Consultant: More time needed before converting Lexington's one-way streets

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comFebruary 11, 2014 

A decision on which downtown one-way streets will become two-way streets is still months away despite more than two years of discussion and debate.

Tom Creasey, a transportation consultant with Stantec, told the Urban County Council on Tuesday that many northern one-way streets can be converted with little problem but further study was needed on southern and core downtown streets.

Stantec was hired in May 2012 to do the study using a $465,000 federal grant.

The study focused on three different areas: the area from Main Street north to Fourth Street; the downtown core of Main and Vine; and the south area that includes High and Maxwell streets.

The northern streets of North Limestone, North Upper, Short Street and West Second could be converted to two-way streets without significant traffic impacts with the exception of some key areas, said Creasey. Areas around Short Street and near the Opera House will likely need further study because of traffic concerns in that area, Creasey said.

Further analysis is needed to convert to two-way streets in the southern area of downtown including South Limestone, South Upper, Maxwell and High streets.

During Tuesday's meeting, Creasey said that there will be some challenges converting the southern streets to two-way. Those concerns include higher travel times, lower travel speeds and more stops. There also could be traffic backups at peak times.

Other concerns include loss of street-side parking and bike lanes to make room for two-way streets.

Stantec has looked at two different designs for converting Vine and Main streets. The first design would allow one lane in each direction and includes a center left turn lane. That design would keep on-street parking and bike lanes. But it could create significant traffic problems during rush hour. The second option includes two lanes in each direction, with center turn lanes just at critical intersections. Creasey said the latter option causes fewer traffic hiccups but would mean losing on-street parking and bike lanes.

Stantec is using computerized traffic modeling to evaluate the impact two-way street conversions would have on many aspects of getting around downtown.

Vice Mayor Linda Gorton said the council needs to consider the proposals carefully.

"This council has done a lot to add bike lanes and (on-street) parking," Gorton said. "We may be losing things that we have said that we want" by converting to two-way streets.

Councilwoman Shevawn Akers agreed. The city recently spent a lot of money on South Limestone and Vine streets to add bike lanes and make other improvements. If the city tears up that work to make two-way streets, "I don't think that's going to sit very well with businesses and citizens," Akers said.

Creasey said it's likely that Stantec will be back sometime in the spring or summer after it does more analysis and holds more public meetings with those who live in the southern downtown area and those in the city's core.

Stantec's study will offer analysis and possible options but will not make a final recommendation on which streets should be converted. That decision will ultimately be made by Mayor Jim Gray and the Urban County Council.

City officials have talked for about a decade about possibly moving to two-way streets. Those who have pushed for the change say it will make it easier for people to navigate downtown Lexington and it will be better for businesses.

Creasey said that one of the reasons the study has taken so long is because there has been so much development in downtown. Each new business or change in traffic can change the model, he said.

Creasey also warned the council that the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet will also have to be involved because most of the streets — with the exception of the northside streets — are state or federal roads.

Beth Musgrave: (859)231-3205. Twitter:@HLCityhall

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