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March 14, 2013

Downtown group: Two-way streets would benefit businesses

Merchants split on initiative

A local downtown merchant association is working with the city to explore turning East Market Street and East Broadway into two-way streets, an initiative city officials and board members of Logan’s Landing say was sparked by downtown merchants and the upcoming relinquishment of state-controlled streets through the city.

Pam Leeman, a board member of Logan’s Landing, said downtown merchants have expressed making Broadway and Market two-way streets for years and that the initiative was outlined in the city’s comprehensive plan from 2009, but the city lacked the funds to consider taking it further.

The state currently maintains state highways through the city, which include parts of Cicott Street, West Market Street, Broadway, Michigan Avenue and Sixth Street. Upon the completion of the Hoosier Heartland Highway, the state will relinquish these streets to the city and provide money to maintain them. Leeman said this money would be used toward creating the two-ways if and when it happens, adding it was not her desire to suggest funding come from taxpayers.

Leeman said the streets this project would address are East Market Street and East Broadway as far east as 24th Street and West Market Street to the bridge. She said current estimates for the project stand at around $9.6 million, around $8.8 million of which would be necessary for stormwater alterations. She said Logan’s Landing is also looking into what it would take to create medians for the roads.

The objectives, Leeman said, are to reduce confusion particularly among motorists from out of town, improve mobility, improve aesthetics, encourage more downtown trips, increase traffic flow, increase access to businesses, provide a more modest pace for traffic and eliminate indirect routes.

Leeman said one-ways posed a disadvantage to downtown businesses by creating less traffic flows, becoming what she called “a mini speedway.”

“They tend to whisk customers out of downtown,” Leeman said.

Leeman said there are around 180 businesses this would affect. She said she has reached out to many already with plans to reach out to more soon. Of the 20 to 30 responses she’s received from business owners, all of them have been in favor of the initiative, she said.

Bill Graybeal, co-owner of The GrayMill and Graybeal’s Carpet Plus downtown, said he didn’t think it would ultimately aid downtown businesses.

“I don’t think it’s practical,” Graybeal said. “I want to be optimistic and think it would definitely slow down traffic and be beneficial to merchants downtown but I really don’t think it would. Maybe it’s just because I’ve only known it as a one-way.”

Mike Curts, owner of Gallery Furnishings downtown, said he wasn’t sure if it would positively affect businesses downtown and that it would likely never come to fruition.

“I think it won’t happen because of the tremendous expense,” Curts said. “This conversation has come up before. I’ve been in business for 40 years downtown. It’s come up several times and they never seem to go that far on it. It may be a good idea, I don’t know. It has to go down the road a little further with a lot more explanation on what their plans are.”

Ed Nason of Packard & Nason Insurance said while he thinks an insurance business like his won’t be affected either way, he still objects the initiative. He said increasing traffic through downtown may reduce pedestrians, which could ultimately have a negative impact on businesses.

“I think if you took away foot traffic, it would hinder more than help,” Nason said.

Increased traffic was also among Nason’s concerns.

“It would be so congested with people parking on each side, it would be hard to go the speed limit in some places. I think their intentions are good, however I just don’t think practicality-wise it would work.”

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or mitchell.kirk@pharostribune.com.

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