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Cortland eyes two-way options for Main Street

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

The two-way section of Main Street in Cortland is seen from the roof of the Cortland Standard Tuesday.

CORTLAND — Ideas for converting Main Street to two-way traffic, improving downtown intersections and adding parking on Church Street, were presented at Tuesday night’s Common Council meeting.

Tim Faulkner, senior transportation manager for Fisher Associates of Syracuse, presented the study, which touched upon the topics of traffic congestion, parking, biking downtown and more.

Faulkner said that before World War II, it would be rare to find a city with a one-way main street. In the 1960s, Cortland converted Main Street to be one-way in an attempt to compete with strip mall development by reducing congestion and offering additional parking. Many other cities did the same, he said, but a two-way traffic flow has become best practice again.

“In the 19 case studies I’ve looked at, there were no towns or villages where business actually decreased,” Faulkner said. “They either stayed neutral or increased.”

The benefits of a two-way Main Street conversion that Faulkner presented included slower traffic speeds, improved access to businesses, easier navigation downtown and reduced traffic cutting through residential areas. And the problems of a conversion, he said, could be increased congestion, longer travel times down Main Street and difficulties timing traffic signals.

Although, he said, downtown was found to have a good flow of traffic.

Fisher Associates conducted an online survey, which received 323 responses — about 85 to 90 percent being from city residents — in which 55 percent of those who responded were in favor of a two-way Main Street. About 10 to 12 percent were neutral, Faulkner said.

“Newer business owners are in favor of a two-way Main Street, while business owners who have been here for a while are not so sure, “ Faulkner said about an informal survey conducted with local business owners.

“We’ve also found that students and professors are in favor of it, while older, longtime residents, not so much.”

The main focus of the study was on the pros and cons of converting to a two-way Main Street, but it also covered potential improvements to Church Street and intersections at Port Watson Street, Court Street and Clinton Avenue.

Church Street currently on the north and southbound lanes consists of passing lanes and a shared use lane for cars and bicycles and parking along the street.

The first proposed change would be to have a two-way turn lane in the center of the street with a travel lane, parking lane and bike lane on both sides. And the second proposed change would be to again have a two-way center turn lane with a parking lane and a shared used lane on the southbound side, while the northbound side would have a shared use lane and an angled parking lane — like on Main Street.

Increasing parking on Church Street was one of the most interesting aspects of the study to Mayor Brian Tobin.

“Adding parking on Church Street would be a main benefit,” he said after the meeting.

Another aspect of the study that caught his eye, was the number of traffic accidents around downtown. Compared to a statewide average, the accident rates on Main Street and Church Street are more than 80 percent higher than the statewide accident rate.

“This is the first time the safety issue has come up (in the conversation) and it needs to be addressed,” Tobin said.

Faulkner also presented the fact there are many rear-end collisions and passing accidents on Main Street and Church Street. While there is no guarantee the street changes could help those, they could possibly make an improvement.

The study evaluated the traffic flow around downtown in the next five years based on predictions weighing three scenarios: if nothing is done to downtown roads, if a two-way Main Street is initiated and if a two-way Main Street is initiated along with changes to Church Street. If nothing is done, five years from now, the study predicts the traffic will remain about the same. But if changes are made to Main Street or Church Street, the study found there could be significant improvements at multiple intersections in terms of safety and traffic flow.

Tobin said residents should not read too much into the study, at the moment, as there is still much to be discussed among the council members and with local residents and business owners.

Faulkner and Fisher Associates will have a public meeting on the topic on March 15 at the Cortland Repertory Theatre on Port Watson Street. The time of the meeting has yet to be set. And before then, the city council will hold a couple of its own meetings before the next council meeting in March to discuss the project in more detail with the public.

Tobin said the eventual decision on the matter may not please everyone, but however the council votes will be in the best interests for everyone and the city.

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