proven not to be the solution.

So, now we are faced with the wrong architecture to return the street back to two-way. If you sit at the intersection of many roads as you’re trying to turn onto 6th Avenue, there is almost always three lanes: north, south, and a turning lane.

Dsc 0051 1

The mid-block crosswalks took up a lot of parking spaces when completed in the late 1970s. But they also provided resting spots and streetscape softening with plants, trees and flowers.

In order for a third lane to be envisioned at the 500 block of Main and 6th Avenue, something has to go. Things like the bump outs at the end, the diagonal parking, and probably the mid-block crosswalk could be removed. If the rest of downtown Main Street is left with two lanes, not much would need to be done other than restriping parking spots. Ideally, all-way stops or traffic signals can keep traffic moving when folks desire to turn left without a turning lane.

A recent conversation with city officials has revealed yet another option that would be even less invasive and eliminate virtually no parking spaces. The idea is that the two-way Main Street would end at 5th Avenue and Main. Those traveling south on Main, intending to continue south on main or access 6th Avenue, would need to divert or turn left or right on 5th to continue over to First Street or Lincoln Street to access 6th Avenue (or divert back to Main Street south). It’s hard to imagine if this would be the same as a straight shot on Main, or if it would still deter those wanting to traverse the city through downtown on Main Street (like it used to be).

Downtown Main Street is a major thoroughfare and has the potential to return to a significant shopping destination. It probably should have never been one-way to begin with as no other thorough fair in town is like this. Even the trolley system in the early 1900s featured trolleys that traveled both directions. It was a good idea. //