SOMETIME BACK in the middle of the last century, the powers that be in Norristown decided to jump on the national trends bandwagon and make all the main thoroughfares downtown one-way streets. Traffic would flow counterclockwise around the courthouse, with Airy going west, Swede going south, Main going east and Dekalb going north. And, for some reason, these roads would remain one way at least several blocks after they left downtown, if not the rest of their length within town borders. Today Main has reverted to 2-way, Swede is only one-way for the last 2 blocks, but Airy and Dekalb remain one-way from downtown through the rest of their lengths.
All this began in the 1950s, with President Eisenhower's plan to connect the coasts with an interstate highway system. All cities began adopting the use of one-way streets, with the thought that they'd keep traffic moving as more and more cars took to the roads. Car commercials from that era pictured vehicles zipping around on modern highway-like streets. Everyone in America was led to believe that a moving car was the epitome of prosperity and a stopped one was bad. We were led to believe that the only shopping places worth our time were ones catering to the Automobile, with huge parking lots. No one in town would have put up with parking on Marshall St. to shop downtown, but everyone started going to the King of Prussia Plaza, where they'd park the same distance away just to get inside the first store.
If I want to go to Centre Theater, I have to negotiate a fish hook manuever, going at lest 2 blocks out of my way. If I can't find parking, I have to drive around several blocks to get back near the theater. If I see a spot on the other side of the street, I can't get across the next lane to get to it. It helps that Main St. is 2-way now, but really, why not simply make Dekalb 2-way as well? People from the North End, or from East Norriton and beyond would be able to get downtown so much easier.
If I need to go to Municipal Hall or, say, to the lawyer who handled my dad's estate, at Airy and Church, I have to go even farther out of my way. And while we're on the subject of Airy--it's a drag strip for people trying to hurry through town. Why? Because the lights are timed in such a way that if you're going the speed limit, you have to stop for every one. If you're speeding, you can hit every green light. The lights actually encourage people to race through town. The lights on Dekalb aren't timed much better.
The shopping district on West Marshall is working. The street is 2-way. I realize that's not the only factor in the West-End's success, but imagine what a pain finding a parking spot would be if West Marshall only ran west?
Articles have been written since the turn of the millenium on how detrimental one-way streets are to small downtowns. Municipalities across America have finally begun to realize that a 1950s downtown traffic pattern that encourages cars to keep moving is a bad thing for local economies. One-way streets lead people away from the downtown instead of creating more direct access to stores and restaurants.
So think about it, Norristown. Let's get out of the 1950s. The only streets that need to be one-way are ones too narrow for 2-way traffic. The main thoroughfares ought to be 2-way. We ought to be bringing people INTO town, not encouraging them to leave.