Downtown revival brings controversy to one-way avenues

City commission urges community members to help address issues of a one-way vs. two-way, street parking and bike lanes.

By Kelsie O’Keefe
MSUM Mass Comm. Major


The streets of downtown Fargo are bustling again and community members need to address whether downtown’s one-ways should whisk people through or carry them in.

The Fargo City Commission is looking into the reconstruction of the downtown sections of NP (formally known as Northern Pacific Avenue) and First avenues due to the revival of downtown Fargo.

“As more and more people start to move downtown, we want it to be a place where everyday activities can be accommodated safely,” says Dominic Fischer, a registered landscape architect for the Leonard Atelier Group, hired by the city commission for streetscape design and bicycle and pedestrian analysis.


Corinne Donahue, public transportation planner for Wilbur Smith Associates, explains alternatives for the two avenues’ reconstruction to Fargo residents at the public meeting on March 2. Community members used colored pens to write or draw in comments or suggestions.
 

Four alternatives

The Fargo City Commission is probing four preliminary alternatives for changes to the one-way avenues.

     1. Two-way with two-lanes going one direction, one going the other
     2. Two-way with left turn lane
     3. Two lanes one-way with diagonal parking
     4. No build

Each alternative has the option of either a designated or shared bike lane.

Decision based on community feedback

Ultimately, the Fargo City Commission will decide what to do, but that decision will be largely based on community feedback, says Michael N. Gorman, president of HWS Consulting Group, hired to manage the downtown one-way avenues’ project and the public involvement.

So far, the Fargo City Commission has held three public meetings in an attempt to provide updated information and get feedback from the community.

Many residents at the city commission’s second public meeting on March 2 had strong opinions about the one-way avenues’ alternatives.



More than 45 people attended the public meeting on March 2.
 

Creation of one-ways

“The one-ways were created because Highway 10 went through downtown Fargo and Moorhead,” says Dawn Morgan, executive director of the Spirit Room in downtown Fargo. “It was really important to be able to move that highway traffic through downtown. Since that time, that traffic has been discouraged in downtown Fargo. This is kind of the leftover from those days when they were trying to bring that traffic through downtown very quickly.

“Most of the surveys that I’ve studied indicate that slowing down the traffic and getting rid of as many trucks and big vehicles as possible in a neighborhood like downtown is really the direction you want to go so that it’s pedestrian friendly,” says Morgan.

Morgan: ‘A visual experience’

Morgan also thinks that leaving NP and First avenues as one-ways “cuts off the community from a whole visual experience.” She says the downtown community needs to get away from the sense that people need to speed up and get out of downtown.

“We can look around and see what we have and enjoy the beautiful architecture and just slow down a bit,” says Morgan. “That’s what I would be in favor of — two-way (lanes) in whichever the best plan is.”

Benefits point to two-way

Austin Yates, an engineer intern for HWS Consulting Group, prefers the two-way option provided by alternative one. Yates was involved with a similar project managed by HWS in Omaha, Neb., in which a two-way with two lanes going one direction and one going the other was implemented. The consulting group also added diagonal parking. The project was complete in fall 2009 and has been extremely successful, says Yates.

The economic benefits also point to two-way avenues, says Gorman.

Two-way difficult for truck parking

“I’ve lived in this town 65 years,” says Mike McNair, a downtown resident and business owner. “I’ve seen them as two-ways. I’ve seen the delivery trucks. I’ve seen the buses—it’s a bad situation.”

McNair thinks it will be difficult for businesses on NP and First avenues to unload trucks filled with supplies and merchandise.

The best alternative for delivery trucks would be alternative one. It provides greater access to businesses on both sides and greater visibility. “The studies that have been done show that,” says Gorman.

“People use the things they have available,” says Yates. “If there isn’t room for trucks to park on the street, they will find an ally or somewhere to park instead.”

