By LOU WILIN
When a Rotarian on Monday questioned whether a traffic and parking plan might steer people away from Findlay’s downtown, a city official said the plan can be changed.
Neither Rotarian Bill Ruse nor City Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer were at the lectern at the Rotary Club meeting. That was the station of economic development and downtown officials speaking about the traffic and parking plan. But Schmelzer has been a spokesman for the plan, and is hoping to get up to a $2 million state grant for traffic improvements.
So when Ruse questioned the logic of reducing Main Street downtown to one lane each north and south, Schmelzer said there is plenty of time to change the plan.
“This is a starting point of a conversation … It does not mean that that is the way it is going to end up,” Schmelzer said.
City administrators hope to win City Council approval to apply by May 4 for state money. But at that time, the downtown plan need only be a general idea, not a fixed design, Schmelzer said.
The state would notify Findlay in August whether it would get money. But it would not be until 2016 when money would be spent and traffic changes made, Schmelzer said. The plan can change between now and 2016.
“If we decide to pursue funding, 2015 is when the design will be developed with a lot of input from the public,” Schmelzer said. “2014 is when we apply for (state) money to be used in 2016. So there is a lot of time in there for us to develop this plan fully.”
“There is a lot of design work that needs to be done and a lot of input that will have to be garnered,” Schmelzer said. “This is not, ‘We have to make up our mind by May 1 on whether we are going to do this or not.'”
That said, experts disagree with Ruse’s concerns that Main Street downtown could gridlock, said Tim Mayle, assistant director of economic development for the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance. Mayle and Maria Reza, downtown coordinator, spoke to Rotary in favor of the Main Street traffic plan.
The plan aims to improve Main Street’s safety and appeal for pedestrians by slowing traffic with fewer lanes, medians, and by shortening pedestrian crossings.
“We do not want Main Street to be a thoroughfare, in my opinion,” Mayle said. “I want it to be a destination.”
Mayle and city officials have said Blanchard Street and Western Avenue could be widened to give motorists faster alternatives to go north or south.
Motorist speeds on Main Street are higher than appropriate for a downtown, according to 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.
With 16,000 vehicles per day traveling on it, Main Street needs only three lanes, Strader has said.
Instead, it has five lanes (including turn lanes), enough for 25,000 to 40,000 vehicles per day. That wide-open feel contributes to higher car speeds, he has said.
Reducing lanes on Main Street downtown would not cause gridlock and drive away motorists, Mayle said Monday.
“Some people maybe misconstrue the fact that if we cut Main Street in half, in terms of lanes, half of that traffic has to be diverted. The reality of it is, we have such a high capacity on Main Street right now, that’s why we can absorb and do that,” Mayle said.
Medians also would slow traffic by 3 to 5 mph and give pedestrians crossing a refuge. Medians could be markings on the pavement or slight elevations, allowing emergency vehicles to drive on them, Mayle said.
Curb-lined extensions of sidewalks or extensions of gathering areas, called bump-outs, would shorten pedestrian crossings.
The plan would add up to 80 parking spaces to the 103 on Main Street downtown. Reverse-angled parking spaces would replace the parallel parking spaces and two of the four driving lanes now on Main Street.
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