By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
Though the decision is ultimately out of their hands, the New Albany City Council approved funding a study that would concentrate on traffic calming measures including converting some downtown streets to two-way flow.
Also on Thursday, the body rejected a non-binding resolution sponsored by Councilman John Gonder calling for the immediate conversion of some streets to two-way traffic.
Gonder said only the streets that could be changed in a practical manner without further study would be converted under his plan.
Bank, Pearl and Oak streets, for example, should be able to be changed without much additional research, Gonder said.
Certain streets and intersections may require additional surveying, but spending money to decide whether to convert Bank and Pearl streets would be a waste, he continued.
A 2007 traffic study performed by a city-hired firm considered converting downtown streets to two-way flow, but city officials said, and the author of the study confirmed, that the examination was cursory and only for preliminary planning.
“It was not meant to be a final decision document,” said John Rosenbarger, director of public facilities projects for the city.
Busier streets such as Spring, Market and Elm should definitely be further reviewed for changes in traffic patterns and movements prior to switching flow to two-way, city officials and council members said.
“The dynamics of downtown and the city have changed” since 2007, Councilwoman Diane McCartin-Benedetti said.
Gonder’s resolution failed 5-3, as it was only supported by Councilmen Dan Coffey, Greg Phipps and Gonder.
Councilman Kevin Zurschmiede was absent from Thursday’s meeting.
The council did overwhelmingly support Phipps’ request to match the administration and pay $30,000 for a new traffic study of downtown.
Mayor Jeff Gahan has pledged to provide out of administration funds $30,000 toward the $60,000 study.
The appropriation, which would come from the Riverboat Fund, was approved 7-1 on second reading. The measure could receive a final reading as soon as Oct. 7.
Bob Caesar voted against the study and Gonder’s resolution requesting the New Albany Board of Public Works and Safety immediately convert some streets to two-way traffic.
Caesar, who owns J.O. Endris Jewelers off Pearl Street, has been an opponent of changing the current traffic system.
Both sides have cited national studies in favor of their positions on converting one-way streets to two-way traffic.
Caesar said if traffic calming is the main objective, the city could consider additional signage and synchronizes traffic lights.
“There’s just a lot of unintended consequences that can come from doing this,” Caesar said.
The majority of the council spoke in favor of changing at least some streets to two-way traffic, though there were differing opinions on what such a system would look like.
Phipps, who represents District 3 which covers much of downtown, said he wouldn’t be opposed to
stacking traffic in the left lane of Spring Street if it meant being able to change the road to two-way traffic.
Caesar said there hasn’t been ample consideration of flowing traffic from West Spring Street toward downtown if the street is converted.
The differences of opinion and the unknown variables of changing the street patterns are reasons why another study should be conducted, Councilman Scott Blair said.
However, as the city laws are currently written, the mayor-appointed board of works holds the authority over New Albany streets.
So any study or resolution approved by the council wouldn’t force the administration or the board of works to transition streets to two-way traffic.
Rosenbarger said a new study would consider multiple traffic calming options including but not limited to converting to two-way streets.
Gahan wasn’t at Thursday’s meeting and hasn’t made a public comment on the proposed study or converting streets to two-way traffic.
City officials have said traffic flow will have to be addressed soon with the Ohio River Bridges Project and the tolling of some Clark County bridges expected to push more vehicles into Floyd County in the coming years.
The federal government has committed up to $1.8 million for a street calming project for downtown New Albany that would require a 20 percent city match.
Four members of the public spoke during the council meeting, as three were in favor of converting streets to two-way traffic and one opposed.
Charlie Harshfield said he’s lived off East Elm Street for 12 years, and that the neighborhood has improved except for one important problem.
“The primary thing that we haven’t been able to conquer in my view has been the speeding issue on Elm Street,” he said, as Harshfield added he would support a two-way traffic system or other calming measures that would reduce vehicular speed.
If approved on final reading, the traffic study is expected to take about a year to complete. The council may amend its appropriation on final reading to request it be allowed to choose the firm that performs the study.
The 2007 study cost about $24,000, according to city officials. It can be accessed online through the website www.kipda.org.