In discussing the town’s efforts to create one-way traffic flow on certain Swansboro streets, Commissioner Roy Herrick referred to a comment made at the Sept. 24 board meeting by fellow member Pat Turner concerning a 1993 attempt at one-way traffic.
“Evidently, I wasn’t here at the time, but Pat said they just changed the traffic pattern and added signs,” Herrick said. It was all very simple.
As Swansboro makes plans to reroute traffic this time, the process is proving to be a lot more complicated, and expensive. In fact, after looking at the cost of a one-way traffic plan at the Sept. 24 meeting – $29,900 – commissioners decided to delay the process and get some more details.
“There was no opposition to making the conversion,” Commissioner Frank Tursi said. “But there were a lot of questions.”
Neither Herrick nor Tursi indicated the town commission was going to back away from the idea, agreed to at the Aug. 27 meeting. “I don’t think anybody doesn’t want to do it,” Herrick said. Rather, according to Tursi, they just want to put the plan on a “temporary hold.”
“It might be a reasonable charge,” Tursi said of the cost for the plan – which apparently does not include any implementation – submitted by the Timmons Group. “We don’t know.”
The panel has asked Chris Seaberg, town manager, to have Jeff Hochanadel, special traffic engineer with the Timmons Group, to be available at a meeting to field some of those questions, according to Tursi. The commissioner said it would also be a good idea to have an N.C. Department of Transportation representative on hand as well, as about half of the fee, $14,900, would pay for “traffic signal design.”
The other half of the fee pays for, in Herrick’s word, “paperwork.”
“It (the cost of the planning) has started to make the whole thing a lot more than we thought it was,” Herrick said. “Why that thing (changes to a stoplight) is going to be a $30,000 or $40,000 expense, I don’t know.
“It seems to be going from a minor project to a major project.”
Tursi made the point that the $29,900 is simply to plan for the change. That would not cover the cost of installing signs or painting the streets for parking and direction.
“No one knows what that will cost,” he said. “It was just the planning fee. Is this all really necessary? There were a lot of unanswered questions.”
Hochanadel went over the traffic plan for the second time this year at the Aug. 27 meeting of the commission. It was essentially a repeat of a presentation he made in February, arranged to allow commissioners time to absorb the plan.
It should be noted that the traffic pattern changes put in place in 1993 did not last a matter of weeks. Town officials do not want a repeat of that.
“The Timmons folks said it will take time,” Herrick said, for the public to be comfortable with one-way streets downtown. “It will take a season to get used to it.”
Hochanadel pointed out that the changes proposed are the result of a study that was conducted during July 2018.
“The purpose of the study was to find ways to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety,” he said. The challenge in the downtown area is for parking, pedestrians and bicycles all trying to share the same area.
Hochanadel said he gathered the information over two days in July, a Friday and a Saturday.
At the August meeting Randy Swanson, a downtown business owner, said he did believe that data collection to be sufficient to reach an accurate conclusions.
Hochanadel’s suggestions included long-term and short-term goals.
Long-term, he said the town should consider shifting motor vehicle traffic to one-way over three streets.
“Due to the narrow roadway cross-sections and presence of on-street parking, safe and efficient two-way travel patterns along Church Street, Front Street, and Main Street is difficult,” he states in his report.
“To help efficiently facilitate downtown traffic, one potential recommendation is to convert Church Street, Front Street, and Main Street from two-way streets to one-way streets.”
Hochanadel suggested Church Street be converted to southbound only, Front Street converted to eastbound only and Main Street (south of N.C. 24) should be converted to northbound only.
Turning restrictions would also be required for each of the downtown side streets – Walnut, Elm, Water and any others – to prohibit illegal turns, he explained.
Long term, Hochanadel said, “Maybe you should make Front Street pedestrian only.”
The report addressed what he sees as an issue with parking.
“Field observations noted parked vehicles facing opposing traffic along each of the aforementioned facilities,” he states. “Based on observed travel patterns, it was assumed that this parking behavior stemmed from vehicles traveling along the middle of the street, not being forced to cross on-coming traffic to park in the incorrect direction, opposite travel.”
Vehicles exiting these spaces often caused confusion for other drivers.
“Typical driver expectation is to watch for vehicles leaving parking spaces to the right of the car traveling in the same direction,” he writes.
He suggested enforcing parking orientation.
“The one-way streets would get rid of the head-on situations,” Hochanadel said at the August meeting.
And, while commissioners appeared to agree with that, there were some concerns.
Herrick was concerned with the fact that traffic entering downtown on Church Street from the east would not be covered by a signal.
Hochanadel said models do not show that to be a problem.
Commissioner Phil Keagy asked about marking parking spaces and how that might affect the total number of spaces available.
Hochanadel said it would have a minor impact at best on the total number of vehicles.
“On any given day it’s going to be a wash,” he said.
But he did seem to indicate that there would be a more orderly use of the spaces that were available.
Tursi pointed out that one concern he has heard expressed is that improving traffic flow will lead to increased speeds and thus increase the chance of vehicle collisions or vehicle-pedestrian interactions.
“Some people … who step out into the street are more likely to get hit,” Tursi said.
Hochanadel said that adding a stop sign on the one-way streets would interrupt the flow and make travel safer.
Speaking as a citizen, Swanson suggested that the recent lowering of the speed limit on N.C. 24 could be a mitigating factor in terms of traffic flow.
Swanson also said that he believes traffic entering N.C. 24 from Front Street would be unwieldy. Entering Front Street off N.C. 24 makes more sense.
In addition to pursuing the one-way street pattern, commissioners have also indicated they want to see pedestrian crossings clearly marked.
Email Jimmy Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on this story, purchase a copy of the Oct. 2, 2019, Tideland News.