City leaders expect to convert one block of downtown from one-way to two-way but don’t believe switching all one-way streets is financially feasible.
City staff members are recommending the conversion of one block of North Fountain Avenue — between Columbia and Main streets — from one-way to two-way as part of the $1 million streetscape project planned for the spring of 2013.
Center City Association Executive Director Maureen Fagans believes will grow business downtown.
“We’re glad that they’re finding it a worthwhile project,” Fagans said.
The estimated cost to convert all the streets downtown is between $2.5 million and $9.1 million, depending on if the city chooses to repave and update the streetscape on those blocks.
Mayor Warren Copeland said the timing of the conversion of North Fountain is ideal because it will be coupled with a streetscape project next spring and because it uses leftover federal road money.
Copeland said the funds aren’t available to compete a full street conversion downtown. They may possibly team with the Center City Association to find grants to fund for a future project.
“I don’t want to raise expectations about how easy it would be to convert all the streets in the downtown because it’s going to cost more, and we don’t have the federal funds to fall back on again,” Copeland said at Tuesday’s city commission meeting.
Copeland said funds for the conversion are left over from money earmarked for the North Street relocation project, the North Limestone Street Bridge replacement and the North Fountain Avenue streetscape project.
A work session was held at Tuesday’s city commission meeting to discuss a $5,000 study, also paid for by grant money, that examined traffic flow issues from the possible conversion.
City Commissioners will likely vote on the conversion at next Tuesday’s meeting, which was moved to accommodate the Nov. 6 election.
The study showed the area has the capacity to be converted. The estimated cost of the conversion is $20,000 paid for through the leftover grant money. The majority of the cost lies in adding signals to accommodate northbound traffic on Fountain at Columbia Street.
City manager Jim Bodenmiller was pleased with the outcome of the study.
“I was worried it was going to come back to $50,000 or $60,000, even though we didn’t expect that,” Bodenmiller said.
Modifications would have to be made to the street to accommodate the conversion, including:
• The removal of the loading zone on the corner of Main and Fountain.
• The likely removal of three parking spaces near the Public Safety Building — marked solely for law enforcement vehicles — to accommodate northbound traffic on Fountain Avenue.
• The removal of the “no left turn” sign for northbound drivers who would like to turn left onto North Street.
• The creation of exclusive lanes for left turns and through traffic on Fountain Avenue before motorists reach Columbia Street near the Public Safety Building.
The loading zone just north of Main Street will be removed, while the loading zone near Infusions Sports Dining Cafe may not need to be removed.
Also, two parking spaces near the corner of Main and Fountain may have to be removed to allow for motorists to turn right onto Fountain.
“We won’t know until we see what the characteristics are of the traveling public,” said City Engineer Leo Shanayda.
All the on-street parking spaces on the east and west end of the block would remain.
Fagans said the businesses will likely make whatever sacrifices need to be made to convert the streets.
“They’ve been strong advocates for changing the streets,” Fagans said. “They recognize the benefits of both accessibility and visibility of their businesses.”
Renea Turner, the owner of Infusions, said the loading zone on Fountain is the only one her business currently has available. Turner said the business often uses Columbia Street as a loading zone and believes it may be able to unload there.
However, she says the benefits outweigh the negative of losing a possible loading zone. She plans to use three stories of the building for a restaurant, nightclub and private club and hopes to use the other three stories for loft apartments.
“(The conversion) is going to help me be able to utilize the whole building,” Turner said.
Turner believes converting the streets from one-way to two-way would spur economic growth downtown.
“It would definitely be worth it,” Turner said.
She believes the city should convert all the streets from one-way to two-ways.
“It would benefit downtown period,” Turner said. “People don’t come downtown because they don’t want to deal with the confusion of the one-way streets.”
She said the city needs to quit talking about renovating the downtown and actually follow through.
“Talk is cheap,” Turner said.
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