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Published September 27, 2010, 12:00 AM

Changing direction: Consultants to recommend downtown convert its one-ways

Driving down NP or First avenues makes for a quick minute or two through downtown Fargo.

By: Heidi Shaffer, INFORUM

Driving down NP or First avenues makes for a quick minute or two through downtown Fargo.

But an effort to slow traffic and create more complete streets for pedestrian and cyclists means the corridor would take a new direction if the city follows advice of a consulting firm hired to study the one-ways.

During a public meeting on Thursday, HWS Consultants of Omaha, Neb., will recommend the city convert the east-west avenues into two-way streets, said Mike Gorman, HWS project manager.

The recommended “2+1” proposal, based on almost two years of study, includes two lanes in the current direction of traffic and one lane traveling the opposite way.

Converting to a two-way road tends to slow down traffic, said Fargo traffic engineer Jeremy Gorden, but the conversion of NP and First avenues will do more than alter downtown traffic flow and patterns.

The study found making the switch would likely mean better business, more development and safer travel for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists, Gorman said.

“The goal of the study was really to maximize the use of NP and First to not only be a roadway that carries traffic from the downtown to the outskirts of the city but to also be a roadway that provides good pedestrian access, bicycle access, better access to adjacent businesses,” Gorman said.

The $130,000 study looked at three alternatives as well as keeping the one-ways and includes a detailed analysis of traffic patterns, input from businesses and residents and the economic effects of potential changes.

A two-way conversion can be a cost-effective way to do redevelopment, said Mike Hahn, the new president of the Downtown Community Partnership.

Hahn worked as a community developer in two Iowa cities that underwent two-way conversions.

“Over time it does stimulate development,” Hahn said.

Thursday’s third public meeting on the study will give a local study committee, made up of city engineers, planners, community developers and business owners, a chance to question what the preferred 2+1 plan means for Fargo.

Some question change

The consultants have decided the 2+1 plan would work best for Fargo, but the study committee still has several questions about the preferred plan, said committee member Randy Thorson, owner of downtown’s Old Broadway and JL Beers.

“For me, everything works now, and for them to say changing it would make an acceptable level of service … If we have an exceptional level right now, why would we change it to acceptable?” Thorson said.

Thorson said he wants answers on how freight deliveries will be handled. The existing roadway allows delivery trucks to park adjacent to a business, but the new configuration would mean freight would need to cross two lanes of traffic to get to a storefront.

Left turns off the one-lane side of the street and cars maneuvering in and out of parallel parking spots will likely cause traffic to back up, Thorson said.

Drivers would notice traffic will move slower in the corridor, but probably only during peak rush hours, Gorman said.

“There is no doubt there will be an increase in congestion through the downtown area when compared to existing conditions,” the study says.

But congestion is the point, said Mark Weiler, founder of The Downtowner, a collective of downtown businesses.

Creating more traffic will help downtown become more pedestrian centered and help drivers’ visibility of businesses, Weiler said.

Some of the disadvantages of slower traffic patterns could mean other advantages for drivers, Gorman said.

The ability to drive in both directions would make getting to a business easier and traffic less confusing for those unfamiliar with the one-ways, Gorman said.

The inclusion of a bike lane on each avenue also opens downtown to modes of transportation besides just cars, said Joe Curry, a member of the F-M Community Bike Workshop.

Fargo’s older roadways generally don’t have a

place for cyclists, and the project could help link some of the existing bike lanes throughout the city, Curry said.

“It isn’t going to cure everything, but it’s a giant step forward,” Curry said.

The study committee will likely make its decision this fall and send a recommendation on to the City Commission for approval by the end of the year, Gorden said.

If the city decides to do the conversion, construction would likely take place in 2012.

Paving the way

One-ways gained popularity in the 1960s as a way to move traffic quickly out of downtown and into expanding suburban neighborhoods.

Starting in the past two decades, cities have began converting those one-ways back to two-ways, Gorman said.

“In my mind it’s no longer becoming let’s get through downtown, but let’s get to downtown,” said Curry, of the F-M Bike Community Workshop and co-owner of downtown’s Red Raven Espresso Parlor.

Downtown development has largely centered around Broadway, but Gorman said creating two-ways would likely help expand development.

“Broadway is working, and we want to extend that success east and west,” said City Commissioner Mike Williams, who sits on the study committee.

The study’s economist looked at five other cities that have converted from one- to two-ways and estimated significant money-making potential for Fargo with the conversion, Gorman said.

Each city in the study increased development, retail occupancy and sales tax incomes, according to the analysis.

“This would be something that would be very timely and just add to the work that’s already been done downtown,” Gorman said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511


If you go

  • What: Final public meeting on NP and First avenues corridor study

  • When: 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday; short presentation discussing recommended alternative starts at 5:30 p.m.

  • Where: Fargo City Commission room, 200 3rd St. N.

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