By JOY BROWN
Reverse-angle parking and Main Street lane reductions, both controversial aspects of a proposed downtown Findlay traffic plan, have been scrapped.
Instead, organizers say they are going with a subtler approach that would still promote economic development and safety.
The revised plan, however, would not alleviate the downtown’s long-standing parking problems.
The changes were announced Monday at a public meeting.
“You obviously listened. You listened to the people. I appreciate you changing it (Main Street proposal) back to four lanes” of traffic, one woman participant said.
Several of those attending the meeting said they were thankful that a question-and-answer session was permitted Monday, unlike an earlier meeting held for the general public.
Organizers said that even though the initial plan was supported by traffic studies and accident data, the changes were driven in part by public reaction.
“I think it’s a response to people’s comments and suggestions,” Mayor Lydia Mihalik said.
Public concerns had been expressed about potential Main Street traffic congestion if there were only two driving lanes; about potential problems with emergency vehicles getting through the downtown; and the mechanics of reverse-angle parking.
Reverse-angle parking would have provided about 80 additional parking spaces downtown, but that wasn’t enough to justify reducing traffic to one lane in each direction on Main Street, said Tim Mayle, assistant economic development director for the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance.
Third Ward Councilman Ron Monday said he was “concerned with the (idea of) one lane in each direction” on Main Street. “I’ve had several calls from people about it, and I’ve told them what I think.”
So two lanes of traffic in each direction on Main Street, and parallel parking, will continue. What remains in the downtown proposal are curb “bump-outs” at intersections to shorten the walk for pedestrians, tree relocation, Main Street medians in places where there is no left-turn lane, and three mid-block pedestrian crossings.
Also still included is the idea of having a bicycle path along Cory Street from the University of Findlay south to at least West Main Cross Street.
Mihalik said she hoped the revised plan is “a start to improving the safety, walkability and overall vitality of the downtown.”
The next step lies with City Council. Next Tuesday, council is expected to vote on legislation that would authorize city administrators to apply to the Ohio Department of Transportation for a grant that would help fund construction.
Reverse-angle parking would not have been eligible for grant funding anyway, Mayle said, but securing a grant continues to be the city’s best hope for making some type of traffic plan, whatever it may be, a reality.
Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer, explaining how the grant program works, said cities must identify what they’d like to have funded up front.
“Then we’d work through the details of plan development in 2015, based upon what they will fund,” he said.
“If we’d decide not to, say, put islands in the middle of Main Street, then ODOT would subtract those dollars” from the grant, he said.
If council agrees to seek the grant, Mayle said the Alliance’s economic restructuring committee, which helped devise the first proposal, will continue to think of ways that downtown parking can be addressed.
The committee would do so in conjunction with downtown business owners, some of whom have employees who take up prime parking spaces, he said.
Schmelzer said one option could be to limit maximum parking times from two hours to an hour-and-a-half to promote quicker turnover.
Mihalik said she doesn’t favor buying a private lot for downtown parking, such as the one available where the former Argyle apartment building stood. She said with the improved economy, the space would better serve a private developer who could generate products and jobs.
“I love this whole idea … but how are you going to bring other business downtown?” asked Lois Meyer, referring to the flooding problem.
“The economic development groups are very focused on what is needed to try to encourage businesses to come downtown,” Schmelzer said. “But there is nothing we can do to just flip a switch … and make Findlay this business mecca.” It takes planning and strategizing, he said.
Dave Wobser, who once held Schmelzer’s job, suggested the city reset Main Street traffic lights, install better speed limit signs, and more frequently ticket delivery drivers who cause traffic backups with trucks parked in driving lanes.
Wobser joked that his ideas don’t require any consulting fees, and his comments were met with audience applause.
One man said he thinks the tweaked project will cost more than the $6 million that organizers are estimating.
“I don’t care what you say, $6-$8 million will not get this done,” especially if side streets are paved and updated in other ways, he said.
Schmelzer said the ideas for Main and Cory streets would be paid for with state grant money and with $5 million that Marathon Petroleum Corp. has pledged from tax savings it expects to receive when it expands its complex.
The state is already planning to pay for Main Street repaving, expected in 2017, Schmelzer said, and there would be no assessments.
Improvements to other streets and intersections, as part of the evolving “master plan” for downtown, would also be funded, at least in part, with other grant money that organizers are hoping to obtain, Schmelzer said.
The goal is to make such improvements prior to the Main Street work, he said.
The remaining plan envisions increased sidewalk use, particularly for outdoor dining. Some had questions about that Monday.
Carol Peters wanted to know if sidewalk dining would allow room for pedestrians, wheelchairs and motorized scooters to pass by.
“We’ve already set up some criteria that requires leaving an access lane,” Schmelzer said.
Brad Ehrnschwender asked the five City Council members present if they would eventually vote to approve emergency legislation to authorize construction of the downtown project. If a law is approved as an emergency, it is not subject to a referendum.
“That legislation is so far away that I’d have to take a look at it at that time,” said 5th Ward Councilman John Harrington. “There’s an election in between there, and some of us might not still be around.”
“That’s a very good point, John,” Ehrnschwender said.
But not all of Ehrnschwender’s comments were skeptical.
“I’d like to thank everyone for the opportunity for a Q&A,” he said. The audience clapped in agreement.
Mayle said a video of the entire Monday meeting will be posted online at some point today at http://www.downtownfindlay.com