The wheels are turning on a city plan to convert some notorious one-way streets downtown into two-way thoroughfares — a longed-for switch for those fed up with panic-stricken, mid-intersection U-turns and aimless wrong-way wandering.
Officials from the city's public works and economic and community development departments are meeting in closed session this week to consider a pilot project that would convert three one-way blocks of East Franklin Street between 16th and 19th streets, and two one-way blocks of 19th Street between East Grace and East Main streets.
Select blocks on East Grace, Ambler and 18th streets might also be converted. The Shockoe Bottom blocks are identified as hot spots for two-way conversion in a 2004 map provided by the city titled “Shockoe Bottom Transportation Plan 2020.”
“This plan might change a little bit,” cautions Travis A. Bridewell, a traffic engineering operations manager for the city. Department of Public Works spokeswoman Sharon North says the conversion project in Shockoe Bottom is scheduled to begin later in the year — a public hearing is required before any work.
Shockoe Bottom's street conversions emerged as a top priority in the city's 2008 Downtown Master Plan, which hypes the “intuitive navigation” of two-way streets for visitors, pedestrian ease, reduced vehicle speed, increased safety and fewer miles traveled by drivers less likely to overshoot their destination via circuitous side streets.
The Shockoe Bottom blocks are considered easy toe dipping because they don't have traffic lights and would be less time consuming and expensive to convert with minimal road painting and sign changes. Larger-scale, more difficult changes, such as conversions of Cary or Main streets, could take years to plot.
It's a definite welcome change for David Napier, owner of White House Catering on East Main Street, who serves as president of the Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association. “While those of us that live and work down here have gotten used to taking a bunch of extra turns to get around, it really is intimidating [for visitors],” he says. “You can see a parking lot but you can't get there.”
Developer Charles Macfarlane, owner of the historic Adam Craig house at 19th and Grace streets, attributes past high turnover of some businesses on Franklin and 19th in “large part because the pedestrian and vehicular access to those two streets has been limited.”