March 14, 2013

OUR VIEW: Which is the right way to go?

— In the Cold War era, civil defense planners took their fear of nuclear attack on the road. Traveling to towns across the country, they warned that residents could be trapped on crowded two-way streets in the case of an attack. With these roads being the only escape routes and the threat of more casualties, officials converted streets in city centers to one-way.

Traffic would speed up and lives would be saved.

Then came the interstate system, killing the threat of gridlock. Next came suburban malls and the advent of a car culture that had city dwellers moving to the suburbs. That caused a lack of traffic flowing into downtowns and their one-way streets were left to serve as mini-speedways immune to the idea of sidewalk strolling.

But as the nation looks again to its downtowns, pouring money and hope into a revival, many towns are returning to two-way traffic. And so continues the long-standing debate over which direction is better.

And now Logansport finds itself in that debate.

Though Logan’s Landing’s Pam Leeman and Kathy Dingo have been leading the charge to enact the change, Leeman notes it isn’t their idea. Rather, it is included in a comprehensive plan authored by the city in 2009.

And it’s a proposal that’s getting a warm welcome from downtown businesses already approached, she said. Of the 180 or so businesses in the downtown area, Leeman has talked with around 20 percent of the owners to get their feelings on the proposed change. That’s admittedly a low percentage, but she said she’s just getting started.

That’s the key here, she stressed Wednesday to city officials. The conversation is just beginning, and already the proposal is facing a backlash from residents.

Leeman argues that residents don’t know enough about the proposal to already be against it.

We have to agree.

She believes that when residents learn the full breadth of what the project hopes to accomplish, they’ll come on board.

She points to our neighbors in Kokomo, where the conversion was made a few years back. Take a trip through the city, she says, and you’ll see the downtown renewal fueled in part by the conversion.

She wants that for Logansport and believes this proposal will get us one step closer.

And when the state relinquishes control of several roads after the Hoosier Heartland Highway is finished, she sees an opportunity for the city to make it happen.

We understand there’s some apprehension from residents about what effects the changes will have on their daily commutes. And their questions about parking and pedestrian safety deserve answers.

But at this early stage in the game, we encourage residents to not just dismiss the plan on first blush.

Before making judgments on which way to travel, we encourage residents to get involved in the conversation and learn about the project’s pros and cons.

After all, like Mayor Ted Franklin says, traffic flow changes will be thrust on our community with the completion of the highway whether we like it or not.

If we all work together, we’re much more likely to like the outcome.