Easing access: Plan for two-way traffic on Main Street appears headed toward approval

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A long-standing debate over how to make Cape Girardeau's Main Street more accessible to visitors and shoppers seems to be nearing its conclusion.

The solution was recommended by a St. Louis-based firm that conducted a traffic study in the fall of 2005. The plan calling for two-way traffic on Main Street appears headed toward approval.

On Feb. 8, the planning and zoning commission unanimously endorsed the plan, submitting it to the city council for final approval.

One of the principal transformations would occur at the municipal parking lot. The lot is currently used by many motorists on Aquamsi Street as a way to connect to Independence Street. Restriping and changing the exit locations of the lot would eliminate this use and would also mean a loss of 65 of the lot's 180 spaces.

After some discussion, planning and zoning approved this change, but called for an additional exit onto Merriwether Street to be added to the consultant's plans, giving the lot a total of three exits.

The consultants calculated Main Street has an average traffic load of 2,780 vehicles per day. This, said engineer Doug Shatto, is not an inordinately high amount. Shatto said this makes the task of rerouting traffic in Cape Girardeau different than rerouting traffic in other cities. Most of the time he and his firm are called in to help alleviate road congestion, but here the primary concern is navigation and accessibility.

A Main Street with two 10.5-foot lanes would not speed up traffic flow, but it would be more friendly to visitors and provide an atmosphere consistent with "new urbanism," which embraces pedestrian traffic, parallel parking and other bustle.

This is consistent with many business owners' hopes for the area.

"We don't want Main Street to be a racetrack," said merchant Kent Zickfield. "We want traffic to slow down and look in windows, the things [the consultant] is proposing are things we want."

Drivers would no longer have room to go around vehicles making parking maneuvers, but would instead have to wait for drivers to parallel park.

The city does not want obstructions to be caused by delivery trucks. The two-way plan calls for four permanent loading zones for commercial vehicles to avoid trucks from holding up traffic while making deliveries. The consultants recommended the striping of two 18-foot loading zones and two 60-foot loading zones. These additions would result in a net loss of 10 parking spaces in and around Main Street.

Changes to Main Street will be in partnership with a decision to make William Street the main route channeling traffic into the city.

"William is the natural corridor," said Shatto. "Broadway is not the kind of road you would use to promote a lot of traffic through the area. It's not the most user-friendly route to find the area. William is a straighter shot; there is less decision-making for an outsider."

The hope is that visitors exiting off of Interstate 55 will take the William Street exit to come downtown, and this hope will be reinforced by signage posted by the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

City officials also hope to extend Fountain Street to connect it with William Street, allowing motorists on Highway 74 to access the downtown. The plan will call for paved stone, ornamental lighting, a central median and a roundabout at the intersection of Morgan Oak and Fountain streets. These improvements will continue the beautification efforts already made to Fountain Street between Highway 74 and Morgan Oak Street.

An alternate plan proposed by the consultants and considered by planning and zoning would have kept Main Street one-way while reversing traffic on Water Street. This proposal also would have incorporated an angled road cutting through the municipal lot to connect with northbound Water Street. This solution would have only eliminated 40 parking spaces in the lot, but it would not have addressed the concerns of business owners who called for easier access the shopping area from the south.

This plan would have also required some sort of roundabout at the base of Broadway.

Cape Girardeau's Main Street had two-way traffic for 150 years until the street became southbound-only in 1956 in conjunction with the sesquicentennial celebration.

Chatto said the ultimate appeal of his firm's plan is its flexibility. "These changes can be easily undone if you have a problem, and with a relatively low cost. You've got a lot of flexibility here."

Planning and zoning chairman Skip Smallwood, however, hopes that if the city adopts this proposal it will do so for the long haul.

"One thing that bothers me is this notion that if this doesn't work we can always go back to the way it was," he said. "Well, that bothers me because if you're going to do it, do it right."

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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