As the first step toward the full downtown two-way street conversion, Williams St was quickly and easily converted from one-way to two-way traffic. Next, and currently underway, is the change of Lafayette Blvd. Williams and Lafayette will both help provide alternative north and south routes through downtown, and help alleviate traffic congestion when St Joseph and Main St, currently the two main arteries through downtown, are converted to two-way streets.
The final conversion of the downtown streets is expected to occur in 2016. The objective of changing the one-way streets into two-way streets is to slow traffic as it passes through downtown making it more conducive for bicycles and pedestrians, and giving store fronts improved visibility, access and street parking. For those of us that have spent time working in downtown South Bend, we have experienced the effect of the one-way streets. St Joseph and Main St both act as barriers to pedestrian traffic, making it difficult to cross four lanes of traffic with cars barreling down the road. As a result, the majority of restaurant and retail business has been along Michigan St, the two-way street through downtown that is very pedestrian and parking friendly. You can easily experience the difference the street design makes by sitting on the patio of Fiddler’s Hearth on Main St and comparing that to the experience on the patio of Cafe Navarre on Michigan Ave. One has noisy high paced traffic, the other is quiet and relaxed. One provides convenient parking that can easily be walked to, the other requires a dangerous game of pedestrian Frogger.
The one-way corridors were first put into place to allow trucks to quickly and easily pass through downtown on their way from the I-80-90 down US 31 toward Indianapolis. Since that time, the US 31/US 20 bypass was constructed to completely go around the city. The need for high speed traffic through downtown is no longer required, and in fact, hurts business. The change in traffic can already be noticed while driving down the newly switch over Williams St. What previously always felt like a drag race, speeding from light to light as cars try to jockey to be the first car at the next light, now is an even-paced trip down the short stretch of road to Western Ave.
There will no doubt be some growing pains as the streets are converted, but the result will be a more friendly downtown, servicing the people and businesses that are in downtown and not just trying to move cars and people out of town. Some will complain that it takes them longer to get through downtown as they drive somewhere else, but to them I say slow down or please go around.