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Support for making two-way streets grows

Momentum is growing among Urban County Council members to convert downtown's one-way streets to two-way, including the major arteries Main and Vine.

Streetscape consultant Clete Benken said that, although the city cannot "wave a magic wand and fix everything today," it can set the stage for phased-in conversion of Short and Second streets, Limestone and Upper, Maxwell and High and Main and Vine back to two-way traffic.

On a motion by councilman Jay McChord, council members voted unanimously at their Tuesday work session to ask Benken to return March 24 with a timetable on two-way conversions and benchmarks that need to be met to achieve the changeover.

Benken, a principal in the Covington architectural and urban planning firm of Kinzelman, Kline Gossman, appeared before the council to present the first phase of the downtown streetscape plan, with implementation scheduled to begin as early as next week in Cheapside park.

The plan includes a makeover of Cheapside Park with a multi-use pavilion for cultural events and Lexington Farmers Market, new sidewalks along portions of Main and Vine streets, elevated water features on Vine, plus new sidewalks and rain gardens along Limestone, visually and psychologically tying the University of Kentucky to downtown and Transylvania University.

Councilman Kevin Stinnett expressed concern that the city is financially strapped and questioned how it will pay for implementation of the streetscape plan, which carries an $18 million price tag, including street conversion.

After the meeting, McChord said he would ask Benken to include costs for making the streets two-way. But he also said for the city not to move in that direction would be short-sighted.

Councilwoman Cheryl Feigel emphasized the need for citizen input.

The Downtown Master Plan as well as the Streetscape Master Plan call for converting streets to two-way traffic incrementally, Benken said.

Vice Mayor Jim Gray warned against "terminal incrementalism." He said he feared "that we might never really get there."

Of street conversion, councilman George Myers wanted to know, "What would be the problem with just doing it." Myers said, "Everyone knows one-way streets are outdated and behind the times."

Benken said Main and Vine are state routes and the city needs the approval of the state Transportation Cabinet before changing their directions.

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