Parking problems

“I live on Broadway … my business is on Broadway,” says McNair. “I think parking is a nightmare. There are times when people spend 15 minutes trying to back out of their parking space. I have clients complain about it.”

Gorman says some of the frustrations are temporarily necessary in the whole scheme of revitalizing downtown.

“Yes, it’s frustrating, but it’s a place of great activity,” says Gorman. “It’s difficult to get in and out but every time you look every parking stall is taken. Something’s going right if people want to use it that much and they’re willing to put up with that frustration. It’s about trying to find that balance. We don’t want NP and First to be Broadway, but is there a way we can push it a little closer toward what Broadway is and take advantage of the success Broadway’s had and put that on NP and First?”

Alternative three supports more parking.


Fischer (right) discusses the alternatives and answers questions from Fargo residents at the public meeting.




Traffic moves quickly on one-ways

Another resident sees two-way lanes becoming a bottleneck. “With one-ways you can get in and out fairly easy,” says Dick Auckert, who moved to Fargo from Germany five months ago, agrees with the idea that one-ways move traffic more quickly but doesn’t see it as a positive aspect.

“You are blessed with room on your roads. Isn’t the goal of these improvements to attract people to come downtown and stay downtown instead of rushing through? I think I don’t want people rushing through downtown. If that is the case they can use Main Street. So I think alternative three looks pretty awesome. I think business owners would be happy to have more people actually stopping by.”

Driving delays slightly vary

Some Fargo residents who work downtown think the possibility of added customers due to slower traffic and more pedestrian and bicycle friendliness would be worth the extra time a two-way would add for them to get to work.

Computer modeling analysis shows that each vehicle driving the one-ways experiences about 90 seconds of delay, says Gorman. In the future, the delay will increase to about 105 seconds if left as it is. Drivers can expect about 110 seconds of delay with alternative one, 140 seconds with alternative two and 110 seconds again with alternative three.

Speed-limit reduction for safety

Turning the one-way lanes into two-way lanes would require a speed-limit reduction for safety.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, if a pedestrian is hit at:

  • 20 mph 95 percent will survive
  • 30 mph 55 percent will survive
  • 40 mph 15 percent will survive

A speed-limit reduction would not only protect pedestrians but bicyclists as well.

Fischer: ‘Drivers not educated on bicyclists’

For many bicyclists bicycle lanes are a long-awaited addition to downtown. The choice between designated or shared bicycle lanes is an important issue for bicycle safety.

“As far (the safety of) designated versus shared bike lanes, both groups could probably prove themselves right given different surveys,” says Fischer. “With the designated bike lanes cars tend to drive closer to bicyclists because they think that the bike lane is a visual barrier protecting the bicyclist. Studies have shown that the car is half a foot further away from the bicyclist with a shared lane.

“Personally, I think a designated bike lane is safer, especially in this application because drivers here are not educated on bicyclists. Designated lanes show that it’s OK for a bike to be here. A shared lane is better for places that have more bikes on the road.”


Designated bike lanes could help downtown drivers be more aware of bicyclists’ rights to the road.

 

Downtown bike unfriendly

Matthew Florence, an avid bicyclist in Fargo, agrees with Fisher’s conclusion.

“As far as Broadway, which is a shared lane, I have experienced a lot of psycho-related hatred by motorists,” says Florence. “They don’t feel I belong on the road. Obviously the signs prove otherwise, which I had to remind them. I feel like a (designated) bike lane is straight forward and to the point — you have the right to be in this spot and no car can get in the way.”

Community feedback welcome

So far, keeping the one-way with diagonal parking, alternative 3, is the least favored, says Gorman. It’s still too early to say which alternative is favored.

The last public meeting to discuss NP and First avenues’ alternatives will be some time in June.

The Fargo City Commission plans to complete the study by the end of this summer. Community questions and feedback are welcome by phone at 701-235-4761 or by email at dfischer@lagroupfargo.com

 

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