NEW ALBANY — To many residents who live along Spring and Elm streets, one-way to two-way street conversions downtown are more than a matter of convenience.
"Our neighborhood has changed," East Spring Street Neighborhood Association President Greg Roberts told members during a meeting Wednesday evening. "More people are buying the houses, more people are moving in, more kids are in the areas, and it is a huge safety issue."
Although Spring and Elm streets have 25 and 30 mph speed limits, residents say many drivers zoom across at 40 and 50 mph speeds as if they're on highways. That's because both one-way streets feed onto and off Interstate 64, Roberts said.
"These streets were turned one way to move traffic in and out of the city — to get them through the city and to get them from the interstate out to the suburbs," he said.
But residents believe that's not suitable now. They say excessive speeds and a lack of crosswalks only create a serious safety hazard and erode the neighborhood's vitality.
"Kids really can’t just come out and play around here," Billy Pernini, a resident of 13th Street, said.
The conversation to go two-way began about seven or eights years ago, which was around the same time the neighborhood began to evolve.
Now, the 80-plus members of the neighborhood association are waiting with baited breath to see whether New Albany officials will finally make the change.
An engineering firm on Tuesday recommended that the New Albany Board of Public Works approve a conversion of Spring, Elm, Pearl, Market and Bank streets to two ways. The recommendation comes after 17 months of studies, following similar recommendations from a national planner named Jeff Speck.
"We’ve had all of theses studies now, and they've all been pro two way, so where does all that fall out?" resident Charlie Harshfield asked at the meeting hosted at Muir Manor.
The board of works is expected to choose one of presented three options at its next meeting Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the City-County Building. Before then, members of the public are invited to hear a presentation Monday from the engineering firm in the New Albany High School Auditorium at 6 p.m.. They will also be permitted to speak.
Some neighborhood association members are worried city officials will consider the opinions of people who won't be directly affected — or who would rather see Spring and Elm streets remain one way so they can continue to speed.
"I don't know why the city feels like they have to accommodate people that get to and from the bridge … then they’re dismissing anyone that lives in the intercity from these streets," Harshfield said.
Roberts agreed that downtown residents have "a larger stake" because they are affected every day.
Hannum, Wagle & Cline Engineering, or HWC, over the last several months studied three street grid options for downtown. The first involved a conversion of Market, Pearl and Bank streets, while leaving Spring and Elm streets one way to accommodate drivers.
HWC proposed leaving the streets as they are, but ultimately recommended the total conversion.
"[That's] what we've always talked about," Roberts said.
If a decision is made next Tuesday to follow HWC's recommendations, city officials say the change could be finished in about a year.
Residents are concerned that may be too late.
Supporters of two-way conversions say the change could help discourage Spring and Elm streets as a Ohio River Bridges Project toll-dodging method. The Sherman Minton Bridge connecting West Louisville and New Albany is one of two bridges that will be toll free at the end of the year.
"They've drug their feet so much that the tolls are going to happen before they do anything," Mark Sanders, vice president of the neighborhood association, said.
Neighbors have suffered property damage over the years.
Some residents who park along these two main streets have had their cars totaled from drivers wrecking into the back of them. In one instance, a car crashed into someone's house from the impact of hitting another car, Roberts said.
Those who attended the meeting Wednesday are hopeful that change could come.
"I think this will change the whole feel of our neighborhood," he said. "It’s going to turn it back to a neighborhood instead of a speedway in and out."