By JOY BROWN
LIMA — Just north and west of the downtown Kewpee, Lima’s beloved hamburger joint, are two of the city’s newest street makeoevers.
Portions of Elizabeth Street and West Street, one block over, began to offer reverse-angle parking spaces along one side in early July. Motorists back into angled parking spaces, then drive forward into traffic when they leave.
Bicycle lanes and curb bump-outs at intersections have also been incorporated into the streets, which previously had parallel parking spaces on each side.
It is similar to work proposed earlier this year for Findlay’s Main Street.
Lima has forged ahead with drastic changes to its parking and traffic flow as part of a $10 million, multi-phased “Complete Streets” project aimed at slowing speeds, improving safety, and better accommodating pedestrians, bicyclists and wheelchair users.
City Engineer Kirk Niemeyer said the intention also is to make it easier for visitors to navigate Lima’s downtown, where several one-way streets, including Elizabeth and West streets, had caused confusion.
Findlay still plans to improve its Main and Cory streets, and is expecting to hear this month if it will receive state grant money for the construction. There is still a chance that Cory Street, from West Main Cross Street to the University of Findlay, will get a bicycle lane.
But public opposition convinced Findlay officials to abandon a plan for reverse-angle parking along Main Street.
Findlay officials and economic development directors, wanting to capitalize on Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s expansion and the performing arts center’s construction, had privately won business community support for overhauling downtown streets as early as 2012.
But when the plan was publicly unveiled at the beginning of this year, to obtain the required input for a May grant application deadline, some of those ideas, especially the proposed Main Street parking changes, were strongly opposed.
Lima, on the other hand, spent years gathering opinions and trying to inform people about its concepts.
Niemeyer said studying began in 2008, in cooperation with the Ohio Department of Transportation’s District 1, which is headquartered in Lima.
The city held several public meetings, encouraged residents to submit their thoughts online, and officials went door-to-door to explain their ideas. The studying was completed in 2011 and changes started in 2012.
“A lot of it comes down to community acceptance,” Niemeyer said.
Reverse-angle parking “may not be ideal in a world where everybody wants to go, go, go,” he said.
The change hasn’t provided a significant increase in the number of parking spaces. But accident statistics helped sway officials, as did Niemeyer’s observations of the parking method during a visit to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Niemeyer said he likes that reverse-angle parking enables opened vehicle doors to serve as a protective shield against oncoming traffic, and as a corral for small children who may have a tendency to dart away.
“From what the consultants had conveyed to us, and from what we read, it’s a safer maneuver,” Niemeyer said.
Whether it is providing its intended “traffic calming” is debatable.
Some drivers recently observed on Elizabeth Street were visibly annoyed when people in front of them attempted to park. They threw up their hands in exasperation and used the bike lane to zoom around them.
“We’ve been getting both kinds of feedback. It’s not something you encounter every day,” Niemeyer said.
“Some businesses were looking forward to it. Whether that’s still the case has yet to be determined.”
The Lima News made its position clear in a July 20 editorial that excoriated reverse-angle parking and Niemeyer.
“Really? And we’re supposed to think this is a good thing for attracting people to the downtown?” the Lima News editorial board wrote. “Get out of here. The only people we can think of who would argue in favor of such a plan are the owners of auto body repair shops.”
Lima’s comprehensive traffic plan, which also includes traffic light signal changes and rerouting of some state routes, is expected to wrap up within the next five years, Niemeyer said.
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