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Franklin chews on traffic: Study looks at parking, crosswalks on Main Street

fr franklinDowntown Franklin is sporting some fresh paint after an October decision to spruce up the fading road lines, but over the winter town aldermen will be considering some changes that could be a tad more noticeable.

“During the winter when things slow down a little bit, it will give us time to think about it in more depth,” said Mayor Bob Scott. 

The “it” in question is a study recently completed by Waynesville-based J.M. Teague Traffic Engineering. The study was commissioned to figure out if there’s a better way to deal with parking in the downtown, which everyone pretty much agrees is currently a mess. 

Driving down one-way Main Street is a little bit like playing a video game, trying to stay between the white lines while avoiding the backs of cars jutting out into the road. Each vehicle is a different length, so drivers can breathe easy for a few moments while passing a glut of sedans but must use a bit more finesse to maneuver around an extended-cab truck. 

“You can’t see to back out,” said Ruth Goodier, director of Uptown Gallery. “It’s a wonder they don’t have a lot of accidents.”

The study looked at some alternative ways to use Main Street, with a particular eye toward parking. The recommendation, presented by engineer Reuben Moore, is to change the 30-degree angle parking to 45-degree on one side of the street and use parallel parking on the other side. That would buy a good bit of extra space in the roadway.

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“The 30-degree parking is kind of inefficient in terms of curb space, and it sticks out in the road variously from 13 to 15 feet,” he told town aldermen. “You could get the same amount of parking and only stick out 9 feet if you were parking parallel.”

Really, reverse-angle parking — when drivers back into the space instead of backing out of it — would be the ideal, but it’s a hard sell simply because it’s so different from what most people are used to, Moore said. Even parallel parking is tough for some downtown businesspeople to stomach. 

“People don’t know how to parallel park anymore,” said Suzanne Harouff, owner of Books Unlimited. “It’s been so long since I’ve done it, I’d have to go somewhere and practice.”

The recommended plan addresses more than just paint. Raised crosswalks to slow traffic down and give pedestrians greater security, increased handicapped parking, shared-lane markings to encourage bikers, “bulbouts” — jutted-out sections of sidewalk at crosswalk areas — to slow traffic down and parking meters to keep downtown workers from taking up spots on Main Street are all in the mix. 

Parking meters, or some mechanism to deter downtown workers from parking on Main Street, would find support from Alan Popper, owner of Kitchen Gourmet. 

“Those spaces are worth money to me,” Popper said, adding that he might even rather pay to keep them open than see them blocked all day by someone who’s not there to shop.

The study also suggests that aldermen consider changing the one-way street to two-way as a tool to slow down traffic and make the road safer for pedestrians and bikers. Goodier said she would welcome such a change, especially as a way to attract people coming from Atlanta. Traffic coming from that direction goes down Palmer Street and never drives Main Street at all. 

“You never see Main Street,” Goodier said. “It would really be good to have a two-way street. We would have a Mast [General] Store if we had a two-way street.”

It’s hard to tell what will actually end up happening. The town could enact the entire Teague recommendation of bulbouts, raised crosswalks and shared-lane arrows, which would cost $173,000. But it could also just pick one or two of those tasks to tackle. The shared-lane arrows, for example, would cost just $1,550. 

A simple repainting of lines doesn’t cost too much either. The paint job Main Street got this fall cost $825, and though it would cost a bit more to paint it with a different pattern — that would entail stripping off the existing paint — it still wouldn’t break the bank. 

But those decisions are all in the future. 

“Nobody’s more interested in seeing what we come up with than I am,” Scott said. 



Franklin in line for bike and pedestrian grant

The campaign to improve transportation through Franklin isn’t limited to motorized travel. The town is in the midst of applying for a $36,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Transportation to upgrade routes for pedestrians and cyclists. 

“If awarded the grant, we can go out and hire a consulting firm or any firm that does that kind of grant and develop a bike and pedestrian comprehensive plan,” explained Justin Setser, town planner.  

By having a plan in place, and the statistics to back up the need for it, getting funding later to complete projects would likely be easier. 

The grant would require a 10 percent match from the town, which the board of aldermen voted unanimously to supply, if awarded, earlier this month. 

“It’s just one segment of the revitalization we’re trying to accomplish for Franklin,” said Mayor Bob Scott. 

Having better biking and walking routes would contribute to having a healthier town and lowering vehicle emissions, Setser said, and it would also make Franklin an easier and more attractive place to visit. And besides, Franklin currently has some serious issues where bike and pedestrian routes are concerned. 

“Just in the city limits, there’s two-and-a-half miles of bike routes in the city limits of Franklin, and there’s zero bike lanes. They’re all shared with other roads,” Setser said. “We’ve pointed that out in the grant. Plus, pedestrians [face] multiple areas with no sidewalks or connections broken.”

There’s definitely competition for the grant funding, Setser said, but though no decision will be made until June 2015, he’s feeling pretty good about Franklin’s chances.

“I have no sure thoughts on it, but I think we’re going to have a good chance on getting it. I hope we do,” he said. 

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