Lexington council to order study of two-way streets downtown

bfortune@herald-leader.comMay 8, 2012 

Whether it will be the right way or wrong way to go, Lexington is poised to get answers on what it would mean to convert eight of downtown's one-way streets back to two-way.

The Urban County Council will give first reading on Thursday to a resolution to hire Stantech Inc., an international engineering, architectural and planning firm, a Canadian company which has an office in Lexington, to assess the impact of a two-way conversion.

Council may suspend the rules and give second reading to the resolution. If that happens, Stantech is prepared to start work immediately, director of planning Chris King said before Tuesday's work session.

Lexington has four pairs of one-way streets downtown: Short and Second; Limestone and Upper; Main and Vine; and Maxwell and High.

A federal grant will pay for the $465,000 study. It is expected to take 12 to 14 months. Consultants will give council updates throughout the process, King said, and hold public meetings for community input.

The project has been discussed for at least four years, King said. A study was done a few years ago, but it did not deal with issues such as signage, traffic signals, where left turns would be allowed, and where trucks would park while making deliveries to bars and restaurants.

The consultant will go street by street to identify problems, develop practical solutions and give a cost estimate for the conversion. The study will help determine whether two-way streets would reduce drivers' confusion, increase accessibility to downtown businesses and slow traffic for a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.

Main Street was two-way until urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s. King did not know the conversion history of the other streets.

Many communities have discovered that two-way streets create a more livable downtown environment because they "calm traffic and discourage drivers from cutting through downtown just to get somewhere else," King said.

He was quick to add: "There are more issues on the table than just moving cars. Two-way streets is not 100 percent about traffic." It's about enhancing "the character of downtown ... making downtown more inviting to pedestrians, bicyclists and the transit system," King said.

Council member Doug Martin said he had heard from upset business owners who say going to two-way streets would be a disaster and discourage people from coming downtown. "They say two-way streets will turn downtown into a big parking lot at rush hour," he said.

Councilwoman Diane Lawless, however, said, "I hear very different things from constituents I represent, like Main Street is a drag strip at night," and that two-way streets would have a calming effect.

"The vast majority of business owners I talk to would like to see some two-way street model," said Lawless, whose district includes most of downtown.

Council member Steve Kay said with two-way streets, traffic will not move through downtown at the same pace it does presently. "That's not possible. There's going to be a tradeoff. That's part of the deal," he said. "Two-way streets are intended to slow traffic."

If cars move slower, some people will find ways to avoid downtown, or maybe they won't mind slower traffic, Kay said. "I've been to Fayette Mall at Christmastime, and people don't stop going to Fayette Mall because it's hard to drive" on Nicholasville Road, he said.

Kay said he thought that ultimately there would have to be a decision by the community and council "whether we want a more walkable, livable downtown, more pedestrian friendly."

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010

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