City Traffic Engineer Brian Smith
Whether East Johnson and East Gorham streets are transformed into two-way streets could well depend on who has more clout: residents or commuters. At least that's the way some residents see it.
"It's going to be a political decision about whose voice is the loudest," Joe Lusson told city engineers at a neighborhood meeting Thursday night hosted by Capitol Neighborhoods. "I'm hoping it will be a reflection on the historical neighborhoods downtown and I'm hoping with the good work you do, you'll have the traffic be able to flow."
At the meeting, city staff discussed a forthcoming study to gauge the impact of putting two-way traffic on East Johnson and Gorham streets. Residents want the change to bring a sense of calm to the chaotic, traffic-laden streets.
The roads would host two-way traffic between Wisconsin Avenue and First Avenue. The city already plans to reconstruct East Johnson Street between Butler and Baldwin Streets in 2014. If the two-way plan moves forward, it would be an extension of that project.
A majority of residents who live along the one-way corridors were supportive of the change. And they had plenty of stories to share with city engineers explaining why two-way roads are needed.
Lanh Nguyen, who lives near James Madison Park, said if he wants to cross East Johnson Street with his children, he has to run. And he says drivers who try to stay within the speed limit get harassed by other drivers.
"If you go 25 on [East] Johnson, you get bombed," Nguyen said. "Everybody drives 39 [m.p.h.]."
Although the speed limit would not be lowered if the city decides to change the roads, residents said a two-way street has a psychological effect on its drivers. One-way roads give a sense of space and encourages speeding, while two-way roads feel more residential and drivers slow down accordingly, they said.
The city is still months away from committing to the two-way traffic solution. City Engineer Chris Petykowski said the study would begin the first week in October, with construction in late 2014.
The preliminary study would use computer models to determine the consequences of two-way traffic on East Johnson and Gorham Streets. Aside from studying the impact on car traffic, it would also look at the effect on pedestrians, buses, bicyclists, emergency vehicles and air quality. It would also determine whether there would be enough gaps in traffic for people to exit their driveways safely.
But some attendees also spoke about accommodating the needs of commuters too. A two-way road moves less traffic than a one-way. City Traffic Engineer Brian Smith said that Williamson Street, which is a two-way corridor, can move about 1,400 cars an hour during peak traffic times. East Johnson Street can move almost double that amount.
Fred Mohs, a longtime downtown resident and property owner, said constructing two-way roads could cause gridlock.
"Could you still move traffic? People do need to get in and out of the isthmus, and we don't want a lot of traffic here which would be a problem in itself," Mohs said.
But Mohs allowed that the two-way solution would add to the livability of the area and real estate values.
Other attendees were also concerned about property values. Lusson said houses along downtown's one-way corridors have deteriorated in the past few decades because families move out and renters move in.
"Can we make it more desirable to own and occupy those houses on Gorham and Johnson with slower traffic?" Lusson said. "Or do we turn our backs, tear things down, and build apartment buildings where the people there are good folks but they don't care as much because they're transient."