Dreaming the dreams, and fixing what's broken

Friday, January 18, 2013

As much as I agree that the Broadway remake in downtown Cape Girardeau is a vast improvement, I would give it a grade of B-minus, at best.

That grade is based as much on the future of Broadway as it is on what was accomplished in short order last year at a cost of several million dollars.

For now, the sharply different look is such a contrast to the previous eye clutter that it's easy to think Broadway has been saved from further decay. Several businesses have joined this effort, and their face-lifts are to be applauded.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the sidewalk weeds have only been temporarily squashed by all the new concrete and pavers. In a couple of years the fine silt that blows along every street in town will settle into the cracks and soon will attract weedy seeds.

The fact that some of the stretches of Broadway won't get the upkeep they deserve was evident after the post-Christmas snowstorm. Pedestrians, particularly those who tried to navigate the south side of the street where the sun's melting rays were blocked, found treacherous footing along the way. Some of the snow and ice stayed on the sidewalks for days. That same pattern, I'm guessing, will be evident when the weeds return.

In addition, there still are patches of loose gravel along Broadway -- all of which could be removed in an hour or two by a couple of city workers and a truck to haul away the offending stones. But this hasn't been done, and the lack of attention only deepens my concern about the future maintenance of the street and its sidewalks.

When the Broadway renovation was underway, it was good to see the clutter was gone. But as the project neared completion, it became apparent that new clutter was being installed: directional signs in the middle of sidewalks, wires strung overhead to which dim streetlights were hung, bike racks that aren't identifiable just by looking at them, benches and poles for light signals at intersections.

What are the rules? Are there any rules? The mayor recently lauded businesses along Broadway which, on their own initiative, put brightly colored lights in some of the new trees during the holidays. I agree they added a festive touch to the nighttime scene along the street. And apparently every tree has its own electrical outlet -- which, I presume, can be used by anyone with something to plug in. How about cellphones? Laptops?

I know a lot of thought and preparation went into the Broadway design that now has been executed. I can't think of anyone who thinks this isn't a huge improvement. But it's not perfect, and the potential for a return to the litter, weeds and general neglect is high. And it's too soon to say for sure whether the Broadway makeover will have its intended impact.

Cape Girardeau's history with innovative street projects is spotty, going back to the now infamous roundabout at Silver Springs and Gordonville roads. I lost count of how many times that project had to be redone before it was practical to drive around. The newer roundabout at Fountain and Morgan Oak streets has its own problems, with the inner curb color matching the street, which makes it difficult to see, particularly at night. Tread marks indicate a large number of vehicles have jumped the curb. It's fixable, but apparently there is so little traffic using the circle that no one really cares.

Now another roundabout is in the works at one of the busiest intersections in town: Lexington Avenue and Route W/Kingsway Drive. This treacherous intersection is too close to the Lexington Avenue/Mount Auburn Road-Kingshighway junction to allow room for proper signals. Prudence would indicate that the two intersections are also too close for a roundabout. The fact is that the Route W/Kingsway Drive intersection shouldn't be where it is at all. And a roundabout won't make the problem go away.

The last thing the city needs is another traffic boondoggle. How many years did it take to sort out the traffic lanes needed to accommodate the heavy volume on William Street between I-55 and Silver Springs Road?

Let's see if the engineers and planners can figure out this new roundabout. Let's see if anything has been learned from our recent history of traffic management. Let's see if the next project can get a better grade than B-minus.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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