Study supports one-way Main

Published 12:39 am Saturday, June 4, 2011

Washington’s one-way streets work, a study concludes.

Joel Cranford, an engineer with the congestion management section of the N.C. Department of Transportation, reviewed the Main Street Transportation Study during a meeting Thursday night at Washington’s Municipal Building. The study included sending surveys to downtown merchants to gather their input on one-way streets and parking matters downtown.

The study is a result of Washington Harbor District Alliance’s Economic Restructuring Committee request to DOT to look at ways to improve traffic patterns and connectivity in downtown streets as suggested by the Washington Waterfront Visualization and Reinvestment Strategy. That strategy was adopted by the city in 2009. Transportation includes motorized vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, wheelchairs and other modes of moving people, Cranford said.

“Surprisingly, a lot of people are going down Main Street,” Cranford said, citing a traffic count made during a two-day period.

Of the motorists turning off Bridge Street onto Main Street, 49 percent continued down Main Street into the city’s downtown, the traffic count showed. Of the remaining motorists, 39 percent turned right onto Stewart Parkway and 12 percent turned left onto Gladden Street, the traffic count showed.

About 834 vehicles came down Main Street during the two-day period.

Cranford said there are more advantages to retaining the one-way traffic on Main and Second streets than disadvantages. However, those one-way streets could use some improvements to make downtown an even more friendlier for pedestrians and more accessible to handicapped people, he said.

One-way traffic on Main Street works well because motorists looking to park on the street have parking spaces on both sides of the street available to them. If Main Street becomes a two-way street, motorists would only be able to park in parking spaces to the right of their travel lane, he noted. If a delivery truck is blocking one lane of the one-way Main Street, motorists can pass the truck by moving into the other lane, he said. With two-way traffic on Main Street, a motorist behind a delivery truck would have to deal with oncoming traffic if he or she wanted to pass the delivery truck, Cranford said.

One-way traffic on Main Street also reduces the risk of accidents involving vehicles because there is no oncoming traffic, which reduces the number of turns being made at intersections, Cranford said. One-way traffic on Main Street also reduces the risk of accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians because vehicles are only in one direction, instead of in two directions on a two-way street, he noted.

Cranford said traffic signals and traffic-related signs in the downtown area are difficult for motorists to see. He also said signs in the downtown area that direct people to parking, destinations such as the N.C. Estuarium, the waterfront and dining locations should be more consistent. Signs of varying colors can be confusing to visitors, he said. Preferably, such signs should be one color, a consistency that would help visitors better get around downtown, he said.

Cranford said the downtown area is already pedestrian-friendly, but it can become even more so with some changes. Those changes include making sure sidewalks and intersections are better accessible to handicapped people by keeping sidewalks clear of obstructions and making sure intersections comply with standards set forth in the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Cranford said the majority of motorists who drive west on Second Street make either a right turn or left turn onto Bridge Street, with a small number of motorists continuing west on Second Street.

“Most importantly, when I think about what it would take to convert this to two-way, this tells me we would have to have a left-turn lane and a right-turn lane, because of the amount of traffic,” Cranford said. “If we didn’t, it would back up to the other side of Washington. … It’s not a good idea to change Second Street because of the way it’s being used today.”

Cranford said converting Second Street into a two-way street, with the turn lanes, likely would be cost-prohibitive because it would require buying property (including houses), relocating utility poles and other related expenses.

Several people who attended the meeting said they believe Washington has abundant parking in the downtown area, to which Cranford agreed.

Asked what he gleaned from the presentation, City Council member William Pitt said, “Basically, where we should be because of the uniqueness of Washington and that two-way traffic on Main Street seems to be a proposition we may need to look at in the future, but right now, from what I gather, it’s not something we need attack now with the current economic crisis the way it is.”

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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