Dr. Know introduces us to the world of traffic engineers in his response to this question from the November 2012 issue.
What’s with all the one-way streets downtown? I assume that at some time in the past, when downtown bustled more than it does today, there was a reason for creating one-way streets. Improving traffic flow, say, or helping to foster better methods of vehicular ingress and egress. But now the one-ways seem to do exactly the opposite—especially when you reach that point of no return on Fourth Street where all roads lead to I-75, whether you want to get on it or not. Do the traffic wizards know something that us common folk don’t? —PerturbedDear Perturbed:You assume correctly. In the middle of the last century, before the interstate highway system made malls and Mason possible, the city center enjoyed the kind of healthy congestion that distinguishes thriving urban districts such as midtown Manhattan and Chicago’s near north side. Such congestion was and is, alas, anathema to traffic engineers, whose mission it is to speed cars through streets and roads as quickly as possible regardless of their effect on the quality of life. One-way streets are Uzis in the traffic engineering arsenal, effectively wiping the thoroughfares clear of any troublesome amblers or cyclists, making it possible for as many as three lanes of traffic to turn a corner en masse. The resulting vehicular sewers (unspeakably hideous Seventh Street is the Doctor’s favorite example) are useful for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening when the executive class speeds in and out on their way to and from culs-de-sac in the surrounding townships.
If you are perturbed now, you are likely to become totally unhinged when it dawns on you that the two or three billion dollar expenditure for the revamping of the Brent Spence Bridge and its approaches will be shelled out based on the theories and predictions of—that’s right—traffic engineers.
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