By LOU WILIN
Downtown merchants “love” plans to slow Findlay’s Main Street traffic with medians and fewer lanes, and to shorten pedestrian crossings.
They also cannot help but love it that the lane reductions would add up to 80 parking spaces to the 103 along downtown Main Street. Reverse-angled parking spaces would replace the parallel parking spaces and two of the four driving lanes now on Main Street.
City administrators’ proposal is not yet a finished product. It is evolving with public feedback. But so far, so good, as far as downtown merchants are concerned.
“Fantastic,” said Wine Merchant owner Dan Matheny after hearing city officials and consultants present the plan to business owners on Wednesday morning during one of three sessions held at the Findlay Inn and Conference Center.
Others among the 50-plus who attended agreed.
“I love the idea, love the concept,” said Tim Hamlin, co-owner of Trends on Main.
“This plan is fantastic. It provides for the common good,” said another downtown business advocate.
But downtown business supporters notice voices are forming a chorus of opposition. Multiple times Wednesday they cited flak from letters to the editor in The Courier.
“It’s incumbent upon everyone here to not let a hysterical minority submarine this, and that could easily happen,” said one man.
City Council is the body that supporters should lobby, because it will decide whether changes are made, Mayor Lydia Mihalik said.
“If all council hears is the negativity, or all council reads in the newspaper is the negativity … they more than likely will vote against this project,” Mihalik said. “If this is something that you really want to see, (make) phone calls, emails, person-to-person contact.”
“If you feel so inclined, write your own crazy letter to the editor,” she said, evoking laughter, “because that is what is going to get this done.”
Business owners said they resent critics’ suggestions that Marathon Petroleum Corp. is behind the proposed Main Street changes.
“I hate hearing it tied to the Marathon plan, for their growth. I don’t want people to think it was being dictated by Marathon,” Matheny said. “I want people to realize it’s coming from downtown businesses.”
City Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer agreed, but said Marathon is inextricably linked to the proposal. The $80 million that Marathon is spending to expand its downtown complex can be applied to meet the city’s financial matching requirements in a bid to get a $2 million state grant.
“I understand (Matheny’s) comment. It is not Marathon’s project. It is a downtown project, but Marathon’s project is a huge impetus to drive funding for the (downtown) project,” Schmelzer said.
“We have a great opportunity to do this with little to no impact on our tax base,” the mayor said. “This is perfect. This is perfect timing. That’s why we’re talking about it now. The catalytic projects we are having downtown are allowing us to have this discussion.”
The plan is aimed at making Main Street a pleasant, safe place for pedestrians instead of a motorists’ fast lane to somewhere else.
“Speeds on Main Street … are higher than what is really appropriate in a downtown,” said Brad Strader, planning division manager for LSL Planning of Royal Oak, Mich., a firm hired by the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance to do a downtown traffic study.
“Cars are going pretty fast,” Strader said. “In addition to the difficulty of crossing the street, it’s pretty intimidating the way people are … driving … especially in the evening when you are out there for dining. Like it’s a highway. They are driving very fast on Main Street.”
A person’s walk along Main Street needs to be more pleasant before more people will be willing to do it, he said.
With 16,000 vehicles per day traveling on it, Main Street needs only three lanes, Strader said. Instead, it has five lanes, enough for 25,000 to 40,000 vehicles per day.
“That’s why we have higher speeds and it is harder for pedestrians to cross,” he said.
Medians slow traffic by 3 to 5 mph and give pedestrians crossing a refuge, Strader said. Curb-lined extensions of sidewalks or extensions of tree-adorned gathering areas, called bump-outs, would shorten pedestrian crossings.
Findlay’s downtown has the highest rate of crashes involving pedestrians in the eight counties in District 1 of the Ohio Department of Transportation, he said. Other counties in District 1 are Allen, Defiance, Hardin, Paulding, Putnam, Van Wert and Wyandot.
The state basically agrees with Strader, but casts it a bit differently. The worst “pedestrian crash corridor” in the district in recent history extends from the Main Street-Main Cross Street intersection south to the Main Street-Lincoln Street intersection and then extends east to the Lincoln-East Street intersection, said Eric Pfenning, roadway services engineer for District 1.
That area had 12 crashes from 2007 through 2011, Pfenning said. It ranked 61st in the state out of 5,864 “pedestrian crash corridors. ” The worst corridor was in Franklin County with 41 pedestrian crashes, he said.
Of the 12 pedestrian crashes in the downtown Findlay corridor from 2007 through 2011, seven were at the Main-Main Cross intersection, Pfenning said. Two were at the Main-Lincoln intersection, and one each at Main-Crawford, Main-Hardin and Lincoln-East intersections.
“Most of these crashes seemed to involve vehicles attempting to turn through the intersection and encountering a pedestrian in the crosswalk,” Pfenning said.
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