Viewpoint: Main Street change good for downtown

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Fifty years after Cape Girardeau city officials made it one-way, two-way traffic returned to Main Street in late March.

After more than a month, it looks to be a good move.

From our view, having two-way traffic makes navigation easier for the consumer. The consumer should always be the deciding factor in anything that takes place downtown.

A one-way, two-lane street caused people to basically make circles in the downtown area. Some business owners complained of it basically being a "race track." If you happened to miss something, you simply missed it. It felt more like a drive-through area instead of a stop-and-shop area.

Tourist attractions exist on both ends. On one side, there are the murals and the Red House. On the other side, there is the main river entrance and, a bit farther down, Cape Rock. People should be able to drive up and down Main Street to access the attractions and downtown businesses more easily.

Traffic consultants last year told city officials that making Main Street a two-way street would be "more friendly" to visitors and provide an atmosphere consistent with "new urbanism," which embraces the distractions of pedestrian traffic, parallel parking, and other bustle.

Some business owners, rightfully, in our view, were happy about the move. A one-way, two-lane street also had been inhibiting people from slowing down and noticing businesses on both sides of the street.

It also was something of a navigational nightmare, causing some, they felt, from avoiding downtown all together. Broadway has 8,500 cars on it daily; Independence has 1,500 cars a day; William has 2,500 cars a day and Spanish has about 5,500 cars a day. That's a lot of cars to dump into the downtown. The smoother the traffic flow, the better.

The change to Main Street was also in partnership with making William Street the main route to channeling visitors into the city. William is a natural corridor. Broadway, the consultants said, is not the sort of road to use to promote a lot of traffic through the area. William, for example, is a straighter shot. That means there is less decision making for a visitor.

The hope is that visitors exiting off of Interstate 55 will take the William exit to come downtown. Those hopes are being reinforced by signs posted by the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Not every business owner was happy about the move, though. They complained that two-way traffic would mean that large loading trucks would be a hindrance to drivers and hold up traffic.

Deb Maevers, owner of Pastimes Antiques at 45 N. Main St., said many Main Street businesses and property owners oppose making the street two way.

Maevers surveyed Main Street businesses last year. Nineteen of 24 merchants said they opposed it. Two favored the proposed traffic change. Three others were neutral on the issue.

No doubt that is happening. But the advantages far outweigh these problems. And Maevers reported recently that -- while her concerns remain -- the change wasn't as bad as she had feared.

Still, the ultimate goal of the change is that it makes the downtown area easier to maneuver.

In other words, a two-way Main Street makes downtown Cape Girardeau a better business district.

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