Opinion: The Fortitude Valley hasn’t always had an identity crisis. In its heyday of the 1950’s and 1960’s the area was actually Australia’s largest non-CBD shopping precinct. It was a shopping mecca. The three major local department stores McWhirters, Beirne’s and Overells fought to win over business from the area’s many shoppers.
The suburb had life, it had pedestrians and it was easily accessible via the tramway system. Fast forward to the 1970’s where the uprising of the suburban shopping centre and unstoppable popularity of the car fueled a quick downturn which eventually saw the departure of retail in the Fortitude Valley.
Since the dark days of illegal casinos and brothels in the 1970’s and 1980’s the Valley has since been resurrected as Brisbane’s premier music and entertainment precinct. Unlike the unfortunate and recent demise of Sydney’s Kings Cross entertainment precinct, the Valley represents to this day one of Australia’s most successful night time economies.
However the same cannot be said for the Valley’s day-time economy which is almost non-existent. For years the Brisbane City Council has been grappling with trying to enhance the area’s day time economy, and has made some small strides. However there is an excruciatingly simple and affordable way of transforming the area into once again a bustling precinct – both day and night.
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The Key Problem – One-way Streets
In the 1970’s, when the car was king, Wickham and Ann Streets which run straight through Fortitude Valley were converted from two-way streets into one-way streets. Why? Well the aim was simple, getting cars moving faster and more directly, or so they thought. By doing so there was also a serious side effect to this conversion, and that was pedestrian life.
Wickham and Ann streets are undeniably like mini four lane freeways which slice through the popular entertainment area. Arterial roads tend to have that effect. Recent media coverage of boarded-up shop fronts in the Fortitude Valley are a direct reaction of the absence of pedestrian street life.
Would you ever think of sitting on the side of Wickham or Ann Streets having a coffee or talking with friends? never. Subconsciously we know that not only is it unsafe but undesirable to have trucks hurling next to you on the side of these streets.
The Silver Bullet Solution – Two-way Street Conversion
If you ever wanted a more simple and affordable way of giving back identity and pedestrian life for the Fortitude Valley, this is it.
A mountain of global research has validated that two-way streets are undeniably better for pedestrian safety, walkability, property values, street-activation and neighbourhood rejuvenation. Why? because two-way streets create what is known as traffic calming, which discourages high-speed and volume through-traffic and encourages people orientated streets instead.
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Now if you’re thinking, YES! this will be Brisbane’s very own clever idea, sadly we have been beaten to the punch. The City of Perth has already begun converting some of their key one-way streets into two two-way streets. Better late than never, right?
Oh but think of the traffic!
Now for those of you who may be thinking this is a very bad idea, two way streets will certainly stuff up Brisbane’s traffic and make it even worse. Well, a recent report by SKM in 2010 titled ‘Two Way Road Network Paramics Model’ actually found that a two-way system reduced total distance travelled during both am (by 8%) and pm (by 16%) peak hour.
A two way system decreases the average driving distance between origin and destination.
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Why? because a two-way system gives you more route choices and decreases unnecessary circling trips. Also, who wouldn’t want to drive through a vibrant, happening street instead of a desolate, depressing streetscape.
The Valley is cool and fun right now, but imagine if the valley had it all. It would grow to become a national tourist destination in its own right.
The City of Perth has produced some infographics to explain the benefits of two-way streets which can be seen below and on their website.
The solution is simple. Convert Wickham, Ann and McLachlan Streets back to two-way traffic and reclaim one lane for additional footpath and bikeway space. Two lanes would continue to serve traffic in the direction the one-way traffic currently flows, and the introduction of one lane of traffic flowing the other direction.
A before and after sketch shown below of the corner of Wickham and Brunswick Streets illustrates how the street currently looks like (a street designed for cars), and how a future two-way street could look like (a street designed for humans).
Action Now & Recap of Why
Getting the support of the Brisbane City Council and The Fortitude Valley Chamber of Commerce is vital for this ideas success. To recap on why two-way street conversions of Wickham, Ann and Mclachlan Streets would completely revitalise the Fortitude Valley:
- Create traffic calming for Fortitude Valley precinct
- Friendlier for pedestrians
- Creates people orientated streets
- Encourages sustainable transport choices
- Decreases vehicle travel time for local area and creates more route choices
- Decreases unnecessary circling trips
- Would help street activation and retail tenancies
- Boost day time economy as streets become desirable
- Helps create a sense of place and therefore boosting Fortitude Valley’s national reputation as a pedestrian friendly, accessible entertainment precinct