Council gives go-ahead for Main, Vine redesign

bfortune@herald-leader.comMarch 25, 2009 

Urban County Council members gave the go-ahead on Tuesday for the city's streetscape consultant to do a detailed design of Main Street and Vine Street that would allow both to become two-way in the future, or to maintain their present one-way traffic patterns, whichever the council chose.

Designer Clete Benken, principal with the design firm of Kinzelman Kline Gossman, was authorized at a council work session to come up with a design for 44-foot-wide streets with generous sidewalks, rain gardens and curb cuts that would give the council future flexibility to choose one- or two-way traffic patterns through downtown.

Tuesday's authorization at times seemed in jeopardy as council members asked what it would cost to convert the streets. They asked repeatedly whether they were committing themselves to a future outlay of funds without knowing the final price.

Several times Benken said all he was asking for was their authorization to do a design.

Mayor Jim Newberry intervened to solicit council approval by calling design work "a time sensitive issue." If the council wants new sidewalks along portions of Main and Vine done in time for the 2010 Alltech WEI World Equestrian Games, Benken needs to proceed with detailed design drawings now.

Councilman Jay McChord said after the meeting, "This is being a good steward for taxpayer funds because we will have maximum flexibility without committing ourselves today."

At the same time, "it's putting the city in a position to make a dramatic difference," said McChord, a council member who has championed converting one-way streets back to two-way.

McChord called the one-way streets a holdover from the city's Urban Renewal program of about 30 years ago, "a failed policy." Downtown business owners have lobbied hard to get two-way streets, maintaining that they are good for economic development.

Benken said he would provide detailed drawings by early June.

The city's downtown street-scape plan calls for phasing in the conversion of four pairs of downtown streets starting with Short and Second, followed by Limestone and Upper, then High and Maxwell and Main and Vine.

"You have to bring the public along, and you do that by creating a track record of success," Benken said. "If you desire Vine and Main to be two-way, we strongly recommend you take an incremental approach and build a track rec ord of success."

The easiest and least costly streets to convert will be Short and Second, because new signals are not required at intersections.

These can be converted before year's end and can be "a case study for success," he said, an idea that brought strong positive comments from several council members.

To turn all eight streets back to two-way traffic — as they once were — depends on several benchmarks. These include:

■ Completing the Newtown Pike extension between West Main and Versailles Road.

■ Increasing New Circle Road's capacity in places and improving certain interchanges.

■ Making changes to the downtown Transit Center.

■ Completing the Newtown Pike extension fully before Main and Vine and High and Maxwell go two-way.

Newberry said the most recent state highway road plan indicated that the extension of Newtown Pike between West Main and Versailles Road would be completed in 2010 and the entire extension finished in 2014. Councilwoman Linda Gorton said she hoped there would be ways to speed up the process.

Gay Reading, owner of Greentree Antiques & Tearoom on West Second Street, said giving directions to people unacquainted with driving downtown was made difficult by the one-way streets.

"Please, on Second and Short streets, let's do it this year," Reading said.

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