A safer, slower downtown?

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Thursday, December 2, 2010
— More than 50 years ago, the goal was to move traffic into and through downtown Janesville safer and faster.

The goal now—at least for a downtown business association—is to make that traffic safer and slower.

The Downtown Development Alliance supports the conversion of Milwaukee and Court streets from one-way traffic to two-way, an idea that's been floated periodically for years.

Wednesday, the organization sponsored a meeting to get public input.

"If you want to do, do it and let the DDA pay for it," said one man. "Why charge everyone for it?"

Cost is certainly an issue. A consultant hired by the city came up with three options that range from about $385,000 to $1.8 million.

The alternatives include:

-- Converting both Milwaukee and Court streets beginning at Atwood Avenue on the east. Milwaukee Street would end east of Five Points with a cul-del-sac, and traffic would be diverted to Centerway. Cost: $1.8 million.

-- Converting both Milwaukee and Court streets from Atwood Avenue on the east to Five Points on the west, with only westbound Milwaukee Street access to Five Points. Cost: $1.4 million.

-- Converting both Milwaukee and Court streets from Atwood Avenue on the east. Instead of a costly reconstruction at Five Points, keep Milwaukee Street one-way west of Locust Street and Court Street one-way west of Academy Street. Cost: $385,000.

"A fourth option is to just say no," said Al Lembrich. "We don't have the money, and, even if we did, it boils down to being a good steward of the taxpayers' money."

Lembrich said the conversion won't to anything to help traffic or businesses along Milwaukee and Court streets. Instead, he said, bogging down traffic will only cause motorist angst and create more air pollution.

While Lembrich's comments drew a smattering of applause from the 40 or so in attendance, others supported the project as a way to slow traffic and improve pedestrian and motorist safety, move traffic more efficiently and improve accessibility to businesses that are more easily visible at slow speeds.

Karl Dommershausen, chairman of the DDA's traffic and parking committee, said the committee has endorsed the concept of conversion but not any one of the three alternatives.

He said many communities are finding safety and shopping success with similar street conversions.

He said a multitude of downtown Janesville revitalization studies have supported the conversion from one-way to two-way.

Between 2006 and 2009, the city converted Jackson and Franklin streets to two-way at a cost of $196,700.

Carl Weber, the city's public works director, said the conversion study by Ayres Associates is not the end of the road. In fact, he said, several options exist to reduce the cost of the project, including limiting the work to the two streets between the Five Points and Main Street.

"These are the three scenarios studied in detail," he said. "It does not mean they are our only choices, and we're open to discussion."

The full DDA board will ultimately make a recommendation to the city council.

Jim Alverson owns a downtown business and five buildings on West Milwaukee Street.

"Our store has 1,600 visitors a month, and many of them are from outside the area," he said. "They say it's scary to park and traffic is moving awfully fast."

Another downtown business owner asked why traffic couldn't be slowed without an expensive construction project.

"How about flashing lights or just unsynchronizing the lights?" she said.

Weber said that approach, or one that puts stop signs at every intersection, would create jackrabbiting traffic and more safety concerns.

The study also found that a conversion would:

-- Only marginally affect on-street parking.

-- Not affect existing traffic volumes.

-- Require a change at the intersections of Parker Drive and Main Street to accommodate truck traffic. The curb bump at Milwaukee and Main streets would need to be removed.

John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville, said he's heard lots of comments both in support and opposition to the conversion project.

"There are those who say no just because of the cost, and there are those that just want to get through the downtown as fast as they can," he said. "There are a lot of different perspectives on this, and that's the challenge facing the DDA board."

Last updated: 3:55 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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