Back and forth: Should one-way streets remain or be converted to two?

September 2010 Posted in Community, News

By Brenna Wiegand

Stu Rasmussen’s main goal as he seeks a second consecutive mayoral term as is to “Keep Silverton Silverton.”

Rather than work at remaking the community (especially the downtown area) “to conform to some pie-in-the-sky ideal of what a modern city should look like … indistinguishable in its cookie-cutter blandness,” he is adamant that the only major change he’d consider is a return to all two-way streets downtown.

He is referring to downtown’s one-way couplet, adopted in the early 1970s as a temporary measure to facilitate traffic flow while Main Street Bridge was closed for reconstruction. Rasmussen said when city government discovered what it would cost to undo the one-way grid it decided to maintain the status quo, ignoring citizen protests.

Rasmussen says the current configuration is unfriendly to visitors and downtown merchants; is dangerous and increases traffic because motorists end up circling the streets to find their destination.

“All of a sudden you’re paying a lot of attention to your driving and no attention whatsoever to what’s outside your car, other than the one next to it; so stores, theater, retail district; you don’t care – don’t even see it – all you’re worried about is ‘I’m racing the guy next to me,’” he said.

Nearly 40 years later, opinions are mixed when it comes to reversing the downtown grid.

“While some small-business owners may think two-way streets would improve their exposure to customers, just the opposite is true,” said Kyle Palmer, also running for mayor of Silverton.

“Studies show that two-way traffic would be focused on Water Street, reducing vehicle exposure to First Street businesses. As Water Street traffic increases, I believe many travelers would attempt to circumvent the downtown area altogether in an attempt to avoid congestion.”

Palmer says such a change increases the danger to pedestrians, who would have to watch for traffic going in both directions. And then there’s the parking issue.

“Downtown parking spots will likely be reduced as the turning radius for two-way traffic will eliminate spaces nearest to intersections, which are allowable now because left-lane turning is done across a lane of traffic rather than directly around a corner as it would be for oncoming two way traffic,” he said.

“And truck loading will be more complicated in two-way traffic. A truck stopped in the road will occupy the sole lane of directional traffic; currently, traffic is able to move around the truck by using the adjacent lane.”

In addition to the other costs involved, Palmer said the city would have to assume responsibility for maintaining First Street, now done by Oregon Department of Transportation.

“It would be a bad decision for the city to be burdened with these costs during the current economic climate,” he said.

Judy Schmidt, also running for mayor, says it’s been too long to return to the days of two-way streets – and the fond memories they engendered.

“In high school, Water Street was ‘The Gut,’” she said. “You cruised from A & W, where the Community Center is now, to Dairy Peak Drive-In (now Subway); I worked at Dairy Peak.”

Boys from Mount Angel would cruise, too. One night Bill Schmidt drove up; the rest is history. But those days are gone, said Schmidt.

“We’ve already got so much infrastructure in place,” she said. “I don’t think it’s where we need to put our time and energy. There are other things we can do for visitors and downtown, such as our current signage plan.”

Doing away with the one-way system would involve the Oregon Department of Transportation; Silver Falls School District; anyone with a downtown business, and the city. City Manager Bryan Cosgrove said the matter surfaces every time the transportation system plan comes up for revision. The last time, about three years ago, the city council voted it down 6-1.

“We could be looking at diagonal parking; a different plan for handling emergencies and many other things we can’t foresee,” Cosgrove said. “You can’t just look at the pros and not the cons; you really have to look at a thing like this globally.”

Reneé Bianchi and Celia Stapleton, owners of Stone Buddha and The Purl District, think the one-way streets are unnecessary and impede the flow of traffic.

“One-way streets are silly to me,” Stapleton said. “I think we should be like every other small town.”
Silverton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Stacy Palmer does not think the change is a good fit for Silverton.

Speaking as a citizen, and not for the chamber board, she said she thinks Silverton’s short, one-way blocks, narrow streets and frequent stop signs create a friendlier situation for those walking about town. “It’s a slower pace, but it also gives you time to stop and get your bearings.”

“There have been about three transportation studies in the past dozen years, which show we’d have to lose parking spaces at each intersection for the turning lane and that traffic would be backed up waiting for both sides to turn,” she said.

“I’m afraid there would become one route for tourists with the other favored by locals wanting to avoid them. This could create a bypass of half the downtown businesses, which could potentially hurt them.”

The estimated amount of parking spaces lost is 30-35, a finding Rasmussen calls “bogus.”

“We had more downtown parking spaces in 1970 before converting to one-way than we did afterwards,” he said.

Gary Wolfard, who has watched the cars go by while cutting hair in Silverton for 52 years, says it’s too late to go back now.

“I think it would cause a lot of problems, especially with the delivery trucks coming in and out,” he said.
Jeff Nizlek of Silver Grille and Wines is situated on Main Street, which goes both ways – like his opinion.

However, he tends to defer to his father, Martin Nizlek, a civil engineer who designed Portland’s downtown core, among others, and has worked with several small towns.

“He has said this area would function a lot better if the streets were converted to two-way,” Nizlek said.

“But I see the trucks trying to make the corner right behind me and wonder if they’d all have to be re-routed through. Would they all have to take Timber Trail? I can’t see that happening.”

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